Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Chile
Serie Riberas Gran Reserva Chardonnay 2012, Chile
Cost: $10-12, $16-18
What: To celebrate Earth Day next Tuesday you might want to consider drinking wine from a winery that is doing its best to minimize harmful effects on the environment. That should be easy because so many wineries are using sustainable practices now.
One of the leaders in conserving resources is Concha y Toro, one of the largest wine companies in the world. In fact, it is second in the number of acres planted in vines.
Besides making great wines at varying price points, Concha y Toro has made a serious commitment to environmental management. In recognition of their efforts I tried two of their wines and talked to their sustainability manager.
Both the Cabernet and the Chardonnay are outstanding examples of those grapes. They reflect the areas in which the grapes are grown, featuring fresh, luscious fruit flavors. And they are both bargain-priced for what they deliver.
The Cab is a deep red with aromas of cherries and plums with lush black cherry flavors. It is a well-balanced wine with a long, smooth finish. The grapes are 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon from the Central Valley.
The Chardonnay is equally impressive, with an elegant bouquet of tropical fruits. It has a soft, silky feel in the mouth with notes of pear, citrus and some mineral qualities. Good acidity balances the fruit nicely, and makes it a great food wine. The grapes are 100 percent Chardonnay grown in the Colchagua Valley.
The Chardonnay is part of the Serie Ribera, or Riverbank Series. All of those wines are grown near one of Chile’s major rivers fed from snow and ice melting in the Andes Mountains. The combination of mineral-rich soil and cooling ocean breezes provide ideal growing conditions for distinctive wines.
So how can the winery deliver such affordable quality and still practice sustainability?
“It is the right thing to do,” said Valentina Lira, sustainability manager for Concha y Toro in a telephone interview from Chile. “Consumers can see the difference.
“We maintain the quality of the wine. We cannot afford to lose that quality. And we are trying to minimize the impact on the local level and on a global scale.”
Some of the notable achievements are a 25 percent reduction in water use compared to the industry average, a 28 percent reduction in CO2 usage and a significant reduction in the weight of wine bottles.
Though the concept of sustainability only came into widespread use in about 1987, Concha y Toro has been practicing those techniques for most of its130-year history, said Ms. Lira. They use less fertilizer and take care of the land so it will be there for the next generation.
The processes continue to change. “We were the first or second winery in Chile to measure its carbon footprint,” said Ms. Lira. “We do these things continuously. It is not just a one-time thing. We were the first winery in the world to measure our water footprint.”
Many of the sustainable practices actually produce higher-quality wines. I once heard a soil expert from Chile talk to growers about how they had to stop using so much fertilizer on their vines because it made grapes from all over the world the same. What growers want is to emphasize the distinctiveness of their vineyards and grapes.
And when vines struggle for water they produce grapes of higher character.
“Being sustainable is difficult at the beginning,” said Ms. Lira. “As you follow up and continue working you realize this is the right way to do it. It makes you feel good and the wine is better. This is not only about being green. It is a balance of social, economic and environmental aspects of your work.”
She explained the company also sells a lot of boxed wine, but not in all 137 countries in which they operate. Box wine greatly reduces bottling and shipping costs and conserves resources, but it has been difficult to convince American consumers that quality wine can come in a box.
Nordic countries have been much more receptive to the idea. “Some people believe the heavier the bottle the better the wine, and that’s not true,” said Ms. Lira.
The company has changed its irrigation systems to deliver water drop by drop exactly where it is needed, in minimal amounts. It also trains people throughout the company on how to cut down waste.
“For us, sustainability is a new way to see the business,” said Ms Lira. “It’s not something we do because we have to. It’s better for our customers. It’s going to be better for all of us.”
So next week grab a bottle of sustainably-grown wine and feel good about drinking it. Odds are it also will taste better than mass-produced wine loaded with chemicals.
Winery: Concha y Toro is the iconic winery of Chile and is one of the world’s most important wineries. The firm sells more than 29 million cases a year in 137 countries. It would be difficult to find a wine drinker not familiar with Concha y Toro.
The award-winner winery was founded 130 years ago by Don Melchor de Concha y Toro, a Chilean statesman, entrepreneur and vineyard owner in the late 1800s. He brought vines from Bordeaux and planted them on his estate.
He created the legend of the Casillero del Diablo when he discovered that some of his best wines were being stolen from his cellar. Don Melchor spread the rumor that his deepest cellars were haunted by the devil. That’s where he put his best wine, and the thefts stopped.
Casillero del Diablo means “cellar of the devil.” Each bottle has a devil’s mask stamped into the glass above its label.
Company brands include Casillero del Diablo, Don Melchor, the Terrunyo line and Marqués de Casa Concha.
Its principal subsidiaries are Viña Cono Sur, Viña Maipo, Viña Palo Alto, Viña Maycas del Limarí, Trivento Bodegas y Viñedos, which operates in Argentina, and the Joint Venture with the prestigious winery, Baron Philippe de Rothschild, which produces the Almaviva brand.
Goes with: These are both outstanding food wines. My wife Teri and I had the Chardonnay with king crab legs and a baked potato that we served on the deck during one of our glorious spring days. The buttery flavor and crisp acidity paired perfectly with the succulent crab meat dipped in butter.
We compared the wine with one that cost four times as much, and there wasn’t an appreciable difference. This is an everyday wine that can also be served on special occasions. It would pair well with a variety of fish and seafood dishes.
We had the Cabernet with a hearty vegetable beef soup that just begged for a powerful Cab. The complex vegetable flavors balanced the complex Cab. The wine also pairs well with other hearty dishes, such as steak or pork on the grill, stews, pasta or robust cheeses.