About The Author:

"Roger, The Wine Guy" is Roger Yazell, CWS. He is a member of the International Wine Guild and has had a long time admiration of wine. After careers in broadcasting, advertising and marketing account management, he explored his love of wine in hospitality, wholesale and retail sales. The intent of Roger's Grapevine is to share stories, history and information that will add to the reader's love, enjoyment and appreciation of wine and sake'.

Questions, requests for topics and comments are always welcome via email: rogerthewineguy@gmail.com.

(Note: The Wine Guy is currently undergoing chemotherapy and this blog will be on hiatus for the duration and into a recovery period. The Wine Guy is planning to celebrate his recovery with a trip to the two wine producing regions in Argentina and that should provide for some interesting new blogs. Meanwhile please enjoy the archives and feel free to email in the interim.)

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A visit to an Ecuadorian Winery!

The gate to Chaupi Estancia
Mr & Mrs Wine Guy
enjoying a Palomino Fino!
After more than a year as residents of this beautiful country, the fetching Mrs. Wine Guy and I recently made our first visit to an Ecuadorian vineyard and winery.   Located in the Yaruqui Valley northeast of Quito,  Chaupi Estancia (Little Ranch) has an interesting history, ripe with potential, but with a future that currently looks uncertain.

Chaupi Estancia was the vision of wine lover Dick Handal who first came to Ecuador and the Quito area with a textile firm.  He bought the property which now lies near to the new Quito International aiport in the 90's and achieved his first success with a white wine made from Palomino Fino.  Palomino Fino is best know as one of the principal grapes in the production of both dry and sweet sherry.   Chaupi Estancia's Palomino Fino is not fortified nor does it utilize the solera production techniques of sherry wine from Spain so to call it similar to sherry would be misleading.  It is, however, a very refreshing dry, very crisp, and light white wine.  It was the first successful bottling sold from the winery. It has won some recognition internationally, including from Decanter Magazine, and has been regularly produced thoroughout Chaupi's 15+ year history.  It is the most consistent wine produced by the winery and remains the backbone of its production.  It is rarely found in Ecuador outside of the Quito area.  This is partially due to limited volume and the perception that Ecuadorian wholesalers have attached to Chaupi Estancia as being overpriced inferior Ecuadorian wines.  Having your most successful product as a dry white wine in a land where what little wine preference there is among locals is usually red and fruit forward has not helped the winery's effort to become commercially viable.  Unfortunately, while they have some recognition internationally, they have neither the volume nor the price point for commercially viable exportation.   Their ultimate success may well lie in their ability to forge a niche and loyal following as a quality on-premise wine in finer restaurants.  This is a formidable challenge and daunting task anywhere, much less in a developing Latin American country!
The wineroom at Chaupi Estancia

Shortly after 2004 when red wine production began, Chaupi Estancia became one of the first international members of the California based Meritage Association and it was a version of their Meritage, "Alyce",  (named for Dick's wife Alyce Denier) that actually first caught The Wine Guy's attention.  As a bold red blend priced in the mid 20's, it wasn't appealing to Ecuadorians.  However, when I first tried it in Quito during a visit to Ecuador more than two years ago,  I was honestly a little stunned!   I admired the quality of this red blend produced from grapes grown less than a thirty minute slow drive to the Equator!   This winery also went on to produce what others have told me was a very pleasant and smooth Chardonnay-Viognier blend.   Unfortunately, consistently growing grapes this close to the Equator sometimes proves to be somewhat of a challenge.   The Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon formerly utilized for the Meritage blend are nowhere to be found today on the vineyard.   As a result, "Alyce" has become a conglomeration of red grapes that have managed to survive and is a shadow of its former self.  The touted Chardonnay-Viognier blend became history when the otherwise healthy chardonnay vines suddenly just ceased bearing fruit.  

Pinot Noir just south of the Equator!
While dining this past month at one of Quito's better restaurants in the historico centro ("Teatrum"), I was nearly blown away by a Pinot Noir from Chaupi Estancia that compared very favorably with moderately priced pinots from California and the northeast.   With only a few comparable pinots even available at all in Ecuador and usually priced 2-3 times their cost in the US, this was a welcome surprise!  I was not astonished that the winery price for this wine retailed in the 20's.  I noted increased planting of Pinot Noir as we walked the vineyards in our tour.  Knowing the fickleness of Pinot Noir, however, it remains to be seen if the winery can continue to produce as nice a wine as I enjoyed in the restaurant.   Their next vintage is not yet ready for release.  It could become a potential factor for the winery's continued acceptance, especially with the rapidly growing influx of tourists and expatriates who miss affordable Pinot Noir! 

While they remain owners, Dick and Alyce have now returned to their old stomping grounds in California.  They also have ownership in Handal-Denier vineyards in Sonoma's Dry Creek appelation just outside Healdsburg.  There, their winery produces grapes for a highly touted Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah as well as supplying grapes for an old vine Zinfandel.  Their age, their absence from Ecuador,  as well as the inconsistent availability of good grapes at the Ecuadorian vineyard  may be signalling that time has become of the essence for Chaupi Estancia Winery.  It may not have a lot of time left to rise above the few isolated bright flashes in their history and become a fully established winery and beacon for Ecuadorian wine production.  They are presently in strong need of some more successes, more consistency and being able to gain better acceptance from the small but growing wine community and wine trade within Ecuador itself.

The Wine Guy with Antoinette Cook
of Chaupi Estancia Winery.
  As a wine lover and and as a new resident and admirer of this country, I do hope for the day when what I feel is  Ecuador's unique potential as a wine production area might be realized.  Common conventional thinking says temperate climates should be necessary for quality wine production.  Counterpoint to that thinking is the increasing number of great wines now being produced in some very unique locales throughout the world.  It may take unconventional thinking... perhaps some unconventional techniques and maybe even, the use of unconventional varietals but Ecuador does, I feel, have the potential to become a world recognized producer of quality wines.   Despite their limited success and current struggles, Chaupi Estancia, at the very least,  has proven it is possible to produce quality wine within a stone's throw of the Equator.

Viable wine production first occurred in Ecuador over 540 years ago.  Hopefully,  it won't take that long for someone to pick up Dick Handel's torch and carry it through to a new future for Ecuadorian wine.

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