By Amanda Barnes
A successful Swiss lawyer with a penchant for fine wine, Mauro had fantasised about making his own wine one day like many. But it seemed pure folly to his family and colleagues. He began col-lecting European wines at the age of 17 but when he first tasted a Chilean wine 20 years ago, he was eager to try more from this exotic country. There were only two Chilean wines available inSwitzerland at that time, but they were enough to give him a thirst for more though. “Chile capti-vated me on my very first trip – the warmth of the people, the place. But, in terms of wine, it was a vacuum. Chile was more interested to produce volume than explore the potential quality.”
This desire to explore the relatively unknown, and the potential he could taste, led him to purchase a small vineyard in Aconcagua, switching legal papers for vines and making his fantasy – or folly – a reality. Why Chile? It was a new frontier, ripe for discovery. “South America is a complicated con-tinent, but there is a fascination – this sense of adventure here. It is a place where you can realise your dream – it is an almost magic world.”
The vineyard he bought was perhaps magical, indeed it beguiled Mauro. “You have to be obsessed to do a project like this, because you know that not even ten to twenty years is sufficient. Burgundy has been making wines for over a thousand years in the same place. We won’t need as long! But making quality in Chile is long term.”
Scoring 97 points from Robert Parker on his first vintage would make ‘long term’ seem like child’s play, but Mauro is adamant that this is just scratching the surface of the quality that Chile is capable of. “I think the interesting thing is that there is this potential in Chile, and there are wines from many wineries arriving that you won’t understand… There are many things still to discover.”
Von Siebenthal’s discovery is Aconcagua. “It has an extraordinary landscape and climate – cold nights, dry, and sun. These conditions are what Bordeaux has in an excellent year. This is what we have every day in Panquehue – it is a very special place. You can’t decide if you will make a great wine. You can only look at what is happening in the vineyard. A great wine just pops out, and says ‘look at me’.”
His great wine is Tatay de Cristobal – a hypnotic and complex blend of Carmenere and Petit Verdot. Coming from mainly calcarious soils, it is a profound wine with the added complexity of almost two years in French oak and longer in bottle. A wine that is still unfolding, and has years of cellar life ahead. This is what has captivated Mauro and kept him enchanted by his place in Chile – discovering the character of the vineyard, and of each wine. Characters that are still evolving, only just beginning to show their full face. “It is like a hologram – this wine is not still, it is still moving. You cannot explain these things, you can only live the emotion.”
This emotional connection is what drives von Siebenthal, and many of the exponents of Chile’s premium side, to continue exploring. Looking into the dark side of the moon.