Altair is a special winery project within the much larger Vina San Pedro, Chile’s second largest winery. The project was formed in 2000 as a joint venture between Vina San Pedro and France’s Laurent Dassault. The idea was to combine some of Chile’s top terroir with top winemaking techniques coming out of Bordeaux to make world class wines from Cabernet Sauvignon dominated blends.
On our recent tour of Chile and Argentina, we had a chance to see their spectacular winery and vineyards and taste their wines, including some rare back-vintages.
Located about 60 miles south of Santiago in the Cachapoal Valley near the town of Tothue, Altair is a stunning property to visit. There are 78 acres of immaculately tended vineyards that slope down to the west giving them good exposure to the cooling influences of the Pacific Ocean.
At the top of the property is their beautiful winery, a modern building whose façade is built entirely of stone found on the property and nearby.
Winery properties and vineyards are generally quite beautiful to look at, but this one must rank among the very top sites we have been to.
Viña San Pedro produces a bevy of wines at different quality levels but is perhaps best known for their very affordable Gato Negra which sells all over the world. They contributed their best vineyards to the Altair project. Laurent Dassault is a French businessman, heir to the massive Dassault Aerospace Group.
He is also the owner of two wineries in St. Emilion: Chateau Dassault and Chateau La Fleur. Dassault is also a shareholder in the prestigious Bordeaux winery Cheval Blanc, co-owner of Cheval des Andes we visited on the same trip. Dassault wanted the initial consulting eonologist to be Dr. Pascal Chatonnet, who makes his own wine in Lalande de Pomerol as well as consulting to numerous high-end wineries such as Vega Sicilia, RODA and La Rioja Alta in Spain.
Dassault told Chatonnet he wanted a wine that was drinkable; not another wine like many in his cellar that needed so much time before being approachable. Dassault eventually sold his interest back to San Pedro and now the winemaking is handled by Gonzalo Castro. Gonzalo gained international experience working at Chateau Margaux, Bollinger and at Rosenblum Cellars in Sonoma.
The vineyard at Altair is planted only to red grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Carménère, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. The best plots from the vineyard are used to make Altair.
A sister wine, Sideral is also made, and made in a style as to be approachable upon release and enjoyed either with or without food. The word Altair refers to the brightest star in the constellation Aquilla, and the 12th brightest star in the night sky. Sideral means emanating from the stars.
The location of the vineyard is a key feature in creating both wines signature elegance. These are high elevation vineyards, roughly 600 metres, situated at the base of the Andes Mountains.
The influence of the Humboldt Current plays a major role. The Humboldt Current is a Pacific Ocean current that begins at the southern tip of Chile, near Antartica and works its way north along the Chilean coastline all the way up to Peru. This current brings with it a cooling influence that is significant to agriculture in the area. In addition to moderating temperatures generally, the Humboldt Current has the effect of widening the diurnal temperature shift. Cool nights allow the vines to rest and preserve acidity, warmer days allow the grapes to fully ripen, resulting in wines with structure and great balance.
The winery at Altair is state of the art. It is gravity fed, meaning that the wine moves throughout the winery by the force of gravity. Gravity fed design results in a gentler handling of the wine than using pumps, which creates a smoother, finer wine. When you have top vineyards, it is best to let the vineyard speak and minimize intervention from the winemaker, very much the process for both Altair and Sideral.
Both wines are always Cabernet Sauvignon dominant and use the other 4 varieties in differing proportions depending on the season. Altair will vary the amount of time the wine spends in oak, from 10 to 20 months, usually half in new French 225 litre barrels, and half in once used barrels. A typical harvest will yield about 2,000 cases of Altair and 10,000 cases of Sideral.
Our tasting began in the beautiful Quincho that sits among the grape vines. A Quincho is a small outdoor eating area usually shaded with a pergola or trellised roof.
We visited many Quinchos on this trip and were absolutely charmed by the concept. There we enjoyed coffee and small tapas before moving up to the winery for our wine tasting.
Hospitality Manager Francisca Schmidt was the perfect host. She was extremely helpful and very knowledgeable about the winery and the wines they produce. Altair produces wines that are elegant, finessed, and show tremendous class. We also tasted some back vintages that demonstrate Altair’s ability to age. Tremendous wines that are well worth seeking out!