Natural Wine Goes South — Really Far South

By Thomas Madrecki

Louis Antoine Luyt isn’t like most winemakers in Chile.

If his name wasn’t enough of an indication (he’s French), his wines will fill in any gaps in understanding. They’re pure, focused, almost Pinot Noir-esque — nothing like the big, bombastic reds many Americans associate with South America. They have the unexplainable “liveliness” that some natural wines have, where the flavors are so readily apparent and the wine just glides off your tongue.

That “different” quality compared to other Chilean wines is anything but unintentional. Luyt’s route to getting there is intentionally non-interventionist; the former dishwasher later picked up an interest in producing wines with character and distinction, a search that led him back to France for his training.

As Luyt explained in an interview with Louis/Dressner Selections:

“At first, I was surprised how homogenous Chilean wine tasted to me; this sparked an interest in local wine and the people who made it. What I came to realize is that there are incredible vineyard sites here, and even though a large part of it is completely industrialized, there were still some independently run parcels. Everyone told me they were worthless, but I didn’t believe it.

In 2001, I came back to France to work a harvest. I ended up working for Phillipe Pacalet, and discovered there was a viticulture/oenology school in Beaune. I begrudgingly went back to Chile after that harvest, but came back to France in 2002, determined to go to school. The idea was to apply what I would learn back in Chile. But before that, I wanted some work experience to see if this was really what I wanted to do. I eventually hired by Louis Jadot’s in Morgon; I learned a lot there, and had a great experience. I then worked the 2002 harvest in Burgundy, followed by my schooling in Beaune. I met Matthieu Lapierre there, and this was my introduction to natural wine. I got to visit the estate many times, and to spend some special moments with Marcel.”

In Europe and France in particular, the idea of natural wine and less intrusive winemaking techniques is gaining widespread acceptance thanks to a generation of sommeliers, chefs and young drinkers. In Paris, it’d be more shocking to see a new wine bar flaunt sulfur-added wine than it would be to encounter an oxidized and cidery unfiltered white wine. But in Chile, the concept of natural wine is still a new one — or maybe not:

“It’s a little odd talking about all this stuff from a Chilean point of view, since every single peasant here makes natural wine. But then again, these peasants don’t sell their wines much further than a few doors down the road from their farms. I’m the only guy doing this and exporting it, and I’m the first to claim the wines to be made “this way.” All my oenologist friends out here think i’m absolutely crazy, and this is why I have less and less oenologist friends!

Being in Chile protects me from all the pissing contests and mini-chapels about natural wine. I’m not part of the A.V.N, but I know that everyone in France respects what I do. I’m expressing unique terroirs, and that’s what’s important.”

On this point, Luyt is right on the money. His wines really are unique, and I’m unbelievably happy to have tried them. Here’s my tasting note for his Carignan:

2010 Louis Antoine Luyt Empedrado Carignan, Maule, Chile

As if natural Chilean wine wasn’t unusual enough, here’s a natural Chilean wine – a Carignan, no less – that is absolutely silky smooth and easy to drink. At 12.9 percent alcohol, it is more Old than New World, reflecting the profile of its maker’s French upbringing and general noncomfority. Delicious upon opening, but absolutely stunning after an hour decant. Delicate cherry fruit, Asian spices, meaty duck, woodsy pipe tobacco and black tea all glide across the palate. Lithe but not shy, this wine manages to balance the ”liveliness” of many natural wines with the tremendous fruit potential of South American reds.

MSRP: $21.99
Wine Lines Rating: 91


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