What is a lot ?
Early On Lots # 1 – 7
We began Garage Wine Co. with the idea of making wine on a personal scale, by hand with the family. It was physical work, and a therapeutic complement to the hustle and bustle of the then new millenium. Few in Chile were they familiar with the tradition of celebrated companies having begun “in the garage”. Back then wineries in Chile were corporate affairs, named after celebrated last names or saints. And they were generally owned by clubby families with double rr’s in their surname. Once a rather closed circle, much has changed. We went to work and made barrel by barrel with money from the family coffers selling just enough bottles amongst friends and family that we could justify doing it all over again the following year. Soon “the hobby” grasped a firmer hold on family finances and we began to sell wine to strangers who contentedly scooped it up for twenty dollars a bottle. Then an article appeared in El Mercurio newspaper about a “coveted urban myth” of wines made in a garaje. So we patented the name Garage Wine Company.
At the time it was tremendously difficult to get any supplier to take us seriously at our scale. As we had no forklift, the bottle makers chose simply to not answer our mails. The capsule maker wanted a minium 10,ooo piece order. (We had 567 bottles.) And so on… These attitudes were what helped cement our sense of being a denim-clad David up against the agro-industrial Goliaths. We would soon find out that our sense of healthy counter-culture was not appreciated by the powers that be. They would have to get used to constructive criticism— and find a sense of humour.
As all three of us had worked for various large wineries directly or indirectly during the initial boom of Chilean wine, we had come to view the industry (their word not our’s) as makers of great values, a consumer product, often made to spec for a foreign supermarket, rather than wines with a sense of origin or with any sense of volition. Others were spending fortunes building architectural wonders for trophy wineries, but these were simply too big to reflect anything personal. We saw an opportunity for one ship at least to sail in another direction.
Independence Lots #8-16
When our first child was born Pilar was offered a job in a perfume & flavourings company heading up a new division of ready-made cocktails. It was great news to work part-time and make decent money, but wine is not an easy business to break back into on the other side of babies. As I saw it, the wines we would make in the meantime were her curriculum to break back into the trade. At least that was my justification to take the Garage to the next level. So we applied more ‘ñeque’ en buen chileno.
As Garage Wine Co. wines found their way onto the menu of a half a dozen restaurants notably Portillo ski resort, we began to have contact with other small projects. In our minds, the emergence of other Davids, was a healthy notion that one-day others would come to realise as well.
Some were accomplished winemakers from the industry who had become independents and others were outliers: a lawyer, a photographer, an ex-pat miner and a Count from Tuscany… …in short we liked their wines; they were different. We liked the fact that others faced the same challenges and we began in earnest to scheme together as a group.
Later CORFO would claim that we the small instigated associatividad (a kind of working togetherness) in the wine sector, but writ large we were just being practical. And so it was that in June of 2009 with eleven other small independent producers (the winemakers, the lawyer et. al.) and we came together to form the Movement of Independent Vintners or MOVI. If you say it out loud to yourself in Spanish: El Movimiento de Viñateros Independientes, it sounds almost Monty Python. MoVI forever changed the wine trade in Chile. There have been various other groups formed since such as Vigno — Vignadores de Carignan and Chanchos Deslenguados, but it was MoVI that helped pave the way for others changing export legislation to make it easier for small cellars, fighting to get lesser-known varietals recognised by the SAG and a host of other things. Today MoVI has grown to more than 30+ small wineries from all over Chile and Garage have turned to focus our work principally on the old vines of the Secano Interior.
The earth moved under our feet – Lots 27 +
Having a wine scientist from the University meant Garage began experimenting from its earliest days. First within the well-known and well-heeled Maipo Valley where we sourced fruit higher end higher up into the Andes to get to the fresher Mountain Grown fruit of San Juan de Pirque. Then we began making a small lot of Cabernet Franc, initially for a Cab blend, but later we decided to make a second wine. We make both of these wines to this day, but back then we had the feeling that we would never really have control over the fruit. So we decided to go further from the mainstream towards finding a diamond in the rough as it were towards achieving the autonomy we wanted. And so it was that we were invited to see a special farm of a well-known grower in the Maule.
After seeing dozens of acres of well-groomed fruit we were shown a small section of specific rows that were available if we were interested. The broker spoke at length about the other well-heeled buyers who purchased fruit from the property— we just wondered about what control we might have over the growing. What would it be like to be like to be the smallest customer of a large grower? All we had to do was send a truck with bins on the assigned day and we would receive the kilos we had agreed, but we would not have means to intervene if we wanted to do so. We declined and in a watershed moment that we did not realise was a watershed at all, we decided to look for some smaller growers and keep experimenting like we had always done. Two roads diverged in the vineyard that day— and we took the one less travelled, and yes, it has made all the difference.
What one needs to understand is that Carignan was in many vineyards in the Maule (600 + hectares are recognised today) but it was very difficult to find. Small vignerons do not know it as Carignan. They have no papers for it and they take of it as if it were Pais.
Most of the Carignan (but not all) was planted after a large earthquake in 1939 in Chillan. It was brought as part of an agricultural development programme. It was thought that the Carignan would lend colour, acidity and tannin to make a sturdier country wine in the region. It was usually planted as an extension to an existing Pais vineyard. Whereas the Pais vineyard would be a series of rows as straight as church pews, the Carignan planted much later would follow the relief of the slope — the latest [agricultural] technology at the time.
We set out to look for Carignan talking to vignerons tasting on the roadside and soon a pattern emerged. Some of the vignerons had a fudre of wine for which they wanted to charge an extra luca– 1ooo pesos. They would explain that this wine had a second Winter ie an extra year of storage— this was because it had the more acidic, more tannic Carignan that needed more time than the Pais. It took an extra year to come around and be approachable so it was the special occasion wine. We would ask to see the vineyard and after confidences were achieved we began sourcing fruit from different small parcels. Wanting to experiment, we made each one separately and this was the beginning of our Maule vineyard based wines each made from a separate parcel in a different place and soil. Eventually, we would travel further and find Carignan in Sauzal, Truquilemu, Caliboro and as far South as Portezuelo.
Just before harvest in 2010 an earthquake of almost biblical proportions struck in the Maule. We had been working with two properties beforehand, but this would mark a change in how we worked going forward. We saw the Carignan on these small farms as a means for people to bootstrap and come back from the tragedy. We proposed a plan and won the Geoffrey Roberts award. We used the bursary money and subsequent funding from our UK importer: Bibendum to work with these small growers toward making serious wine from each parcel. We grafted Garnacha and Mataro on old Pais roots next to the existing Carignan and we made wines from these field-blends.