As I looked across the table, I saw a man that was overwhelmed… overwhelmed simply by the idea that some of the writers and members of the wine trade in New York City that he was talking to didn’t think that protecting one’s workers from the harsh pesticides in the vineyards was enough of a reason for his Chilean winery, Odfjell Vineyards, to become organic and biodynamic certified. When Arnaud Hereu, winemaker for Odfjell, was grilled about how the practices of organics, and especially the more esoteric methods of biodynamics, displayed themselves in the wine, he honestly admitted that he did not know if they made a difference in the qualities of the wines.
Dan Odfjell is a Norwegian ship owner and avid explorer who, over 25 years ago, found himself in a little corner of the now famous wine region Maipo Valley, Chile, which would ignite a fire in his heart to create a utopian world. Dan decided that a place is only as good as its land and its people and so his commitment to making the best wines without compromising the symbiotic relationship between his workers and Mother Earth was the only path for him as a wine producer. Arnaud Hereu was a French winemaker, educated in Bordeaux, who, in 1997, was invited by the Odfjell family to take on this challenging project in Chile, and that same year, the first gravity-flow winery in South America was built by Dan’s son Laurence.
Another special aspect of how Odfjell Vineyards have shaped the Chilean wine world is their early focus on making premium Carignan. A little bit of background on Carignan – it is a black grape variety mainly planted in Southern France where it is known as a workhorse grape for red blends; it has high acidity, high tannin and a deep color that make it ideal to blend with a base red wine that needed structure and color. Historically, Carignan wasn’t taken seriously for quality wine, yet the Odfjell family introduced a mainly Carignan dominant premium wine back in 2001. Arnaud said that, initially, other wine producers thought they were crazy to get behind Carignan as a quality grape variety and it was funny to see how many years later some of those same producers realized that old vine Chilean Carignan can become a noteworthy wine for the country.
There is no doubt that we are living in overwhelming times; every moment we turn on the news, or look on the internet, there seems to be so much work that needs to be done to live in a world where everyone is safe and happy. But Arnaud’s and the Odfjell family’s example of just focusing on a community that they cherish and making sure they are doing everything in their power to bring harmony to every being that surrounds them seems one of the few ways to keep an ethical person’s sanity in trying times. And although Arnaud said that he did not completely understand all of the other-worldly practices of biodynamics, the most important thing he did know is that it brought a balance and sense of peace to those who worked in their winery and their vineyards.
As I sat across from Arnaud and envisioned the Norwegian Fjord horses he spoke of, a prehistoric breed brought to Chile by Dan Odfjell two decades ago, I could see in my mind’s eye how these majestic creatures not only helped with environmental sustainability by avoiding to compact the soil while transporting the grapes, unlike tractors, but their important role in how they sustained the human spirit with their main purpose of giving hippotherapy to children with disabilities.
When the problems of the world seem to pile up higher than we can keep track of, while seeming that all we do is talk about the problems we can’t solve in the world, the one way we can keep going, keep wanting to wake up to another day, is to find the ways we can make the world better for others in our own tiny universe so we can ultimately find the harmony that is always there inside of us … it is just waiting for us to use it.
Everyday Drinking Wine (less than $15)
2017 Odfjell Vineyards, Armador, Carménère, Central Valley (Maipo Valley and Maule Valley), Chile ($14.99): 100% Carménère from organic and biodynamic vineyards. Carménère was originally planted in Bordeaux, France but it made its way to Chile and has become a variety that the country has specialized in. This red wine had dark, brooding flavors with a touch of dried herbs and had a moderate amount of tannic structure. This wine will pair nicely with those heavy dishes during cold winter nights.
Special Occasion Wine (from $15 to $50)
2017 Odfjell Vineyards, Orzada, Carignan, Maule Valley (Cauquenes), Chile ($22.99): 100% Carignan from organic and biodynamic vineyards. This was my favorite wine because it had a beautiful floral nose with sweet, ripe strawberries that had hints of baking spice that was bright, and silky on the palate. Not so easy to make a 100% Carignan that has such a lovely texture and overall balance.
Fantasy Wine (over $50)
2013 Odfjell Vineyards, Aliara, Chile ($44): 65% Carignan, 20% Syrah and 15% Malbec from organic and biodynamic vineyards. Despite costing below $50 I have to say this wine delivered over the $50 mark with lush blueberry tart flavors with layers of fresh blackcurrant that was stunning in both its vitality and deep concentration. Well manicured tannins and hints of truffle and espresso along the expressive finish brought this wine over the edge to greatness.