August 2012 Fla

Across Two Hemispheres

photos by John Curley

Giancarlo Bianchetti, CEO of Fetzer Vineyards, is also co-manager for Excelsior Wine Company. Here, he walks among the biodynamically farmed vines of of Bonterra Vineyards at Butler Ranch, above the clouds at an elevation of 2,300 feet, overlooking the Ukiah Valley in Mendocino County.

On April 15, 2011, Chile’s Concha y Toro purchased a California winery:  Fetzer Vineyards.  The first Chilean winery to acquire a winery in California (bought from former owner Brown-Forman), Concha y Toro has been exporting to the US for more than 30 years, with the Mariani family of Banfi.  At three million cases per year, it is the second-largest imported brand from South America in the U.S.

Excelsior Wine Company was created together with Concha y Toro and Banfi Vintners as a marketing and sales partnership.  Excelsior’s portfolio includes the South American Concha y Toro labels as well as Little Black Dress and Five Rivers.  Fetzer Vineyards has its own dedicated sales force which includes the brands Fetzer, the organic label Bonterra, and Jekel among others.  Giancarlo Bianchetti is the CEO of Fetzer Vineyards and also represents the interests of Concha y Toro in Excelsior Wine Company.

THE TASTING PANEL’S Meridith May tastes through the Concha y Toro portfolio with Giancarlo Bianchetti. With more than 13 years working in Chile for Concha y Toro, Bianchetti says, “Today, I am more Californian than Chilean.”
“Keeping the two broad portfolios separated will enable us to over-deliver in each price point, from $4.99 to $90,” Bianchetti tells THE TASTING PANEL.  “We’ll have two separate sales forces: one for Fetzer and one for the Concha y Toro brands.  We will be selling volumes, but also be building our reputation with high-end wines.  We are investing in people and land, and the only way to maximize potential for the brands of Excelsior Wine Company and Fetzer Vineyards is to have two dedicated sales forces.”

With 25,000 planted acres in South America and a huge investment in winemakers, vineyards and technology (ten winery facilities and four bottling facilities in Chile), the holding company, Viña Concha y Toro, will ensure quality with close control of vineyards and branding.

The U.S. is the number-one source of growth for Chile’s Concha y Toro label, led by super star Casillero del Diablo, by itself the country’s second largest export. I had the honor of tasting through the latest vintages with Excelsior Wine Company Co-Manager Giancarlo Bianchetti in the newly remodeled barn at Bonterra Vineyards.

Casillero del Diablo 2010 Carmenére, Rapel Valley, Chile (SRP $10) Red-devil fruit is spicy and juicy: lush, ripe and dusty. Well-mannered and structured—an incredible value.

Marqués de Casa Concha 2009 Merlot, Cachapoal Valley, Chile (SRP $18.99) The north bank of the Rapel Valley delivers fertile soils and warm summer days. This 100% Merlot offers up cinnamon aromatics with a palate of deep, ripe cherry, plum and rhubarb against a backdrop of lively acidity, perfumed flowers and jasmine. A gorgeous Southern Hemisphere definition of this varietal.

Don Melchor 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Puente Alto, Maipo Valley (SRP $80) One of the first high-end wines from Chile, this Cab has it all. Smoky meats, lavender and deep-roasted coffee beans layer on gritty tannins that melt in your mouth as pleasurably as semi-sweet dark chocolate. So juicy for such an opaque, inky wine.  

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