Small is beautiful

(by peter)

Chances are that the name MOVI won’t mean much to you. Just like it didn’t mean much to me a few weeks ago. That was before Sven sent me an email.

Sven BruchfeldSven Bruchfeld is a man who knows his mind. And, once he does, he’s not easily budged. This is a Chilean winemaker (though firmly of Teutonic countenance – see picture) who moved from MontGras to single-handedly heave the floundering giant that was Santa Carolina into the modern era. Fast forward a few years and now he’s working on a project that couldn’t be more different – making a few thousand cases of mainly red wine from his small personal estate in the coastal Colchagua hills in Marchihue. (He’s also just started making a white from Leyda – more of which below.) And the name of his project is Polkura.

To cut a long story short, Sven decided that it was time for Chile to promote its small artisan producers. So he got a friend and a list of Chilean producers making less than 10,000 cases (notably few – Chile has one of the highest production rate ratios per winery in the world) and formed a fledgling association.

They called it MOVI, which translates (somewhat baldly) along the lines of: the movement of independent wine growers. It almost has the ring of a counter-cultural revolutionary movement…

When I first heard of this, it made me both excited and concerned. Excited because small Chilean wineries are just starting to establish themselves on the scene, often with outstanding results – and this surely boded well for encouraging more of the same in the future. And concerned that Chile has a history of infighting and industrial schisms, which tend to hinder rather than help, so the formation of a breakaway group could be a case of: one step forward two steps back.

Sven tried to allay my fears. “We’re not against anyone,” he assured me, in a categorical tone. (Though most of what Sven says tends to be in a categorical tone.) “In fact, we think we’ll benefit Chile and the other wineries just as much, if not more, than we’ll benefit from them. We just want to create awareness that producers like us exist and encourage others to start.”

This sounds hopeful. He even showed me photos of senior members of the Chilean wine industry’s traditional hierarchy enjoying themselves at one of MOVI’s functions (which involved, Sven proudly informed me, lots of beer, ipods and temporary tattoos with their logo: a barrel with wings).

The rules of the association, which currently numbers 14 members, are somewhat loose but run more or less along the following lines:

  • Owners must be involved in the winemaking process – no absentee landlords (a Chilean norm)
  • The operation must be focused on quality
  • Production must be small

On the latter point, there is no set number as yet. The second point regarding quality is also notoriously difficult to police properly (just ask the French) so I pushed Sven on this point. “We have already turned down one winery,” he retorted. “There’s a panel of us who taste. We will do our best.” I suspect that both of these points will need to be clarified and reinforced if the organisation is to survive and prosper.

Moving away from politics, we talked about and tasted Sven’s wines. My summary is that Polkura is a project with great potential, on which it is already starting to deliver. I have been lucky enough to taste these wines from the first vintage (2004) and it has come on leaps and bounds. Where before there was unbridled passion in the wine, now there is refinement and the beginnings of an agreeably individual style.

The only grumble I had concerned the alcohol levels – around 14.7% in most of the Syrahs. It’s important to say that the wines were in no way out of balance – quite the opposite, the excellent integration was one of their great charms. But I just found the alcohol too much. When I said this to Sven, he pounced, clearly expecting the question (had others asked?) His point was: the alcohol is balanced and Marchihue is a warm region so it’s natural. He’s apparently tried reducing the alcohol (eg by spinning cone) but the tannins become very hard as a result. So his solution is that you simply have to drink less of the wine.

But I like my wine, and I like to drink sufficient quantity to be satisfied. And I don’t want that to be dictated to me by the alcohol level.

Anyway, here are my notes on the wines. And my message to Sven would be: bravo, Sven, more of the same please. And any way of massaging that alcohol down just a touch..?

(Selected wines available from Direct Wines)

Aylin Sauvignon Blanc Leyda 2009, 14%

Good grapefruit, gooseberry and pea nose. Some classic Leyda honeyed tones. Tangy palate, good extract and density. Pleasant, quite persistent. Good mineral salty edge to what is a full and structured palate. Delicious stuff. 7/10

Polkura Syrah 2007, 14.7% (94% Syrah ,1% Viognier, 2% Malbec, rest Grenache, Tempranillo. 18% new oak for one year, mainly Fr oak, bit of US but not much.)

Deep, brooding, elegant black pepper notes. Cassis. Not too minty – good. Rounded, creamy, oaky, spicy, black fruit. Some charry oak in there but not overwhelming. Hint of blue fruit too. Warming, dense, round tannin but savoury finish. Good. Warming. Creamy. But very good elegant warm climate style, yes, with black pepper notes. Don’t notice alcohol too much. Good! But quit a big wine to drink too much of. 7/10

Polkura 2008 (92% Syrah, 5% Malbec 1% Viognier, 2% Tempranillo/Grenache/Mourvedre. Similar oaking but slightly more new oak here as a fuller vintage than the 07.)

Elegant herbal black pepper savoury cherry and cassis fruit. Palate is spicy, bit richer and bigger than the 07 with less acid grounding it all. Still very good but i prefer the 07: it’s a sleeker and more drinkable, satisfying style. But this is still a good savoury balanced style. Lovely tannin. 6.5/10 (may improve)

Polkura G + I 2007 Syrah Marchigue, 14.7% (98% Sy, 2% Viognier – 60% new 20 months all French oak)

Dense creamy nose, some savoury spice and olive…but a bit young and mute for now. Tannins firm but round, savoury, touch of spice. Quite full on. Spicy. But lovely dense core of pressed cassis, olives, bk pepper. Lovely stuff. Dense but full and rich. Very young. Classy. Pretty full on but also lovely. Again, would love less alcohol but it fits the style. Very classy and impressive. Lovely example of that black pepper-infused nose and a full, hedonistic palate that’s not overwhelming. 7.5-8/10 (to improve)