Virtual Wine Tastings this Week!

Virtual Wine Tastings this Week!

Virtual Wine Tasting Friday with Maine and Loire, Matt Mollo of SelectioNaturel, and the wines of Collecapretta

Annalisa Mattioli with their press

The Mattioli family has been in the tiny hamlet the Roman's once called Collecapretta (hill of the goats) since the 1100's. For generations the Mattioli have been cultivating the rugged hillsides of southern most Umbria. Located just outside of Spoleto, in the near-impossible-to-find borgo called Terzo la Pieve, today's farm is a scant 8 hectares in total; 2 planted to a mixture of local olives trees, 2 ha of farro and other ancient grains and ~ 4 ha of indigenous old vines. Vittorio Mattioli, his wife Anna and their daughter Annalisa live together with 3 generations of their family inside the tiny village overlooking the valley below with the high Apennine Mountains and Gran Sasso looming in the background. The elevation is some 500+ meters and the soils are a mixture of calcium and iron rich clay with outcroppings of tufo and travertine limestone. Though the total production of Collecapretta is only some 8000 bottles in a good year, the family chooses to vinify many different cuvees in hopes of expressing the vineyard and grape varieties at their best. It is an impressively exposed and windy vantage point with 360 degree views.  

All the wines are made in much the same fashion: natural fermentation takes place in open-top cement containers without temperature control or sulfur additions. The wines then age for various amounts of time in glass-lined cement vats or resin tank before bottling in synchrony with the waning lunar cycle. There is no sulfur used at any point in the winemaking process. All farming in the vineyards is completely natural, only composts made from their own animals are used to aid vine health. The labels are brilliantly simple: straightforward Italian explanations of that particular vintage's wine making .

From Ned "In a way this is a label that started Matt's company SelectioNaturel. These wines are legendary among Italian wine makers and through them he connected with many other producers he now works with." From Matt "I am humbled to be working with this gracious family of true vignaioli in the heart of Umbria. Production is minuscule and the local demand and private, very guarded clients of Collecapretta easily over-fill the supply for these. We are honored to be the first to import the wines of Collecapretta beyond a 100km radius of the winery. Needless to say, small quantities are generally avaiable but don't miss out on your chance to get your first taste of these remarkably pure wines."

The Tasting is Friday the 1st at 5pm with Maine and Loire and Matt Mollo online. Use the link below to get in on the Zoom tasting.

Zoom Tasting with Matt Mollo Sign Up

Annalisa in their winery.

Below is a list of the wines Maine and Loire has available right now. Collecapretta releases wines once a year, I get a small allocation...and that's it. So this is our one shot to get our hands on these wines until next year.

Vigna Vecchia
Direct-press white wine made from old-vine (“Vigna Vecchia”) Trebbiano Spoletino grown in the hills and grown on trellises in the Umbrian peasant tradition. Spontaneous fermentation without temperature control in open-top vats. Aged in cement, stainless steel or fiberglass. No added sulfur and no filtering or fining.

Terra dei Preti 2018
“Terra dei Preti” or “Hill of the Priests”, is 100% old vine Trebbiano Spoletino. Spontaneous fermentation with 10 days of skin maceration, as in the traditional ancient practice - "Ribollito". The work in the vineyard and in the cellar is inspired by principles of absolute naturalness and the influences of the lunar cycles. No artificial yeasts are used, no sulfur is added, and no filtering or fining. The wine ages in cement tanks before bottling.

Malvasia dello Scarparo Bianco
The "Scarparo", or the Cobbler/Shoemaker of Terzo la Pieve owned this small vineyard of Malvasia Bianca for almost ten years in complete abandonment. The Mattioli family have recovered the vines, cutting the brambles and giving them a defined structure to lean on. 100% Malvasia from 70 year old vines. Spontaneous fermentation with 3 days skin maceration. Aged in stainless steel. No added sulfur and no filtering or fining.

Il Rosato 2018
The Mattioli’s rosato is made from all Ciliegiolo, direct press. Spontaneous fermentation without temperature control.. Aged in cement tanks with two rackings, one in December and one at the end of February following the waning moon. until bottling in the Spring. No added sulfur and no filtering or fining.

Vino Rosso da Tavola 2018
The Mattioli’s beloved red “table wine”, made from 100% Sangiovese with 6 to 8 days skin maceration. Spontaneous fermentation without temperature control. Aged in cement/stainless/fiberglass until bottling. No added sulfur and no filtering or fining.

Le Cese 2018
Red wine made from Sangiovese vines grown in the hills and grown on trellises as typical in the Umbrian peasant tradition. Spontaneous fermentation occurs without temperature control, with 8 days maceration on the skins. The wine is aged in either cement/fiberglass/stainless steel. No sulfur is added and there is no filtering or fining.

Il Selezione Le Cese 2015
One of the Mattioli’s most precious wines, the Selezione Le Cese is 100% Sangiovese from fruit selected and separated only in the very best vintages (not produced every year). Spontaneous fermentation without temperature control, with 8 days skin maceration. Aged in a single old barrel. Age-worthy wine with no added sulfur and no filtering or fining. *Very limited

Click here to Order from Maine and Loire

Bud break back in spring of 2017

Here's a little video of tasting the Selezione Le Cese at Collecapretta in spring of 2019

From left to right: Danilo Marcucci, Annalisa Mattioli, Matt Mollo, Annalisa's father Vittorio Mattioli. Danilo grew up down the road and originally learned about wine making from Vittorio.

Cacique Maravilla Pipeno Litre Bottle
Saturday at 5pm I'm opening this litre bottle of Pipeno for a virtual happy hour. This is one of the wines i found in Chile last month. It's made by Manuel Moraga (pictured above). His family has been here on this land since 1776. Pipeno is a traditional rural style of wine that's fun and easy to drink and made from the native Pais grape. You can order it from Rosemont Market by emailing by Thursday evening. The Zoom link is below 

Cacique Maravilla Happy Hour

Op Ed Advocating for Commercial Rent Adjustments

No one has to do what I suggest and I write the below humbly, but I think this needs to be said publicly and I'm trying to do my part to move this conversation forward:

We are now one month into this pandemic and the associated restaurant shut down. I am a distributor of international wines as well as a commercial property owner, therefore I am right in the middle of the impact. The past month feels like a long time, and we’ve certainly moved through several emotional stages processing it, but there are still some hard truths that we haven’t faced yet. A big one, from my perspective, is the hard truth that restaurants will not be able to return to normal operation for a long time which means landlords will not be able to collect full rent while restaurants are impacted by this pandemic. The sooner that landlords and restaurant tenants face this reality of extended revenue losses and agree to lease modifications, the less pain both parties will face down the road. 

The food scene in Maine (and particularly in Portland), has gained national attention. Portland is rising in value and esteem and Maine is continually growing as an international tourist destination. Our local restaurants play an invaluable role in driving these growths and are a big reason why Portland area property has risen so much in value. The shutdown has made dining rooms worthless, in a time when many restaurants were already stretching their budgets to afford them. Landlords attempting to hold restaurant tenants to their full lease payments risk killing the goose that lays the golden eggs; both immediately for the landlord but also for Portland and Maine as a destination. As an investor looking for an additional commercial property I know from personal experience how much stress goes into managing commercial buildings. The rent doesn't just go into the land lord's pocket, it goes to covering the mortgage, taxes, maintenance, and insurance. Just as it’s not realistic for a restaurant owner to pay top dollar rents for a space they can’t use, not all landlords are in a position to forego all rent over a period that could last a year.

In all of this uncertainty, it is important to focus on what we do know. We know that there are thousands of people in Maine who love food and are willing to spend money on an exciting, curated dining experience. They were doing that just a month ago. We also know that millions more people will likely drive to Maine in their own cars and stay in In our towns and cities this summer. Summer visitors will be eager to spend money on good food as a way to relax. It’s possible for restaurants to pivot and meet that demand, but building a new website, expanding or creating a delivery service, and reorganizing a kitchen to maintain personal distance take money and time. Restaurants have almost nothing certain they can count on right now.  

Right now it’s very possible that a large number of Maine restaurants will go out of business and leave landlords trying to fill an empty retail space in the middle of a pandemic and 15% unemployment. Empty storefronts and higher unemployment rates could be the downfall of a city that has spent the last decade growing as a nationally-recognized restaurant hotspot. I’m asking landlords to modify restaurant leases to give meaningful rent reductions in the realm of at least 50% for 6 months. 6 months of 50% rent is a sacrifice for a landlord, but growing up my mother taught me that half of a cookie is better than no cookie. Many landlords have been accommodating already, but formalizing an agreement on paper will take the rent stress off of restaurateurs so that they can focus on their business challenges. This will give restaurateurs breathing room to adapt their business models, survive this shutdown, and keep Portland vibrant.  

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Visiting Manuel Moraga Cacique Maravilla

After lunch with Mauricio Gonzalez Matt and I went over to visit Manuel Moraga with our new friend Patrick as a guide.  We made the short drive to Cacique Maravilla and Manuel was in the driveway to meet us.  People had told me he also had a very memorable mustache, so I had no problem picking him out.  Manuel looks like an exceptionally solid guy.  He just always seemed to have a wide and confident stance, like he was always expecting someone to try to push him over.  Maybe he was, he had a very affectionate 100+ pound pitbull with a head larger than mine who was always running into one of us!


I don't think Manuel actually knew who we were, without really waiting for introductions he just launched into a tour of his winery, talking about his tanks, how everything is gravity feed, he has a huge old rauli wood tank, there's a piece of the previous winery's wall left like a shrine at one end of the building, and the roof is made of local wood.  

The winery had clearly been built in several stages, with additions added as production had ramped up.  We walked out the back door and saw another concrete slab where a new store room and office were being added.


I didn't realize until later that the winery had been totally destroyed in the earth quake of 2010.   The disaster had apparently broken his father and Manuel had had the winery (totally demolished) dumped in his lap.   The past 10 years have been a non stop journey of learning and rebuilding at the same time.  Manuel rebuilt the winery in stages so that he could grow his work space as he grew his volume.  He's still not back up to the volume of wine they were producing pre earth quake, but this is a different world and Manuel isn't done yet!

Manuel's great, great, great, great grandfather came over from the Canary Islands in 1750 and ended up buying land here in Yumbel in Bio Bio.  The vineyards have been planted, re-planted, and expanded over the years, but still it's important to note that his family has been here on this land since 1776.  Manuel has a lot of inherited experience as well as passion and responsibility.  His 16 ha of vineyards has a lot of Pais, but also Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Moscatel, Semillon, and Corinto.  


The vineyards are up on a ridge about 10K from the Pacific.  There's a pretty constant wind blowing across from the ocean that helps keep the vines healthy and cool.  

Manuel makes a Pipeno wine in a litre bottle but he also makes a range of other exciting wines that are very much his own expressions.  Even the Pipeno is his own reflection!  It's fun and accessible, but it's also serious and has a lot of structure going on underneath.  

After walking the vineyards we went back to his cottage to taste wines.  Manuel's cottage was surround by gardens so we ate tomatoes and chilies he'd grown and he regaled us with all kinds of stories.  Manuel comes across as a larger than life extroverted character, but he walks the walk as a wine maker and farmer.  His wines, particularly the Pais and the whites are really fun pure and playful. 

20200310_190322Manuel pouring Pisco he made and telling a story.  Anyone who's met him will recognize this pose!  This is his story telling pose!

Manuel seems to be really in love with the place he lives and farms.  He could have done all kinds of other things, in fact he was a forestry engineer until his father retired.  What he cares about is this land and the vines and the wine.   More than success or anything else I think he just loved the land he lived on.  After tasting several litre bottles of his Pipeno he made us go outside and take pictures of the sun set.  It was great; the sun set and hanging out with him.


It was a pretty crazy sunset.  Below it you can see Manuel's garden outside his back porch.  The man seriously loves growing things!

Virtual Wine Tasting Friday with Absentee Winery

Virtual Wine Tasting Friday with Absentee Winery

The most exciting CA winery I've found in....a long time

Absentee is the most exciting and important winery I've picked up in the last 12 months. When was the last time I wrote an email like this about a California winery?! California occupies a huge place in the worlds cultural consciousness. Say California to someone and they immediately think of wide open spaces, rebels without causes, confidant people doing things their own way, Hollywood and wine country. Reality though is that the vast majority of CA wine is made industrially by guys in suites following a technical blue print. Avi Deixler at Absentee is the opposite of that. He uses, no additives, no sulfur even just to clean barrels instead using alcohol he distills himself. Avi makes his wines with passion, hard work, and intuition; they're the truest expressions of California that I've ever tasted. According to the main stream wine establishment these wines shouldn't even be possible to exist. But they do and they're gorgeous.

Virtual Wine Tasting Friday the 17th at 5pm
order the wines from Maine and Loire this week,
then taste with Avi online

Zoom Tasting with Avi Sign Up

Maine and Loire has 4 of Avi's wines available. Scroll down for notes on them.

XXP $29
Flaws $39
Balou $32
Elephant $32

Order Absentee from Maine and Loire

Named Absentee because of his no additive wine making, Absentee is a relatively new winery. Avi Deixler's first vintage was in 2016 when he made a small run of wine in rented space at another winery before moving into his own winery in 2017. And by winery I mean an old dairy barn that had been empty for I don't know how long before he fought and convinced the planning board to allow him to open his artisan winery in it. Avi is in fact the only winery in Marin county and the town was really skeptical of him. But Avi grew up in the area and in the end he got permission to set up shop. 

Prior to starting Absentee Avi had worked with Baptiste Cousin in Anjou, John Schmitt in Corbières, Domaine des Gandines in the Mâconnais, and then finally Tony Coturri. If you don't already know, Coturri is a legend and trail blazer of hand made real wines in CA. Avi is of trying to make delicious and expressive and honest wines with zero additives and no thought to altering how he works to chase any trends or be hip. It's very non-commercial, which is sort of un-Californian! But at the same time these wines are so honest and expressive, big and loud, lush and confident that they're very very honestly Californian!

Avi seems to just like doing everything himself. He actually takes cast off barrels from big wineries and uses an angle grinder to laboriously grind out the insides so that any residue from the previous wine making is gone. This means the fresh wood that is exposed to the wine also hasn't been toasted by a barrel maker over a fire and don't give the flavors we associate with oak. Unusually, these raw oak barrels are pretty much the only vessels that he uses for all his wine making and aging. These are some of the most honest and confident California wines I've ever had and I'm overjoyed to work with them. 

Ingredients: Grapes

Flaws 2018

So named because Avi says that "flaws" is the American translation of the French word "terroir". It's a joke meaning that most wine making in CA is sanitized to the point that they don't taste like where they come from.  

This is made from a grape called Arbourieu. It's one of those old traditional grapes that was imported from Europe and grown in CA 70-80 years ago when farmers were making wine. Most of it has been ripped up to plant Cabernet and Chardonnay now, but there's still a bit at the multi generational Poor family vineyard in Mendocino. Flaws is a big lovable juicy expressive red with a long finish but tannins that are pretty easy going.  


100% Grenache! This is a bit of a lighter red in comparison to Avi's Syrahs and it has such a fun bouncy positive personality! On the one had this is a juicy fresh easy to enjoy wine (like pop music). On the other hand it has great balance and interesting underlying flavors that you start to pick up on. To make a music analogy it would have to be to some of Grimes best work: it's catchy and infectious, but then you realize she did all the production and recording her self and you're blown away by the hidden complexity. It's a fun juicy, vivid, raspberry flavored red that keeps drawing you back in with an intriguing zesty pepper and spice.


Balou hits you with bright sunny blackberry fruit right off, but then the mid-palate turns all dark and spicy. This is a red with serious presence. It has this delicious black cherry fruit going on so you think you're drinking a fun gregarious red but this wine lingggggeerrrsssss. This is a very serious wine masquerading as a party animal.  


Oooh wow, sit down and enjoy the ride with this Syrah. That label is perfect; this wine is big as an elephant, but with unbelievable balance and delicacy.  

There's black raspberry and cooked blueberry, like in a pie. But also...aromatic herbs, wintergreen; this is a deep dark twisting turning experience of Syrah. It's fantastic and utterly spell binding to drink and experience.

Maine and Loire is doing a virtual wine tasting with Avi this Friday the 17th! You can pick up any of these wines at Maine and Loire over the course of the week. Then tune into Zoom meeting a 5 pm on Friday to meet Avi and taste the wines as he talks about his life making natural wines

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PO Box 11210
Portland, ME 04104

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Stories from my Crazy Wine Trip to Chile

Stories from my Crazy Wine Trip to Chile

Wine Making in Southern Chile is Insane

2 weeks ago I was pressing grapes in southern Chile

And I was doing it by hand over a bamboo mat!

Earlier this month I went to rural southern Chile to seek out a metaphorical legendary lost city of wine making. It was crazy on it's own, but now in the perspective of the pandemic and shut down of normal life it seems even more surreal! In a normal world I would have come back and hosted all kinds of events to share what I experienced, but instead I came back into managing health risks, advocating for a small business bail out, and doing financial damage control.

But wine is special. At it's best, a bottle of wine is a little fragment, a preserved piece of culture, history, and the environment from somewhere else in the world that can be transported and enjoyed by many different people. The wine makers, the wines, and what they're trying to build in their communities really moved me and I'm anxious to share these stories, so I'm trying something different:

A Virtual Wine Tasting with Maine and Loire

Maine and Loire has brought in 5 wines from the people I visited and they're available for order all this week. Maine and Loire and I will send out more detailed info about the wine makers, links to videos I made while I was there, and even a link to a free online pandora music station so that you can listen to the local music I listened to while I was there. On Friday at 5 I'll open some of them (not all 5, I drank plenty in Chile) and taste and talk about the wines live on Zoom. Any of you who have bought a bottle is invited to open it at the same time and join in. I may not be able to see you in person, but through the magic of wine we can all share an experience from different locations. Thanks Dionysus!

Give Maine and Loire a call at 207-805-1336 to order any of the wines

That's a 200 year old Pais vine

My interest in Chile really started with Roberto Henriquez. I met him in 2018 and his intensity and openness got my attention; also his wines were gorgeous. I started hearing more rumors about super old vines and a unique wine culture inherited from Spanish conquistadors but maintained for 300+ years by indigenous people. I started looking for more and eventually picked up the Brazos portfolio. As I tasted more and heard more stories I decided that I absolutely had to go to southern Chile and see for myself. I'm writing this now just after spending 6 days in BioBio, Itata, and the Maule valleys of Chile. I visited Roberto Henriquez, Jose Luiz at Gonzales Bastias, Mauricio Gonzalez at Estacion Yumbel, and Manel Moraga at Cacique Maravilla. It was amazing, powerful, and memorable for the rest of my life.    
BioBio, Itata, and Maule are all south of the more famous Chilean wine regions. Maule is about 3 hours south of Santiago and then BioBio and Itata are about another 3 hours south. The Bio Bio river is where the Spanish conquest died. There was a powerful native tribe here, the Mapuche, who fought the Spaniards to a draw and eventually the two cultures coexisted and then blended. So the people here have a different outlook compared to Santiago up north. Santiago is almost more like going to Europe, but once you get down into Maule it's almost like you've stepped back in time. Most of the red vines are Pais but there's also Cinsault. For whites it seems like it's Moscatel de Alexandria, Corrinto, and Semillon. There are a lot of vineyards and Pais is a very vigorous productive vine, but many are abandoned. We saw abandoned vines all over the place that were growing aggressively up trees and thriving. This is so special because the wine making traditions are descended un-altered from Spanish colonists 300-400 years ago and the vines are all ungrafted. 
Most people that own and maintain their vines seem to mostly sell the grapes at terribly low prices to big companies and or make small amounts of wine for their own consumption. The paper industry occupies a majority of the land in the area and is also a majority of the economy. Many people have ripped up their 200 year old vines to plant trees for the paper industry since pine trees take no maintenance. But it's a very extractive industry in BioBio and Itata with pines planted in monoculture and then clear cut. Most people in the area are farmers but it's very small scale subsistence farming.
Before I went I had a theory that most of the Chilean population lives up closer to Santiago and saw southern Chile as backwards superstition Indians. I had no idea though and I was hoping the situation might be more complicated than that. But over all that's how the situation was. Everyone we spoke to who worked up in Santiago said that no one up there would think if drinking a Pais. When we were in the Santiago airport we looked in all the wine shops and all the restaurants but we couldn't find a single wine made from Pais or that came from down south!
I think that will change though. This is a wine making culture that's unique in the world. I feel like the culture of Pipeno and these ancient vines should somehow be a Unesco World Heritage site. All of the wine makers we visited produced great wines that are vivid expressions of the land that they came from. The wine makers all had subtle variations in their motivations, but passion for the land and pride in their unique ancient traditions was in all their hearts.

Roberto Henriquez

Roberto is such a nice guy and he's trying to build something bigger than himself that will help other local people make wine. His wines are very thoughtful, elegant, clean and alive. We spent 3 days with him picking grapes, helping crush, moving stuff around and walking all the vineyards. He's a modest and understated guy, but you can sense his intensity: the intensity of his vision for establishing a wine making industry here and helping to empower the local community. He's only been making wine commercially on his own for going on 5 years but he's leading the charge to bring these wines out to the rest of the world and to empower other local people to make and bottle wines as well.

Roberto Henriquez Santa Cruz de Coya $26
Santa Cruz de Coya is all Pais from about 3 vineyard sites in Bio Bio. All are on granitic soil; so bits of decayed granite, clay, some quartz. It's susceptible to erosion, poor in nutrients, hard when dry and super sticky when wet, but it rarely rains. All of these vineyards were previously abandoned and Roberto has been working for 5 years to recover them and retrain the vines. That means lots and lots of manual labor prunig, plowing natural organic fertilizer into the soil, and doing some plowing with a horse to work it. It ferments in open fermenters and then ages in concrete. The vines are 200 years old. This was the most elegant poised and beautiful wine I tried in Chile. It's friendly and reminds me a bit of cru Beaujolais. It's a little floral and has a hint of the black pepper that is a hallmark of Pais but it's so smooth.  

Roberto Henriquez Rivera Del Notro Tinto $29
Notro Tinto is also from Bio Bio, but it's an old vineyard planted on a hill side that used to be a bank of the Bio Bio river. It's a super unusual mix of alluvial river deposits and volcanic matter from a long extinct volcano. The top soil of the vineyard is this exceptionally fine black volcanic sand. Again it's nutrient poor and the vines have to send roots down 30-40 feet. But that makes them much more drought resistant. This is made in pretty much exactly the same manner as the Coya, but it has a more mineral back bone. It's more structured and firm. It's pretty and very integrated and beautiful, but the structure is more robust and can stand up to more food. 

In Depth Blog Post About Roberto

Gonzalez Bastias

Jose Luis Gonzalez Bastias was passionate, grounded, welcoming, and had a huge personality. He was totally in love with his family vineyard and to full of joy that he got to wake up there every day. He's the seventh generation of his family to make wine on this land. 

Gonzalez Bastias Naranjo (orange wine) $29
40% Pinl Moscatel, 40% Torontel, 20% Pais. All hand harvested and co-fermented all together for 60 days on the skins in open top vats. Then it spends a further 6 months aging in old Rauli wood tanks. This is the most lovely fruit forward, rich, and approachable orange wine I've ever tasted. I don't say that lightly.

Gonzalez Bastias Matorral Pais $23
100% Pais, hand harvested and destemmed/macerated with a zaranda. The wine ferments in open top cement and wood fermenters before being transferred to cement tanks for a year. It's a more broad and substantial Pais. This is really balanced and a delicious rich and meatier version of Pais. It has more force and more body than Roberto's somewhat more elegant expression. This reminds more of some of my favorite central Italian reds. It just seems like Jose Luis' big out going personality expressing itself. 

Gonzalez Bastias blog post and Video

That's all of Jose Luis's vineyards right there, with the Maule river beyond. If you zoom in you can even see him walking down the driveway!

Cacique Maravilla

Manuel Moraga was also a passionate larger than life character. His family had owned his vineyards since 1776 and he had taken over in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquakes that totally destroyed their winery. His life has been 10 years of methodical rebuilding out of love for the land and vines.

Cacique Maravilla Gutiflower Sparkling wine $21
This is a lovely fun delicious thirst quenching clean pet nat. Manuel Moraga is a party animal. Wines like this: fun delicious and that you can drink lots of, are what he does best. the fruit is juicy and sunny but there's a super cool underlying structure from the aging on the yeast.

Harvest Video

Here's a video I made of me harvesting grapes from tiny old bush vines with Roberto.

Also I went skinny dipping in the Bio Bio river. Here I am emerging like Venus.

The sunset behind Manuel's house. I think he just stares at this and goes to sleep every evening.  

So that's it. That's what I've been up to. I hope you're all well and feeling ok. This is a difficult time for everyone. Take care and be good to yourself and the others around you.


Copyright © 2020 Devenish Wines, All rights reserved.

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Devenish Wines
PO Box 11210
Portland, ME 04104

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How Hard is Wine Making in Chile?

Saturday afternoon I went with part of Roberto's crew over to Santa Juana to harvest some plums and to move water in the vineyard.  I had no idea what that meant but I jumped at the chance to spend some time getting to know the group of young guys working for Roberto.

Santa juana

It was about a 45 minute drive and we listened to the most eclectic mix of Pablo Neruda set ro rock music, Chilean folk music, reggaeton, and Cumbia. It was not and the drive made us all drowsy so first thing when we got there was to mix some instant coffee.  Then I went and harvested plums with a couple of the guys and the others went to check out the water situation.   
Santa Juana is where Roberto had made every vintage up until 2020 (4 vintages total).   It's beautiful peaceful little hidden valley with something like 3 ha of 200 hear old Pais vines but also lemon, apple, peach, plum, and fig trees.  There's a tiny ancient barn and half cellar where all the wine had been made.  
Picking plums
Roberto's bee hives
It was a hot summer afternoon but there was so much life: hawks cruising lazily over, bees, all kinds of fruits and vegetables growing everywhere, and a couple of Roberto's dogs hanging around.  After we had wandered about and picked all the plums we could reach (only one and a half trays) I decided to go see what the other guys were up to.  I good just see the edge of their truck way down in the bushes at the edge of the vineyard.  
20200307_163724Here's a picture of the vineyard.  The dam was way up on the back side of that hill on the far left.  
I walked down and they were lying in the shade with a hose stuck into a giant plastic tank in the truck bed.  We took a look and there was hardly any water. The hose had been run from some kind of water source, not a well they said, and they decided that we should go investigate.  Investigating turned out to be a 15 minute hike.
We climbed through two barbed wire fences, crossed two brooks on exceptionally sketchy plank bridges (the railing of one literally fell over when I looked at it), we hiked through the woods and then up every steep hill.  Finally we came to a tiny damn they had built across the creek with a pipe coming out of the bottom.  The idea was to build up a little natural reservoir they could tap by opening the valve on the far end of the hose way down hill.  Unfortunately there was pretty much no water in the dam.  
So we hiked all the way back down.  It was decided we should drink a bottle of wine and ait in the shade while we waited for the tank to fill up a tiny bit more.  I decided to run hill repeats.  Finally we drove the truck up above the house and transfers the water into another plastic tank using a pump. This tank was plumbed to the winery for cleaning and watering the garden.  

So 4 people spent an entire afternoon to get maybe 40 lbs of plums and 100 L of water.  It was so much work for so little.  I'll never take having water available in a winery for granted again, but it was a brilliant experience that demonstrated the difficulty of making wine in rural Chile but also the big hearted collaborative friendly spirit of the people.  The guys were so happy and friendly and were really enjoying them selves the whole time!

Gonzalez Bastias wines in Maule Chile

Monday we made the three hour drive up from Bio Bio to visit Gonzalez Bastias in the Maule valley.  We took our time and had some street food in the working city of Talca.  We ran into intense street demonstration between young women protesting for equal rights and saw them get confronted by riot police.  Chile is in an intersting situation right now.  They're still moving on from the rule of Augusto Pinochet (a brutal military dictator who ruled until 1990) and are about to vote on a new constitution.  The country has modernized quickly but it's happened at different speeds in different parts of the country.  There's intense inequality and a strong social movement has started to address that.  Overall it was a hot, intense, edgy day everywhere we went. 

Screenshot (13)

I decided to hop out and try to run the final 18K to the Gonzalez Bastias winery.  Let me tell you: that road is all hills!  It was about 90 degrees and there wasn't a cloud in the sky.  I made it 10K but the heat, steep hills, and the recent lunch I'd eaten all took a toll and I didn't run the final 8K.  


Bastias signThe landscape was beautiful, intense, and harsh.  Most of it was just totally empty and the dirt road was so rough we were worried our Citroen wouldn't even make it.  And then we dropped down out of the hills and drove through a beautiful gate made of thinly split logs.  we drove into this green oasis of verdant ancient Pais vines that looked like small trees and grew up to head height!  We walked into the covered but open air winery and were greeted by this towering guy in a suitably big straw hat who immediately poured us glasses of still fermenting grape juice and then got us cans of beer.  This was Jose Luiz.   He welcomed us and launched right in to talking about the wines he had fermenting, the empanadas we were going to have for dinner, and how much he loved this land! 




We walked into the vineyard with him and he took great pride in lifting up the dense leaf cover and showing us the massive trunks of the 200 year old vines and all the huge grape clusters that Pais is so good at producing.  He said he plowed the vineyards with his horses mid season and then used hoes to keep some of the other plants from growing in too much, but that he didn't spray anything at all because the Pais is so vigorous and that wine should be made in the vineyard.  He said that when he does prune he just leaves the cuttings where they fall to decompose.  

Jose L with vine


Jose Luiz said that the land owned him, not the other way around.  The idea of man owning land is crazy to him.  He had been born there, he said he would die there, and these 200 year old vines would keep producing amazing grapes.  The vines would not cry for him!  Matt said maybe the land would shed a little tear?  Jose Luiz said no, he had raised his kids well to continue maintaining this farm so that the land wouldn't miss him or cry at all.



We sat around outside eating amazing pork terrine for dinner that he had made himself.  Although his heart was very much in his little farm he was very well traveled.  He said years ago he had tried a bottle of Italian wine that had blown his mind and so he had decided to travel to learn more about wine other places.  I assume that was part of why he started exporting his wines 7 years ago.  He had traveled extensively in Italy and we talked about our shared love of Sicily.  He had also visited places like the Jura in France and I'm sure that extra knowledge helped improve his wine.  


His wine making is very natural, but he has a lifetime of experience.  He uses open cement fermenters, huge old Chilean wood Rauli barrels, and some stainless steel.  We drank his current release wines but also a Naranja skin contact white from 2017 and a Matorral red from 2010.  The 2010 was great and very harmonious!  He echoed some of the things I've heard from other wine makers: he worries that people will associate "natural" wine with wines that are funky.  To him natural wine should just be delicious and honest and taste like the place it comes from.  Wines that are "funky" are generally just poorly made.  Yes, funky is a subjective word and give him a break because he doesn't speak English, but he has a point that there is a segment of the natural wine pantheon that includes wines that are flawed.  That's totally ok, but I think he was worried that "natural" wine would come to be defined as wine with flaws.  


Then he showed us around the mud brick adobe house he had built him self.  I noticed a lot of interesting books like the I Ching and poetry from Gabriel Garcia Marquez kicking around, reinforcing the take away that he was more worldly and thoughtful that you would expect a guy who lives in such an incredibly remote place to be.  Jose Luiz was a super sweet joyful guy and his wines are fantastic.  I'm honored to work with them

20200310_080634Here's the view from the "driveway" looking down at Jose Luiz's little world.  Those are all the vineyards of Gonzalez Bastias and the Maule river out beyond them.  If you zoom in you can see Jose Luiz walking down the drive way with his dogs.


Here's a video of a vineyard walk with Jose Luis

Visiting with Mauricio Gonzalez Carreno at Estacion Yumbel


Mauricio was born a couple hours north of Bio Bio up in the town of Talca in Chile's central valley.  He worked at a couple wineries up in northern Chile, then over in Mendoza AR, before starting his own project down here in Bio Bio.  He said (in the video you can watch below) that he moved down here because it was a nicer place to live, to make wine on his own terms, and for he and his family's quality of life.  He said that up north in the industrial vineyards he had worked in his kids couldn't play in the vineyards because of the pesticides and all the tractors driving around.  Down in Yumbel he rarely has to even use basic copper treatments ever in a year because Pais is so vigorous and loves the environment so much!  And his kids can just play anywhere!   I am quite glad he did because his wines are fantastic.

We found Mauricio at his tiny wine barn on the edge of a hill in Yumbel.  It's an awesome location because a short walk up it you come to the top of the ridge and can look down on his 2.5 hectares of vineyards, look out at the Andes, and see north into the coastal mountain range.  The coastal range ends right there at that ridge top and the resulting gap lets cool air from the pacific in to Bio Bio and Itata.  

Mauricio makes 1700 cases of wine a year spread over a handful of wines: two Pais's from different vineyard locations, a white aged on skins in the tinaja, a Malbec from a few old vines, and a Carignan.  The two Pais's are the majority of what he makes.  Both are great and it's super interesting that they come from vineyards that border each other, but have very different characters and ripen about 2 weeks apart.  Quinta de Unihue is higher up the hill and ripens earlier.  The vineyard he uses for his Pipeno is a bit further down, is planted in fine black volcanic sand, and ripens a couple weeks later.  


Mauricio's little barn (and I'm calling it a barn but it might more honestly be a large shed) has light coming through all the walls and a dirt floor.  He has a couple of large old Rauli (giant barrels made form a unique Chilean tree), some old re-used French oak barrels, a couple stainless steel tanks, and a group of tinaja.  Tinaja are ancient clay amphora that were traditionally used for aging wine.   No one seems to make them anymore and Mauricio's are over 100 years old.  Sometimes he'll go driving around and look for people that have one sitting out in their yard (they're popular landscaping decorations for wealthy people now).  He knocks on doors and tries to convince them to sell their tinaja on the spot.  So far he's only ever gotten 1, but he's still looking.  If you know anyone with an antique Chilean tinaja that they don't want please reach out to him.  


It seemed like all of his reds go through primary fermentation in the large Rauli tanks.  He usually harvests several hundred kilos of grapes from any given vineyard about 10 days before the real harvest.  He puts those grapes into an old French oak cask and lets them start fermenting.  Then when he does the full harvest he dumps that smaller barrel in to act as a starter of sorts.  It's a technique that's used all over the world.  He's a knowledgeable wine maker and called it by it's French name: Pied de Cuve.  All the wines we tasted were zero sulfur added at all.  But Mauricio wasn't dogmatic about it and said that he would add sulfur at bottling on a wine by wine case if he had to.  Having a low PH (more acidity) helps stabilize a wine; in the current harvest the grapes had rather high PH so he suspected he might have to add a touch of sulfur when it came time to bottle.  That's the kind of thoughtful evidence based approach I appreciate. 

Mauricio also makes a distilled spirit from the left over skins after the press.  It's technically a Pisco (the local name for this grappa style spirit) but it's not like any store bought Pisco I've had.  He distills it 3 times and it was about 80% alcohol.  I tried rubbing some on the back of my hand to smell it, like I was taught to do with grappa, and it just smelled like straight alcohol.  It was quite impressive to drink!

Mauricio also (I've said that before, can you tell he's a busy guy?) trains Arabian horses for endurance races.  And he races them himself.  It's something that apparently runs in his family and he picked it up from his father.  He had 3 of the most beautiful horses I've ever seen in a pen out behind his house.  If I remember correctly the races are 120 K and happen over 6 hours in stages.  He trains the horses pretty much every day with some breaks from that during harvest when he's too busy.

Mauricio is a relaxed thoughtful guy who's always moving and working on something.  He's not frantic or too intense, but underneath he has a huge determination.  His wines were a great honest expression of the sun and richness of his land.  They're ripe and juicy but vivid and full of life like the best natural zero sulfur wines are when everything works out !

20200310_123221Mauricio standing in front of his tiny winery.




Roberto Henriquez in Bio Bio


In early March 2020 I got to spend several days with Roberto Henriquez during harvest.  

Roberto grew up in the area around Bio Bio and had the experience of making wine with his grandfather when he was younger but then went on to other things.  He's a pretty awesome drummer and has an album his band put out years ago.  After spending some time as a musician Roberto got into a university program studying Agronomy.  If I understood correctly, there aren't official wine making programs in Chile; you have to study Agronomy and it's considered engineering by the government and quite rigorous. So Roberto studied Agronomy and really dug into ecosystems and how grapes ripen differently on different vines and why.  It was a rigorous 4 year program and only 12 people out of his class graduated, but Roberto was one of those 12.

Chile has a complicated economy.  There are some really developed parts with services and manufacturing and great universities.  There are other parts where most people are subsistence farmers.  There's still a lot of extractive industry just producing and selling raw materials.  Down where Roberto is from the paper industry is the largest employer and seemed to be a majority of the economic activity.  Driving around there was just hill after hill of pine trees.  Everything had been clear cut and then planted with pine trees for the paper industry.  They get clear cut and the replanted periodically.  It's surreal and sort of soul crushing.  The pine trees are almost always there somewhere in your vision in uniform dark rows.  Back under the Pinochet regime the government gave subsidies to select rich families who bought land and then the Government planted trees which the landowners eventually sold and benefited from.  Sure, it created jobs, but those jobs are pretty dead end.  

TreesHere's a shot from Roberto's truck of a clear cut hillside with more pines in the back ground.

So Roberto grew up around it and rebelled against the whole structure.  There are 200 year old vines all over and people had made wine here for, well, at least 200 years.  The southern regions of Chile are regarded by the rest of the country as more rural and backwards and the people are more of indigenous decent so the more European northerners look down on them.  Wines from down here in Bio Bio, Itata, and Maule are very poorly regarded and the grapes are worth nothing, so many old vines have been ripped out to plant pine trees.  Or they don't even ripe the vines out, the just plant pine trees over them and crowd them out in the shade.  After working with Louis Antoine Luyt for a few years (but then feeling he had to work on his own and follow his own vision) and then working with Agnes and Rene Mosse in the Loire Roberto was confident that the vines and land of Bio Bio and Itata were special and could produce great wines.

New WineryHere's Roberto's new winery.  He had just built it and it didn't actually have water or power yet.

I think his first real commercial vintage was 2016.  The first vintage I was able to get my hands was 2017.  He started out making wine on a little plot of 200 year old Pais vines in Santa Juana in Bio Bio and making wine in a traditional open topped concrete vat that honestly looks more like a concrete hot tub than anything else.  Three years ago he built a new house in Patagual.  This past year he built a new winery at his house in Patagual!  It's a huge game changer going from the tiny low barn built into a hill side to a building with a concrete floor to work on and just spray down!  A little aside, the driving here is insane.  There are so many rivers and so few bridges that it seemed like Roberto spent hours every day driving around from one place to another.  

20200305_201617Here's the little vineyard in Santa Juana where Roberto started (and still does) make wine.  If I regularly spent time in a place like this I would be super calm and centered too!

Roberto is a thoughtful calm guy with infinite patience.  He had a great team made up of several agronomy students doing work study projects with him, a wine maker from Catalonia, a Journeyman winemaker named Paula, and a sommelier from Bogota Columbia.  Roberto gave them a ton of autonomy to figure a lot out on their own.  He was a much more relaxed lazare fair wine maker in how he supervised the people working for him than I'm used to.  That's not the whole story though.  Right from the beginning when I met him here in the US I could tell that he was motivated by a clear vision and that he was so passionate about it that he was that vision and the vision was him.  His vision is to have a critical mass of small farmers working together making wine from the traditional Pais vines down in Bio Bio and Itata and for that value added industry to help all the people there improve their lives.  It's his whole reason for being.


Here's a quick video of Roberto talking about how brutally low the prices are that big companies pay for grapes they buy

Roberto owns some vineyards and buys grapes from others.  Those he buys grapes from, he works in concert with the farmers to manage the vines year round.  He pays 3-4 times the market price for a kilo of grapes to ensure that they farm the way he wants and also because it's the right thing to do.  Large bulk wine producers may pay $1000 per 5000 kilos of grapes.  That just basically covers the pruning and cost of land for a farmer and leaves no actual profit.  Roberto hopes that if he proves wine making and exporting can work that other people will start making wine themselves too and then they'll slowly be able to push back against the paper industry and people will generally be more empowered economically to advocate for themselves and their communities.  It's a hard struggle.  Chile is a conservative agricultural culture.  The country is still emerging from the aftermath of the Pinochet military dictatorship and in the past 20 years they've experienced several crashes in the price of the raw materials that they export.  A lot of people are so used to the system being stacked against them that they're resistant to the idea of hope that it could change.

20200307_180606Old Tinaja at Roberto's barn in Santa Juana

Like many of the best wine makers Roberto blends tradition, intuition, and deep technical knowledge.  He ferments with out temperature control in a building that's pretty open to the environment.  He's got a thorough technical understanding of why happens during all the stages of fermentation and that allows him to play around and experiment with confidence.  He knows technically when things are going right and when the fermenting wine is stable and what environmental factors he can play around with to influence the wine without worrying he's going to mess it up.  In a more whimsical concept he puts rocks from the vineyard the grapes came from into the bottoms of the tanks that the wine ferments in.    He uses old tinaja (100 year old locally produced amphora, huge rauli (a local hard wood tree that is now rare because they were all logged) vats, and cement tanks.  Roberto hand harvests and sometimes uses a destemmer, sometimes presses by hand over a bamboo mat (zaranda). 

20200311_110119That's a zaranda that I'm working on.  You press grapes back and forth between two people and they slowly get pressed between the bamboo branches. 

20200305_200643 trim


Pipeno is a traditional style of red wine from the Maule/Bio Bio/Itata regions.  There's no legal definition so everyone fights over what it is.  Here's a video of Roberto explaining what Pipeno means to him.


Corona Virus Covid-19, This Time is Different

The disaster in public health and the economy caused by the spread of covid-19 is unlike anything we’ve experienced before.  In modern times we've never had a new virus emerge and create a pandemic. The resulting economic shock is also unique. All of our recent economic crises started as asset bubbles or liquidity crunches that first affected the financial industry before trickling down to Main St America.  The covid-19 economic crisis is going in the opposite direction: it has hit Main Street first as small businesses close to protect the health of themselves and the public. Consumer spending is 70% of the US economy and this shock will trickle up, although “erupt” might be more apt than “trickle”. This systemic shut down is necessary for our public safety, but just as when the human body goes into shock, outside intervention is needed to keep America's diverse economy on life support. In medicine the best practice is to cure the underlying problem while keeping the patient alive as you do it. The “patient” in this crisis is public health and the consumer economy.

Given that this is a unique situation it would be unreasonable to think that the tools of the past would be effective in handling the covid-19 crisis.  The Federal Reserve has cut rates to nearly 0. This is a helpful action but it addresses a symptom (anticipated liquidity crunch for large businesses) while ignoring the root problem: a crash in consumer confidence and demand due to a public health emergency for which we are not prepared.  To that end Congress should immediately undertake a massive investment in increased covid-19 testing, community health care, and a serious economic stimulus targeted directly at individuals and Main Street.  

The United States doesn't have widespread testing available for covid-19. That lack of knowledge leaves us blind and makes it much harder to effectively combat the outbreak. We need to increase the availability of test kits and shrink the turn around time of analyzing them. I don't know how to do that, but hundreds of thousands of lives and the US economy are on the line. In the status quo covid-19 cases seem to double every 6 days. The mortality rate is estimated at .5-2%. That could realistically mean over 600,000 deaths in America without taking into account people who will die from other causes if our health care system is overwhelmed. The threat is so large that speed is far more important than being fiscally frugal in the face of this impending catastrophe. Individuals need fast and direct governmental financial support to pay their bills and make it easier to stay home and flatten the curve of infection. Small businesses need zero interest loans or even just grants to pay bills and keep their heads above water. We know what will happen if we don't take overwhelming drastic action right now.  All we have to do is look at northern Italy to have some idea of what will happen in our hospitals and to the small businesses that our communities center around.  If there was ever a time to throw money at a problem: this is it. This is bigger than Maine.  It's bigger than any one state or even country.  We can do what we can in our communities to minimize the spread and help those in need, but we all need to put our voices together and demand stronger action from the Federal Government.  

I included these pictures for the sake of pictures so that this would be more visible on social media.


Here's a parking lot at dinner time that should be full of cars....


My friends Ilma and Damian of Chaval and Piccolo.  They've had to close their restaurant to dining in.  They're smiling because they just made hundreds of meals for school kids that need food assistance.  You can see the boxes in the background.  But I know that in their heads they're struggling with questions of how to keep paying the mortgage on the building that houses their restaurant and how to support their employees.

Ned's Going to Central Chile!

Ned's Going to Central Chile!

Not just Chile: Bio Bio and Itata valleys!

Look out for a lot of exciting videos, Blog Posts, and Social Media

No, I'm not just telling you about Chile to make you Jealous

I'm flying to Chile next Wednesday the 4th of March to visit Itata and Bio Bio. These are valleys down around Concepcion in central Chile, about 350 miles south of the capital Santiago. I speak no Spanish and have maybe 1/4 of a plan at this point.

Why am I going 350 miles south of Santiago?

Most of the wine that gets exported from Chile comes from closer to Santiago. There is plenty of good wine made up there, but overall the closer you get to Santiago the more people are of European descent and have close ties to Europe. Wine making up there is dominated by wine makers hired from Europe and the wine is made to please consumers in the US, Germany, Great Britain, etc. Like I said, there is plenty of good wine up there but most of it is trying to be good value wine and not necessarily unique representations of the place it comes from...

That changes down in Itata and Bio Bio. The original Spanish conquest started running out of steam down here and more people are of indigenous descent. They make wine, but in the primitive way that the Spanish taught them 400 or so years ago. The local style of wine, called Pipeno, was always looked down on as being poor peasant wines. Recently people finally pulled their heads out of their asses and realized that 200 year old ungrafted vines from varieties that are near extinct in Europe are pretty exciting! However, thanks to that outdated pig headed world view this unique wine culture has survived hundreds of years with people still making wines for local consumption because....they liked drinking them.

Here's a wine map of Chile (thanks again Brazos). You can see Santiago up in the north with Colchagua and Maipo (two more famous regions) around it. Scroll all the way down and you see Itata and Bio Bio closer to the ocean and with virtually no mountains blocking influence from the Pacific.

Finally the world has started to catch on to how interesting and exciting these Pipeno wines can be. Local wine makers have started getting out into the world. Tourists have experienced and loved the wines. And finally these wines are making it out of Chile.  

I've been interested in all of this for a couple years and am lucky to now be working with some of the producers leading the charge both to preserve local wine making traditions and also to export them to the rest of the world. I'm lucky to be working with Brazos Wine Imports: a company that's exclusively focused on unique wines from South America. There's not too much information and writing out there yet so I decided that the best thing for me to do was get on a plane! I actually really have no idea. The stuff I wrote above is what I've read, but a lot of that is second and third hand info. I'm looking forward to learning a lot! I'll be on the ground for about 10 days visiting wine makers like Roberto Henriquez, Gonzalez Bastias, and Mauricio Gonzalez Carreno.

There will be lots of emails, blog posts, and videos on the way so be on the look out!

Here are some fun pictures of where I think I'm going, courtesy of Brazos

This is the vineyards at Gonzalez Bastias

Here's how grapes are traditionally pressed: by hand over a bamboo mat. The juice runs between the sticks into an open fermentor underneath. Bits of skins and stems make it through as well and influence the wines taste.

Itata and Bio Bio are only a few miles from the Pacific. The climate is cooler and more maritime than Curico, Molina, and the rest of the Central valley where most commercial wine making happens.

Here's one of the wines I'm super excited about from down there: Vina Maitia Aupa. It's a Pipeno made from Pais and Carignan vines. They're about 80 years old and the wine is made in big 1000 L concrete spherical tanks. It's bright and fun and spicy and alive. And it's around $12!

And another exciting wine: Rogue Vine grand Itata Tinto! It's made from 100 year old bush vines that are mostly Cinsault with a little bit of Pais. This is so supple and smooth, it reminds me of red Burgundy in it's weight. It smells like cranberries, raspberries, and a little black pepper. The mouth feel is smooth but there's a little peppery spice and heat in there too.

This is about $19 retail

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