Ventisquero’s John Duval answers the call…
A 3:00 AM phone call usually means bad news, but in this case, it was simply a matter of mistaken time zones. Awoken at that early hour, Aussie winemaker John Duval thanked the caller for the job offer and went back to sleep. Fortunately, he continued the conversation when he was more alert, eventually accepting the role of consulting winemaker for Chilean brand, Ventisquero.
After overseeing 29 vintages at Penfolds as Chief Winemaker, John Duval was looking for his next venture. While he was open to various options, he knew that he didn’t want to be on a plane all of the time; he wanted to stay married and see his family. Accordingly, he started a family wine project, making wine under his own label, but the opportunity to consult for Ventisquero was very intriguing, so he signed on to the team in 2004.
As a result, John’s portfolio is an unusual one for a consulting winemaker since he must complete two vintages in the same hemisphere. He travels to Chile twice each year, which generally works out well since Chile’s cooler climate means that the grapes ripen several weeks later than those in Australia.
The Ventisquero project was especially appealing given the company’s approach to innovation with precision soil mapping and terroir-focused replanting. Moreover, the company practices sustainability throughout the entire process. Overall, the partnership has provided both parties with a good balance because John is the Syrah/Shiraz expert while his colleague Felipe Tosso is the go-to guy for Carménère. The two collaborate on a range of wines, particularly at the premium level.
At the company’s entry-level, its Ventisqero Grey offers single-block wines, produced as both blends and varietally-labeled wines. The Grey GCM 2013 is a blend of Grenache, Carignan and Mourvèdre from Block 28 in Apalta, which has been aged in old barrels. Produced in a nouveau style, this wine is fresh and fruity, with zippy acidity, lighter body, berries, spice and long length.
The Grey Carménère 2011 is made from grapes sourced close to Maipo and is very smokey and herbaceous on the nose. Its elegant palate boasts spices, herbs and lots of red fruits, coupled with ripe tannins, medium+ acidity, medium+ body and long length.
The premium-level, aptly-named Vertice, means connection referring to the connection between John and Felipe in bringing together their respective expertise — Syrah and Carménère. Having tasted both the 2005 and 2009 versions of this wine, it was evident that the wine is quite ageworthy. The two grapes are well knitted together offering up intense and concentrated aromas of black fruit, cedar, vanilla, joined by flavors of plum, slight spice, wood and dried herbs. The palate is dry with medium acidity, medium-firm tannins and full-bodied. The 2009 wine was slightly more oaky and rustic, which I attributed to its youth.
Named for the precursor, single landmass that eventually became our various continents, Pangea is another John and Felipe collaboration, this time with a sole emphasis on Syrah, harvested from key vineyard blocks. Smoke and black fruit greet the nose, while the dry palate displays vibrant acidity, fine grained tannins and black and blue fruit, spice, and slight mineral notes. We again tasted the 2005 and 2009, with the younger wine showing more herbal and fruit notes, but was still quite elegant.
John and Felipe’s most recent project is Enclave, a Bordeaux-style wine, which debuted with the 2010 vintage. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Carménère, they buy in fruit from older vines of very special vineyards. The 2010 showed cassis and black fruit with medium acidity and firm tannins, and was more generous than the 2011, which was a cooler vintage.