We are in Margaux, one of the most famous and historical wine regions of the world, with Rodrigo Laytte, the technical director of Château Kirwan. Rodrigo Laytte is the first Chilean viticulturist and winemaker who oversees the technical management of a château in Bordeaux. His story is way longer than this. He started his career as an agriculture economist but his interest in wine and wanting to be closer to nature brought him to the wine world.
How Rodrigo decided to enter the wine sector, how he started to work in Château Kirwan, what are the changes in the wine sector of Chile, and a special project in Mexico. You’ll find all in this interview.
N: How did you decide to build your career about wine?
R: I was always interested in wine and I always liked it. Firstly, I studied in Catholic University of Chile in Santiago and during my studies I always felt an attraction for wine. Then I decided to make my specialization in “Agrobusiness”. Since I would like to approach the world of wine, I also took courses in Enology and Viticulture as a complement to my studies. After I finished my specialization, I started to work as an agricultural economist; I always liked the finance part and marketing. However, I always felt the need to be close to nature. My wife Cecilia Grallert and I, we have the same formation of agrarian economy. She had worked in Viña Veramonte as brand manager and she also always liked wine. When we got married, we went to Europe with my wife to take a sabbatical year, but in the end, it ended up like three and half years. During that period, we travelled extensively in Europe and got to know a lot of countries and people. We always visited the wineries in each country and attended wine tastings. After this experience, we felt that we did not want to return to working in the agricultural economy but we wanted to work closer to nature so we went back to studying. According to the suggestions of our professors in Chile, we started to study the master of enology and viticulture in Montpellier and after that we also obtained the national diploma of oenologist (Diplome national d’oenologue in French). We were fascinated with this career, and still we are.
After obtaining his diploma, Rodrigo Laytte started to experience Bordeaux in different châteaux, including Château Margaux. Finally in 2008, he started to work in Château Kirwan, which is one of the precious Grand Cru Classé chateaux.
N: What is the style of the wines of Château Kirwan and characteristics of its terroir?
R: We want to develop a style of wine that respects the expression of terroir, so they are pure and very precise wines in the tastings. The wines of Château Kirwan are produced in a very gentle way without forcing, without harsh extraction during the vinification and by treating every vat separately so that they respect the quality according to their expression of terroir. There are vats that are more tannic than others, vats that have different taste than others. That is why during the vinification, we adapt all the practices perfectly to the characteristics of each vat.
Moreover, there is a huge job of tasting to make the best wine in the world possible; that is our real aim. Château Kirwan wines show their expression of terroir to the fullest and they are without any manipulations that try to show them like something they are not finally. We choose the barrels that will bring just complexity and some structure but that will not take the leading part of wine. The wine will not be loaded with barrel aromas like chocolate or mocha. Our wines are as fruity and floral as possible, with elegance, with soft and silky tannins, with good acidity and long finish.
When we come to the features of the terroir, it is characterized by having four varieties; Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot as major varieties, and also Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. That is already a feature that the other châteaux of Grand cru classé do not have much. Moreover from the harvest 2016, we will have Carménère as a fifth variety that participates in the final blend of Kirwan. Another important characteristic of Kirwan is the great diversity of soil; there are thirty one different soil types, which can be grouped in four groups finally. Within the plots of different soils, there are different expressions of the varieties, and then we have to make a selection inside of the same plot because there are two or three different tastes or different qualities among them. Another feature that we have in Château Kirwan is the large proportion of clay in the soil and this clay works as a tampon; in dry years with its power of water retention and in rainy years with generating a little extra hydric stress, which other soils without clay do not do. This is important since irrigation is prohibited. These are the characteristics of Château Kirwan that differentiate it from other châteaux in the appellation of Margaux.
Now, we are leaving Europe for a while and flying to America. Rodrigo, although he lives in France, never stopped keeping up the novelties in Chilean viticulture and winemaking. Let’s see how he evaluates the differences there, with a fresh point of view out of his country.
N: You also work in Chile as a consultant. What are the novelties that you observed in the last years in Chilean wine sector?
R: In our spare time, we devote ourselves to give consultancy together with Cecilia, we have our consultancy firm that is mostly run by her. At this moment, I am giving consultancy to Viña de Martino which is one of the most important wineries in Chile and where a very respectable oenologist works. What I observed recently that has changed in Chile, is that they started to have a greater consciousness of the importance of soil in the impression of the vines and they are doing a better work to analyze the soil and try to find vineyards that have proper personalities. In Chile, the global varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec are generally cultivated. But there are also trials with new strains, strains that are uncommon and found planted in the southern part of the country. There, we have vineyards that were planted years ago but they are a bit abandoned, nowadays they are retaken and they are returning to give fruits for a different wine. Carignan is a variety that is not used commonly in the world but here it has more success since it gives a wine with different characteristics. It is also worked with the variety País, that also gives a particular wine with its proper characteristics. So, these are the things I realize that they are changing in Chile; the way of thinking, the desire to make wine with its own characteristic, give importance to the soil and try new varieties.
Still in America, let’s go back to the northern hemisphere, to Mexico. Rodrigo has an interesting wine project there which already showed results.
N: You have a project going on in Mexico, what can you tell us about this?
R: Since 2009, we have been working in Mexico on a very interesting project in the Sonora region which is in northern Mexico. It is a foundation that wants to develop new economies in the region and they contacted us to participate in the wine project. At first the idea of this was to see if there was any place in Sonora where you can make quality wine; that was the challenge. And we went there with Cecilia and travelled for two whole weeks, we made three thousand kilometers in total, we made more than hundred and fifty soil pits and from these, we analyzed seventy here in Bordeaux, which is the best laboratory for soil analysis in Europe in my opinion. Afterwards, we combined the results of analysis of soil with the data of climate and other complementary factors. In the end, we determined that there are five zones of very good potential in Sonora and then from these we have chosen only three and finally we have started with one of them. Thirty hectares are planted and we made the first official harvest in 2015 and we are very happy with the results; the vine adapts well to the place and the grape quality is exceptional, the soil and the weather are very good for the area, which is at thousand five hundred meters of height from sea level. The climate looks a lot like the Cotes du Rhone area. The varieties are Tempranillo, Syrah, Touriga Nacional, Malbec, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carménère. The reason for choosing several varieties is to see the development of each of them over time and choose the ones that we will continue with since the project will widen up to three hundred hectares. So, we are happy with the progress of the project.
This was the first part of our interview to know more about Rodrigo’s project in different parts of the world. In the second part, we’ll talk about Rodrigo’s strategies of winemaking in different wine regions.
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