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Louis-Antoine Luyt and Clos Ouvert

Testing the wines at Clos Ouvert Testing the wines

Louis-Antoine Luyt is something of a renegade.  I met him recently at a wine tasting event and we got to talking about the current working life in Chile for a labourer or small vineyard owner.  I soon realised how passionate and even angry about the situation he is.

'I am not a political person' he said, ‘but I believe in things being fair and people being able to make the best situation for them selves'.

He told me about how 60% of the current production in Chile is controlled by only one company, Concha y Toro and the rest by a handful of others with only a tiny fraction of small production wine making going on.  With this domination of the production, these large companies are able to control the market price for grapes and buy out small vineyard owners who are made to believe it would better security for the future to sell their vineyards and then work as labourers/vineyard managers for the big firms.  I have been told by another wine maker from one of the big hitters of Chilean wine making how they help the life of the labourer by providing better housing, better wages, and allowing them to rear livestock on the vineyard land.  This particular wine maker talked proudly about the improvements his company had made for the workers but Louis-Antoine puts a different spin on it.

‘The people have a slightly better standard of living working for Conch y Toro or whoever but they will only ever have that.  They have no chance for the development of their own land or to make their own wine.  Any entrepreneurial ideas are squashed and workers are kept down, their only thought is to become an engineer but never a wine maker.  Growers who keep their land are told what price they will get for their grapes and have no choice but to accept.  I pay 4 times the market value for my grapes from the small growers I work with and help them to improve their viticulture methods and to produce better fruit.  I have taught them about Biodynamic practises as well and we work together to keep viticulture sustainable and healthy.  If one of them wished to start to bottle and make his own wine, I would delighted and would help however I could.  I would also feel it was a victory over the big companies as it would be another small producer making quality, individualistic wines in Chile.’

Louis-Antoine has not found it easy in Chile.  He is a rogue promoting the small over the big, going against powerful corporations and talking about giving the power back to the growers.  Most of vast wealth made in Chile’s wine production goes into the pockets of a tiny handful of people.  Louis-Antoine thinks this is wrong.  He has alo ruffled some feathers talking up the native Pais grape variety with which he makes his signature Cuvee, ‘Huaso’ and also two other delicious albeit, less intense wines called ‘Trequilemu’ and ‘Quenehuao’. 

Huaso Pais Clos Ouvert Huaso

This variety originated in Spain and has for centuries been the workhorse of Chile’s vineyards making large quantities of plonk for the local market.  Yet these Phylloxera free vineyards have been regenerating themselves over 3 centuries meaning some have vines of over 300 years old!  The Pais variety is rustic but when treated right from the old, low yielding vineyards, it can produce absolute stunning wines that are intensely drinkable and genuinely unique.  They are also the antithesis of the fruit bomb style that has made Chile so successful in the mass market but which has also limited the ambition of smaller growers to make something more interesting.  Pais really could put Chile on the map in a different way and show that the small growers with old vineyards really do have something to shout about and something to develop on their own.  More importantly the variety could be the basis of a new wave of small artisan producers that challenge the domination of the juggernauts of Chilean Wine!