Tomas Munoz is like a fresh wind blowing through Vina Errazuriz, much like the ocean winds blowing through the Aconcagua Valley, providing the wines with an elegant well-balanced, and yet innovating touch.
Today we had the chance to have a private one-on-one chat with the newest winemaker from one of Chili’s most prominent wineries. An inside look at what thrives him, what his vision is for Chilean wines in general, Errazuriz’s wines in particular, and how the wine industry handles topics like sustainability and the increasing popularity of the use of local products. I was able to meet up with him at the bistro of Hotel Karel V in Utrecht, where I was able to taste some of his excellent wines and got to pair them immediately with beautifully created dishes from the restaurant.
The Estate of Errazuriz was founded by Don Maximiano Errazuriz in 1870 and he was actually the first person to plant French grape varieties in the entire region of the Aconcagua Valley. It is no surprise that the winery grew to become one of the most famous high-quality wineries of Chili and enjoys worldwide fame. The new winemaker follows in the footsteps of winemaker Francisco Baettig Hidalgo, who remains involved in overseeing the premium wine range and acting as an internal consultant. Tomas graduated as an oenologist in 2014 and has since gained experience working in vineyards with various soils and climates in different parts of the world. From internships at Crawford Wines in New Zealand and Delicato Family Vineyards in California to assistant winemaker at Grupo Santa Rita and Vina Carmen in Buin, Chili. This has led him to become a winemaker at Errazuriz for little longer than a year before he became chief winemaker in June 2022.
Not being a stranger to the company, Tomas understands the vision and sees it aligned with its own, which is working in an innovative matter, but maintaining certain traditions throughout the process. Grape varieties such as Carmenere, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot have already proven to be quite successful in Chile and now Tomas aspires to do the same with other varieties such as the Syrah and even Malbec. The key element is to produce wines that remain elegant and well-balanced. With that in mind what you need to expect from the Syrah is more of a Rhone-style, rather than an Australian one. A big factor in achieving this is making use of the natural elements in the correct way. The Aconcagua Valley lies between two mountain ranges, the Andes, and the Coast Ranges. The vineyards start somehow at the beginning of the valley, approximately 100 km south of the capital Santiago. Along the Coast Range, there are certain gaps that allow breezes to blow in from the Pacific Ocean, the valley then functions as a funnel, having the wind traveling throughout the valley. This wind will have a cooling effect during the evening on the vines, which will preserve the natural acidity in the grapes. This will then define its color, intensity of the nose, and the aging potential, by making it deeper, more complex, and longer to age. This will also improve the health of the vines because the wind will blow the vines dry and reduce the risks of diseases and the use of pesticides. This leads to older vines with better fruit and more concentrated flavors.
Rocks in the vineyards can create coves to shield certain grape varieties from the breeze, instead of exposing them. The philosophy is to keep exploring different options that can lead to innovative results. Due to the natural benefits that the valley provides, Errazuriz will continue to produce wines from vines coming from this valley alone. Hence there is no desire to experiment in different regions. The climate is very mild and does not contain extreme temperatures like a very harsh winter or overly hot summer. There is rain falling mostly in winter, but usually stops when September comes around. Even though too much rain tends to be an issue it does not pose a huge threat, like it would in other regions of the wine world. In years that do not have enough rain, water coming down from the Andes mountains will be used to irrigate the grapes.
With that in mind, Tomas foresees the 2022 vintage to be a rather year providing wines with lively color and well-balanced acidity. Also, the 2023 vintage is looking good, as there has been the right amount of rain this previous winter.
Subtle, elegant wines with an expression of the terroir remain the strive of the winery. Not only the breeze or the morning fog will help retain acidity or add complexity, but also the soil will play a big part in it. The most common rock is a volcanic cyst that breaks down in layers, vertically in the ground, that way the roots of the vines need to enter through the layers in order to get to the water. This however does not stress the vine, but it makes it work just a little harder so the balance of nutrients will be found. This again shows in the subtle, elegant character of the wines. The more selected blocks of the vineyards will add more complexity to the wines and are reserved for the more premium range such as La Pizarras for producing a highly complex Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. The range ‘Max’ has a certain type of Chardonnay coming from selected vineyards rather close to the ocean, so it can retain the acidity even better. It creates a creamy texture during the time it spends on the lees and aging notes from the 10-month period in wooden barrels. Leading to an interaction of refreshing citrus fruit, green pineapple, and a touch of vanilla on the palate. Perfect for dishes with scallops, salmon, or even chicken and veal.
The flagship wines are named after its founder Don Maximiano and just go by the name of ‘Villa Don Maximiano’. I was able to taste the vintage 2017, which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Grenache and Mourvedre. It has spent 22 moths in oak barrels, 50% new. Sublte hints of red fruits, along with blackcurrent, dried tea leaves, subtle oak, and elegant yet present tannins. A wine like this went beautiful with the slow cooked beef cheek I ordered at Karel V.
As discussed above the climate conditions work in favour of striving towards a sustainable approach, however Tomas believes that it goes much further than this. Sustainability is more than keeping the vines healthy, not using any pesticide, or reducing the use of heavier glass bottles. For him it also goes to the mental and physical health of the employees. Employees remain the most valuable asset in a business, keeping then healthy and happy is a major part in whether your business will succeed. This is also being sustainable. A statement that we can only applaud.
The tendence around the world is to work with more and more local products. We see it happening in countries like the Netherlands, Belgium and around Europe, but also in Chili. The aim of being CO2 neutral is becoming more and more the norm everywhere. Errazuriz works on that by getting local products supplied to them when hosting various events or receptions. The consumptions of local wines will also be promoted. Of course, a big part of the business is international export, and being CO2 neutral is the answer to this in terms of transport through vehicles and airplanes. Also vats of local wood will be used to age certain wines. The year 2013 is a tipping point in this topic, where due to climate chance the use wood was reduced. Therefore, Chili has always had the reputation of having basic, bulk and fruit driven wines. Being fruit driven does not mean that it would be less in quality, but it does add to the image that many people have of Chilean wines. The county as a whole however is now trying to change that image by enforcing stricter regulations and bringing higher quality to the market. This all of course with Vina Errazuriz and Tomas Munoz playing a leading role in this change.
The whole team at The Story of My wine wants to wish Tomas the best of luck on his new career path and excitingly look forward to his new wines and what he does next!
For more information I happily refer to the winery’s website on www.errazuriz.com