Marnier-Lapostolle visits from Europe five times a year—“If I could, I’d stay even more”—and regularly hosts parties and dinners there. Vineyard owners stop by more frequently these days, and even chic Santiago residents who aren’t in the business have started building weekend homes in the area. “It’s like Napa 20 years ago,” she says.
The ruggedly beautiful landscape of the Colchagua Valley is also home to Viña Los Vascos, the Chilean winery owned by Eric de Rothschild. Proprietor of France’s storied Château Lafite, Rothschild bought his 4,000 acres in the Colchagua Valley back in 1988 when he was looking to diversify the family’s famous but limited production in Bordeaux. Land in Chile was remarkably cheap at the end of the Pinochet era, and the winery’s workers were so impoverished that they came to work barefoot.
“When we arrived, it was a desert, a social desert,” recalls Rothschild, who visits annually. But in recent years, Chilean landowners who once managed their estates from offices in Santiago have become a common sight in the campo. The Los Vascos team keeps up the social obligations of a Rothschild property. At this year’s harvest, Christophe Salin, the urbane president of Rothschild’s global holding company, Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite), managed the estate’s affairs, including hosting dinners for local vintners and visiting wine consultants, and amusing guests with anecdotes from the early years of Los Vascos. In retrospect the stories play as comic episodes: The vineyard’s original Chilean winemaker, for instance, quit during the first harvest because he was convinced that the unfamiliar winemaking techniques employed by the new French owners would lead to ruin, and “he didn’t want to be part of a vinegar company.” (He probably regrets it now, as Los Vascos produces a premium wine, Le Dix, modeled on the style of Château Lafite and priced at $50 per bottle.)
The hacienda Rothschild built on the estate is truly baronial: an adobe hunting lodge filled with fine French antiques and, in the foyer, a giant Alaskan moose head that serves as a hat rack. Rothschild merrily reports that he continues to buy pieces for the house, including, most recently, a French sculpture from around 1900 that he is shipping over. “When I retire, I will go there more,” he says. “It’s quite extraordinary.”
“Baron Eric,” as he is known on his domains, is not the only Rothschild with a showplace winery in Chile. In 1996 his cousin Philippine de Rothschild, owner of Château Mouton Rothschild in Bordeaux, joined forces with the historic Concha y Toro winery, the country’s largest, to create Almaviva.
“We have a new spirit,” declares Isabel Guilisasti, a Chilean who runs Concha y Toro with two of her brothers, “but it is rooted in France.” Indeed, a guest at Concha y Toro could be forgiven for believing he has actually detoured unexpectedly to the French countryside. The estate’s neoclassical mansion, surrounded by lush gardens, dates back to 1875, when the winery’s founder, Don Melchor Concha y Toro, built it for his Francophile wife. Concha y Toro is credited with having made Chile’s first ultrapremium wine—named Don Melchor to honor its founder’s pioneering gusto—in 1997 with the help of a French consultant, and now Almaviva is winning kudos as well. Wine Spectator awarded the 2003 Almaviva 95 points, and Robert Parker called it “the finest Cabernet-based wine I have ever had from Chile.” The Guilisastis are also owners of Viñedos Emiliana, which produces wine from organic grapes. Al Gore sampled G, their premium product, while in Chile last year.