Francisco Carrau | Bodega Cerro Chapeu

rootstocks #0001

Gently free the potion from its captivity, let it breathe and slow yourself down as well: Pour a glass and make yourself comfortable.
This first edition of rootstocks will take you about 14 minutes to read.

Dear Wine Professional, Dear Wine Lover,

you are reading the very first pressing of the rootstocks newsletter and may it be the first of many… (rest assured, I will not make all possible wine puns)

As announced earlier, we start these series off interviewing Professor Francisco Carrau, of Bodega Cerro Chapeu. I truly hope the contents below are to your liking.

For now, let’s start with the interview!

Name: Francisco Carrau
Company: Bodega Cerro Chapeu / Castel Pujol
Country: Uruguay
Location/Region Winery: Departamento de Rivera — Just 12 km East of the bi-national city of Rivera-Santana do Livramento on the path of the border line between Uruguay and Brazil
Main Grape Variety: Tannat
Family Business since: 1752

The birth of a company, of an expertise, a passion and a craft... Take me back to the very beginning, the origins of the company, how the family got involved in wine and eventually how you yourself got into the business.

Originally, before 1752, my family was located in Catalunya, Spain. By profession, they were fishermen in Vilasar de Mar, a small town North of Barcelona. They bought their first vines in 1752. The variety they planted was Parrellada, a white grape that is still typical for Cava sparkling wines.

Personally, I started my affection for wine together with my older brother and my father, while traveling with them to the winery during vintage time. Visiting grape growers, our vineyards and helping out during the vinification process at harvest. I started studying biology and yeast in the University, and understood that fermentation was my passion.

From grapes to wine tasting… it just needs patience and passion.

When it comes to family business, there is a lot at stake and there is a different level of relationships and emotions attached. Share some of the typically family-related events that marked the company's history, perhaps even shaped the company as it is right now.

My grandfather, Juan Carrau Sust, winemaker from Villafranca del Penedes, emigrated to Uruguay in 1929 during the economic crisis with his wife, Catalina Pujol and 5 children. He had to start all over again in a young wine country, but with his Uruguayan partners, they built the top winery in volume and quality in Uruguay in just 10 years: Santa Rosa.

When he suffered a stroke in 1940, my father Quico Carrau Pujol was just 16 years old. Forced to substitute his father abruptly and while under pressure, he continued the growth and development of Santa Rosa, all the way to its best years in 1960s.

In 1973, my father being 48 years old and his brother the accounting manager at 45, decided to separate from Santa Rosa and start the Castel Pujol and Cerro Chapeu projects. They believed it better to be smaller and to have their own family business.

With a multiple generation’s history in wine, what is the legacy you are carrying? How is that legacy best portrayed in the brand, the wine and its audience?

I am the 9th generation father to son in grape and wine. The legacy we received is that passion for this business needs to be transmitted to the next generation before they are ten years old. The other is that quality starts in the vineyards, and patience is the way to develop great wines.

When it comes to Terroir, there are many factors to take into account: The combination of Climate, Soil, Terrain and Tradition makes a specific recipe for the Microbes and Bacteria that are the basis for a unique result... What does that look like for you? What are the factors that define your Terroir?

Our terroir in Cerro Chapeu is very unique within the Uruguayan wine country. Deep red sandy soils, altitude 1000 feet, good drainage, no Phylloxera, all in the purest environment of Uruguay. Native grasses and forest, with sheep, no irrigation and low input viticulture advantages. Native yeast from our vines are managed for all fermentations since 1997, in a gravity fed winery with minimal handling of the grapes. This allowed our wines to differentiate from other regions.

Vintages: not one is the same. Yet some stand out. Forces of Nature, politics or human error, some vintages are extra special, either in taste, volume or simply in memory. Share those that immediately come to mind.

Our weather conditions are very variable, and this gives vintage differences, something very common in the old-world wine regions. In my opinion this is very nice as every vintage and harvest time needs your attention and is never boring, neither in the process or in the palate of wines. In very dry regions elsewhere in the world, this is not so diverse, easy to work if you irrigate, yet yields very low diversity wines.

What is the flow from the vines all the way to the bottle? Who is involved and where does your process differentiate from the "regular"? Are there any major differences for the different varieties?

The grapes are hand-picked. Each block is vinificated separately to follow the quality potential of the single vineyards. Then crushing over the tanks, all gravity fed, so there is no pumping involved. This allows to get whole berries depending the variety. Open tanks punching down…

Open tanks are more aerobic and punching down means you make it as was done by hand; not by pumping over. This is a more gentle way to macerate, to mix the skins with the juice.

Tannat as the main variety, but many other varieties that are consistent to our region: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and others such as Nebbiolo, Teroldego, Petit Manseng, Tempranillo, etc. We have a collection of varieties planted in order to discover those that will adapt to our region most optimally.

Originating from the South West of France, Basque country along the Pyrenees, nowadays Tannat is the National Grape of Uruguay. Please share the story of how it has developed as such and how it differentiates from other varieties: What makes it so special?

It was introduced to Uruguay in 1870 by Pascual Harriague, a French Basque. It is so adapted to the cooler and humid conditions of Uruguay that nowadays more than 35% of the vineyards are Tannat.

It produces good quality every year compared to other red varieties. Richer in healthy tannins, antioxidants, with more color and good acidity. Without the need to correct acids as you do have to with some other varieties such as Merlot or Syrah, Tannat, she likes humidity or cool weather.

When you educate others about Tannat, how do you translate your passion for it?

It is a dry rich wine with tannins and body and these characteristics give ideal conditions for pairing with a grilled, smoky food, cooked on the fire. Not just beef and lamb, which are typical in Uruguay, but also for smoky vegetables, like onions, peppers, etc.

If you really want to enjoy Tannat you should consider it as a dry wine, for food, not as an appetizer.

This may be something you're reluctant to share: Your winery's cellar... your private cellar: What bottle does not see the light of day but is worth mentioning? What gems would you show during a private tour that will make visitors "Oooh" and "Aaah"?

Tannat Reserva 1979, the first top Tannat of Uruguay and was from Cerro Chapeu. Vinified by my father Quico Carrau Pujol, was Castel Pujol brand.

Then I will show you a Jeroboam bottle of 3 liters of our Blend 1752, Cabernet Tannat 2004, something very special.

And something very unique will be our White Chardonnay del Museo 1989, a barrel fermented full body wine, still lively fresh and complex in the palate, which shows that white wines can develop great in the bottle.

There used to be a time in which sons and daughters didn’t really have a choice whether or not to step in the family business. It was expected and not even up for discussion. But times have changed, the way business is being conducted has changed and the next generations have a different perspective on life and business.

How are you dealing with succession? Is there a next generation being prepared and how do you perceive the approach other youngsters have within the wine profession?

As I told you passion for wine business starts when they are very young. We have started with some members of the new generation and they are feeling if they will continue with this heritage. I think the wine business is complicated, is the most competitive business in the world. There is not any other food businesses with more than one million brands, so the next generation needs to find how to continue, and who.

In the generations before me, the oldest brother was in charge of the grapes and wineries…

There was a method to ensure that the farm was not divided, but if the older brother had not the most passion in wine… this was a problem. Today all the brother and sisters have the same rights.

… and the rest of the brothers or sisters were in the commercial business if they liked wine. Selling wines and other foods to America from Spain, expanding the markets. I think this Is a good example of how a new generation should organize. Usually not all the young people will like to work in wine, but if there are many, learning to sell wine will be the key point.

It is not just the winemakers, but also the connaisseurs and consumers who are dealing with wine in different ways. Information and education on wine come quicker and easier, accessibility is completely different and wine's position in society sees many changes too. Who is your regular "old" client and what do you see happening in the buying/consumption behavior of the "new" generation of consumers?

Today consumption of wine is more exigent in quality, but many young people have learned that wine is about the feeling of pleasure when they taste It. The new generation of winemakers of our family will discover better what is the new palate being asking. That’s why we always need to give space for innovation to the youngest.

Besides the core elements that make wine what it is, there are many new technologies being developed for on the land, in processing/wine-making and for anything that happens after the wine has been bottled.

On the land we see in-soil monitoring, new ways of weed and pesticide control, even new ways of harvesting. Are you using or exploring new techniques in the vineyards and if so which and how?

We have changed in the last 20 years little by little to the low input viticulture and sustainable management of our vines. For example, weed control with sheep that won’t eat our grapes, and biological control of fungi with selected anthagonic yeasts that protect our berries. Both developments were done by our technical staff.

A winemaker's legacy and his brand are usually linked to a long-lasting tradition of wine-making. Still, there is much technological development, as well as trends that ask for this. Organic wine, alcohol-free wine and the likes. What new techniques, what new approaches are you pursuing in your wine-making?

Minimal handling of the wines is our strategy, low sulfites, unfiltered barrel aging and unfiltered bottling. Avoiding processes that loose flavors. No additives, and natural stability before bottling. No animal or gluten additives are used ever.

Traceability has seen a lot of changes in the past years. Besides more strict requirements from a food safety perspective, the consumer asks for more details, more background, more personal touch along with the wine bottle. QR codes and Near Field Communication solutions are slowly getting more traction. How do you address developments in traceability, whether it is for safety or marketing purposes?

We learn about the life of each wine, so the interesting thing of this is that we should know the processes from each block to the final bottle. We are doing this very well in the winery with a lot number.

Consumer trends: This topic is difficult and I am fully aware that there's a huge bandwidth of trends in wine. Depending on your goals and position in the market, these trends can be a stretch far from home or something to play with, to adjust to or even to be set. What trends do you see that deserve your attention, that you are working on with your company? (This can be in taste, technique, packaging or consumption.)

We are trying to understand the growth of women’s consumption wine. Differences of young and mature women, ideal design of packaging, new varieties, white and red, etc.

A lot of wineries are struggling. Preservation in wine goes way beyond just keeping vineyards alive. Making sure that certain varieties do not go extinct, keeping family businesses afloat, maintaining local communities, preserving traditions and artisanal crafts. What do you see or do you want to see for your environment when it comes to preservation? Are there enough (global) initiatives in this regard for the world of wine?

We have a great advantage in Cerro Chapeu, we have the purest air, soil and water of the world. We don’t have industries or big cities close by, so we need to take care of these values by preventing problems and manage a rational development around.

Winemaking in itself makes that you are part of a special community, one that transcends borders. What are the ways you contribute to this community and from which people or organizations do you draw inspiration and knowledge? (whether it is from the viticulture side, technical, marketing or educational)

I think by understanding native yeast and its contribution to flavor complexity. Wine yeasts and education of young winemakers in reference to low input winemaking strategies are my effort.

Which of your wines are most loved by your clients? What do you consider the main characteristics / qualities for their selection?

Chardonnay Reserva Cerro Chapeu. Fresh, subtle oak notes and a surprise to chardonnay wine drinkers.

Petit Manseng 1752 Gran Tradicion. Highly complex and full body white wine, something really unique of mature concentrate fruit.

Tannat single vineyard Batovi T1. This is our best block of Tannat In Cerro Chapeu. Considered one of the best Tannats of the world since 1998 harvest when we started to produce it in our new gravity fed winery.

Which 3 wines from your collection deserve extra attention? Position yourself across someone who is interested... what do you say to them so that they will try it?

Nebbiolo Cerro Chapeu, Limited Edition
The old plants from the south of the country Italian influences were clone selected and planted in our region in 1995. Only a few barrels produced.

Tempranillo Cerro Chapeu Brazil
Just a few meters from our Uruguayan vines we have grow some of the best reds probably for the future of Brazil. It is just launched.

Sust Vintage Sparkling Wine, Chardonnay Pinot Noir Methode Champenois
The aging for 24 months and slow fermentation process in our cellar with native yeast give a complex special vintage dry without dosage.

While talking about good wines... can you look beyond your own portfolio and name 5 wines that you appreciate, envy or simply want to share your opinion about. There are no limits here; any region, any variety.

Henschke Hill of Grace, Oldest vines of Syrah 1997
The best from Australia. I did one harvest at Henschke and it was this vintage ‘97 of Hill of Grace. I was at the wine institute with Paul Henschke (brother of Stephen Henschke the winemaker), and went there a few days to do the harvest of this vine.

Ramey Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Any Vintage. Product of one of the best winemakers in the US.

Chateau Beausejour, Saint Emilion 1961
The first time I tasted a wine of my birth year. The best vintage ever in all Bordeaux regions.

Richebourg of Burgundy. Appellation Richebourg Controlee
Where I learned about the barrel aging of Pinot Noir.

Niepoort Redoma Tinto, Douro - Portugal
To discover the great variety of red wines of Portugal. This is one of the top ranges of this country.

Name one or two winemakers or people in wine that deserve extra attention and please explain why.

David Ramey of California
David’s groundbreaking work with indigenous yeasts, sur lie aging and malolactic & barrel fermentation yielded a new California style that was richer, more lush and silky smoother than previously known. As a result, he created a benchmark style now emulated by many.

Stephen Henschke of Australia
Fifth-generation Stephen Carl Henschke and youngest son of Cyril Henschke showed great interest in science and winemaking at an early age. Stephen’s forebears took a puristic, holistic approach that had been passed down from generation to generation so it was almost intuitive.

Charles Hopkins of South Africa
Charles Hopkins has been at De Grendel for over 10 years, since the first wines were produced on the Estate. He is one of South Africa’s most highly regarded winemakers, a member of the Cape Winemakers Guild and former chairman of the South African Wine Show Association.

What do you want to share that I did not ask about?

A myth about red wine: White wines are also rich in antioxidant compounds just like reds.

More details and reading online

Well… there you are. You made it to the end. That glass of wine should also be finished now, which means you have your hands free… it will make me really happy to see your feedback on both answers and questions in the comments (click the little speech bubble below). 🍷You can start by sharing what wine you enjoyed reading the interview…

And if you liked it, please share the love… in any way you see fit, with friends, family and wine aficionados in general. In whatever capacity, I highly appreciate it!

For the next interview: At the moment I am planning monthly editions (eventually weekly) and I have about 6 other winemakers lined up. If you are or know a winemaker you would like to see highlighted here, please (let her/him) visit this small form to enlist.

See you in the comments and in the next edition!

Jan van Iperen
— rootstocks |