Chilean wines are gaining recognition in North America and it’s no wonder; Chile’s been growing wine for centuries and its mild climate and many wine-growing regions offer ideal wine-growing conditions. I recently spoke with Courtney Kingston Pflaum of Kingston Family Vineyards about her experience as a wine-maker in Chile’s western Casablanca region.
Your winery is situated in western Casablanca. Why does that region of Chile lend itself to wine-growing? Which wines grow best? Casablanca is one of the cooler valleys in Chile, and western Casablanca—closest to the coast—is the coolest. Our vineyard is situated only 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean. The cool ocean breezes and mediterranean climate create an ideal place for wine grapes like Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Sauvignon Blanc.
How long have you been making wine? What got you started in wine? Our first vintage was in 2003. My great-grandfather, CJ Kingston, went to Chile in the early 1900′s looking for gold. Five generations later, our family is still living on our ranch in Casablanca. For years and years, we had cattle and dairy cows grazing on the land, but they never liked the steep hills. In the mid-1990′s, we planted our first grapevines on the hillside overlooking the rest of our farm. Our vineyard is now one of the best in Chile, particularly for cool climate grapes. We sell most of our grapes to other respected Chilean wineries like Montes, Concha y Toro and Santa Carolina. We hold back a small amount—the best of the best to showcase our vineyard—to crush for our own Kingston Family wines.
How many barrels/bottles do you produce every year? Do you export your wines or are they used mostly for domestic consumption? How many acres of grapes do you have? We are a boutique operation by Chilean standards. We make about 120 barrels a year to bottle 3,000 cases a year, or about 36,000 bottles of Kingston Family wine. Believe it or not, that’s the same amount of wine that many wineries spill on the winery floor on a typical day! Our vineyard is about 250 acres, nestled into the hillside of our ranch of about 8,000 acres. As I mentioned earlier, we have more grapes planted than we harvest for our own Kingston wines, with every row managed for a different Chilean winemaker’s style and special requests.
Most of our family’s wines are exported to the USA, with a small amount also sent to Canada, the United Kingdom and Brazil. In Chile, our wines can be found at a handful of top wine shops and restaurants in the Santiago area.
Do you offer winery/vineyard tours? If so, hours/fees? We do. We welcome visitors, but all tours are by appointment only, given our small size. You will be shown around by a winemaker or family member from our small team at Kingston Vineyards. The tasting fees per visit vary, based on what wines the visitors to Kingston would like to taste. The best way to set up a visit is to email Evelyn Vidal and her winemaking team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the last few years, I’ve seen a lot more Chilean wines on grocery store sheves. What makes Chilean wine attractive to American/Canadian consumers? Two things. First, Chilean wine is often an excellent value for the price. The quality of Chilean wines has far outpaced the increase in wine-making costs in Chile, making our wines a lot more affordable relative to other wines from our European or North American peers. Second, I think Chilean wines are a welcome blend of the Old World and the New…combining the structure of old world wines with the brightness and intensity of new world fruit.
What’s your signature wine? Our top pinot noir is our Kingston Family Vineyards “Alazan”, and we have a barrel selection called “CJ’s Barrel” ($32). All our wines are inspired by favorite family horses from years past, and Alazan was my Uncle Peter’s horse in the 1950′s. CJ was my great-grandfather who was the first Kingston to settle in Chile back in the early 1900′s. The CJ’s Barrel typically comes from a one or two barrel blend of the best pinot noir grapes from our vineyard that particular year. We make such a small amount that it is only available direct from the winery and sells out almost immediately when it is released each September. If you’d like to try a bottle, you can visit us in western Casablanca or join our Old Corral wine club on our website (www.kingstonvineyards.com). Old Corral members are given top priority on all new releases of Kingston wines like CJ’s.
Your favorite wine? This is a tough question, as it’s similar to asking me which of my three daughters are my favorite! I do have a special spot in my heart for our “Lucero” Syrah. It is such a versatile, tasty wine for the price ($18, 90 pts Wine Spectator). Our Lucero is unique in that it’s a cool climate syrah, made in a style similar to the Northern Rhone in France. Most syrahs from Chile have more in common with the syrahs that come from our Southern Hemisphere neighbors in Australia. Our Lucero has lots of bright fruit and is complemented by white pepper spice and bacon undertones. It’s my first choice on Sunday afternoons at the casa patronal when we grill meat on our parilla in our backyard.