Many of the people I spoke to in Chile were quite proud of the diverse European immigrant populations that have seeded the country in previous centuries, especially those that brought with them skills, knowledge, and entrepreneurship. Even more recent immigrants, like Norwegian Dan Odfjell are welcomed, especially when they come bearing gifts. Odfjell brought two things to Chile with him. The first was his shipping empire which quickly established itself in Chile's busy ports. The second and perhaps more romantic gift, was the Fjord Horse.
While you won't exactly find these horses running around all over Chile, you certainly can't miss them as you walk up the driveway to Odfjell Vineyards in the Maipo Valley. These striking animals are both decorative and functional for the winery, who uses them to plow the fields. Who knows exactly why Odfjell decided to import the horses, but the official line from the winery is that they were a gift to his adopted home.
Odfjell grew up in Norway, the son of a son of a sailor. Heir to Odfjell SE, the family's massive international tanker and cargo shipping business, Odfjell balanced his executive pursuits with more agrarian pastimes, including beekeeping, gardening and horseback riding.
After falling in love with Chile, primarily for its climatic difference to his rainy homeland, Odfjell, almost on a whim, bought a piece of property in the Maipo valley with the thought of having a farm of his own. Indeed, at first Odfjell planted fruit trees, but eventually came around to the idea that vines might be better suited to the place, and set about building a winery.
Odfjell's son Laurence was just finishing his architecture degree at Yale when his father asked him to design a winery, which Laurence did with remarkable facility in 1997. It was either the first, or one of the few earliest gravity flow wineries in Chile, and seems incredibly functional in its execution. A large portion of the winery is underground, and this, combined with foot-thick cement walls and cleverly designed airflow makes for a naturally cooled and quite energy efficient operation. Add some very nice Norwegian design influences -- clean lines, beautiful wood, great use of light and space -- and you get a very pretty winery indeed.
Thankfully, given that such correspondence is not always the case, the beauty of the winery is matched by its wines, which were initially made in conjunction with consultant Paul Hobbs, but which are now firmly in the hands of Arnaud Hereu, who hails from Bordeaux, France.
Hereu manages the roughly 70,000 case production adroitly, and seems to have a great sense of humor about even the most serious of setbacks that he has had to overcome at the winery, from having to line all the cement tanks with stainless steel after the frequent small earthquakes led to persistent leaks, to a winery-wide Brett infestation that took several years to eradicate.
Now in its roughly 10th commercial vintage Odfjell seems to have found its stride, and is making some remarkable wines. In particular, the winery specializes in ancient vine, organically dry-farmed Carignan, which it offers in both single varietal bottlings as well as in its top blends. The winery owns three main vineyards in Maipo, Curico, and Maule.
Hereu's winemaking regime may best be described as state of the art -- from cold soaking to micro-oxygenation. Most of the red wines are made with partial or entire whole cluster fermentation, and the top wines tend to be only lightly filtered if they are filtered at all. Interestingly the winery uses a large percentage (up to 40% with some wines) of American oak in its wines.
Odfjell's portfolio, like many Chilean wineries is quite vast, but it contains gems at all levels. In particular, however, the top wines are truly outstanding and worth seeking out.
Note that some of the vintages below are not yet in the American market, but several previous vintages are available.
2009 Odfjell "Armador" Sauvignon Blanc, Casablanca Valley, Chile $12
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of cut grass, green apples. In the mouth it is crackly with acidity and flavors of green apples, green melon, and bright lemony juiciness. Score: around 9. Click to buy.
2008 Odfjell "Armador" Carmenere, Maipo Valley, Chile $12
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of wet dirt, pencil shavings, and dried cherries. In the mouth the wine is relatively smooth, with light leathery tannins and cherry. Notes of green fresh herbs appear on the back palate and remain with the tea-like tannins in the finish. Score: around 8.5.
2007 Odfjell "Armador" Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley, Chile $12
Dark garnet in color, this wine has a nose of graphite and black cherry. In the mouth the wine is cool and slick with wet dirt and black cherry flavors. Black tea notes emerge with the drying tannins and linger in the finish. Score: around 8
2008 Odfjell "Armador" Merlot, Maipo Valley, Chile $12
Dark garnet in color, this wine has a nose of black plum and chocolate aromas with a light underlying greenness. In the mouth it is plummy with black cherry and green vegetal aromas that are thankfully not overpowering. Good acidity marries well with fine grained tannins through a nice finish with hints of chocolate. Score: around 8.5
2008 Odfjell "Armador" Syrah, Maipo Valley, Chile $12
Dark garnet in color, this wine has a nose of cassis, dried, cherries, and hints of cedar. In the mouth it is nicely balanced with cassis and black cherry flavors. Very faint tannins emerge on the back palate, but without much presence on the palate. This wine seems quite front-loaded in terms of flavor. Score: around 8.
2006 Odfjell "Orzada" Carmenere, Maule Valley, Chile $20
Dark garnet in the glass this wine has a nose of graphite, cola, and pipe tobacco. In the mouth the wine tastes of coffee, graphite, and flavors of heavily toasted oak wrapped around a core of very juicy ripe cherry, but that is really well integrated. Too much oak for my tastes, but with good acidity very fine grained tannins, and a nice finish, this wine will no doubt appeal to many. Score: around 8.5.
2005 Odfjell "Orzada" Carignan, Maule Valley, Chile $20
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine has a nose of mulberry and cassis with a beautifully floral component, in the mouth it is juicy with a dark cassis, black cherry, and hints of blueberry. Very light tannins and good acidity make this wine a very seamless package that is delicious. Made from 70 year-old-vines. Score: around 9. Click to buy.
2007 Odfjell "Orzada" Malbec, Ribera del Rio Claro, Lontue Valley, Chile $20
Dark purple in the glass, this wine has a nose of cassis and blueberry aromas with underlying aromas of graphite. In the mouth the wine has dark berry flavors that hover between cassis, blueberry, and black cherry, with drying tannins, and notes of mocha on the finish. Made from organically grown grapes. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Click to buy.
2007 Odfjell "Orzada" Cabernet Sauvignon, Rio de Piedras, Colchaugua Valley, Chile $20
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine has a nose of cherry, cedar, and espresso aromas. In the mouth it offers cherry and cedar flavors with what I think are oak-driven signatures of espresso and pencil lead. Grippy tannins emerge on the finish. Score: around 8.
2006 Odfjell "Orzada" Syrah, Maule Valley, Chile
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine has a nose of violets, cassis, and blackberry aromas. In the mouth it is smooth and glassy, with a very heady, aromatic core of cassis and blackberry with a very clear sense of the alcohol, but without the heat -- this manifests in a very expansive, with a long finish. Score: between 8 and 8.5.
2005 Odfjell "Orzada" Cabernet Franc, Maule Valley, Chile $20
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine has wonderfully floral, brown sugar and cherry aromas on the nose. On the palate it is exceedingly plush and satiny, with very light tannins, and some beautiful caramel notes wrapped around a core of bright cherry and milk chocolate fruit. Score: around 9. Click to buy.
2006 Odfjell "Aliara" Red Wine, Central Valley, Chile $35
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine has a muted, earthy nose with hints of darker fruit. In the mouth the wine is gorgeously juicy, with bright cassis blueberry and black cherry flavors. Very light tannins and great acidity are seamlessly married to a dark earthiness at the base of this wine, but the fruit really sings. A blend of Malbec, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and old vine Carignan. 1500 cases made. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Click to buy.
2004 Odfjell "Odfjell" Red Wine, Colchagua Valley, Chile $75
Dark garnet in color, this wine has a nose of cedar and hints of vegetal aromas that lean towards evergreen. In the mouth it is spicy, with cherry, raspberry, and Mexican chocolate with red chili pepper, but that pepper heats up in the finish in a way that isn't so desirable. Quite a seamlessly made wine. The 2004 vintage was 100% Carmenere. 90 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9.
2005 Odfjell "Odfjell" Red Wine, Cauquenes, Maule Valley, Chile $75
Dark garnet in color, this wine has a nose of dark chocolate and cassis with gorgeous blueberry undertone that is incredibly aromatic. In the mouth it is a really nice balance between rich, juicy cassis and black cherry fruit, with a spiciness and cocoa powder flavor that lingers into the finish which is quite long. Very well integrated, powdery tannins. The 2005 vintage is 100% Carignan, and is quite possibly the best 100% Carignan I have ever had. 180 cases made. Score: around 9.5 .