In a country known for large production wineries, Chile’s Kingston Family Vineyards is a small producer proving that a focus on quality over quantity can always set you apart.
Just a 45 minute drive from Santiago sits the Casablanca Valley wine region, a Denomination of Origin (D.O.) that is characterized by its cooler climate, and where some of Chile’s best Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Noirs are being made.
Kingston Family Vineyards is relatively new to the winemaking scene having started the winery in the early 2000s, but their knowledge of the terroir dates back more than a century as the main function of their land is as a dairy farm. In fact, their 6000 cows produce 20% of the milk for the city of Santiago. In order to learn how they got into winemaking, you need to understand the family’s interesting history starting with their American heritage.
Carl Johnston (“CJ”) Kingston was a true pioneer in the Casablanca Valley. In 1906, he left his home in Michigan and headed to South America to join the gold rush. He ended up in Chile searching for his fortune but never did strike gold. He did however settle on the dairy farm and cattle ranch that today is also home to Kingston Family Winery.
Fast-forward two generations to an intelligent and strong-willed Courtney Kingston who saw potential in the land beyond raising cattle.
She believed that the climate in the western hills of the Casablanca Valley with its cool nights, warm days and breezes off the Pacific Ocean would make for ideal conditions to grow grapes. During her time at Stanford University, she wrote her business plan while attending graduate school and a few years later the family planted its first grapevines. They took a considerable risk planting Pinot Noir and Syrah in a region only known for producing white wines, but that risk paid off from their very first vintage in 2003 which produced just 400 cases. Their cool climate reds were met with critical acclaim validating her conviction that the region had the potential to make more than just white wines.
Today, Kingston Family Vineyards produces 5,000 cases per year. They have the capacity to produce 10,000 cases but aren’t prepared to sacrifice quality for quantity as they grow. They approach wine growing and winemaking with the same methodical care that they’ve used on the farm for over 100 years. The family not only believes in caring for the land, they want to ensure it is sustainable for generations to come.
Kingston Family Vineyards is currently in transition to be fully certified as organic. They have 2 more years for this process to be complete and implementation has included using the manure from the cows to fertilize, using handmade truncates for collecting water that’s then used for drip irrigation, and the exclusive use of natural pesticides. The results to date have been immediate with both improved vine vigor and root depth. According to the winery, since they started transitioning to organic, the roots have grown substantially from 1 meter deep to 2 meters deep during the transition period alone.
The soil composition at the vineyard sites consist of a red clay horizon with decomposed granite underneath; the granite adding a distinct minerality to their wines. All of the fruit is hand harvested and brought to their impressive gravity flow winery that was built in 2006. The winery itself was designed by Chilean architect Juan Carlos Sabbagh, the same architect that designed their stunning tasting room. Having never designed a winery before, Sabbagh travelled to Oregon to study the Pinot Noirs and based his design on a 3-level tier system using gravity to ensure the least amount of stress on the grapes.
As the very first winery we visited in Chile, Kingston Family Vineyards made an incredible first impression. The tasting room itself is bright and expansive making full use of the extraordinary view it is afforded sitting on one of the hillsides. The floor to ceiling windows have the capacity to open up entirely, and there is plenty of comfortable seating both inside and out.
Inside the large, rectangular shaped room, a long and inviting tasting bar sits in front of an equally long window providing a glimpse into the commercial kitchen. After our tour of the winery, we sat down for their wine and food pairing lunch that featured a spectacular view.
Our courses featured ceviche, potato salad, asparagus, braised beef and a dessert made up of meringue wrapped in chocolate.
As our tasting notes will show below, the wines were excellent across the board beginning with the Rosé of Syrah, CJ’s Barrel Sauvignon Blanc, followed by CJ’s Barrel Chardonnay and the CJ’s Barrel Syrah all from the 2017 vintage. In a surprising but clearly well thought out move, they served their flagship Alazan Pinot Noir last.
We simply couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the wines of Chile than our visit to Kingston Family Vineyards. Their focus on quality begins in the vineyard but extends into every aspect of the winery and tasting room. Their passion and dedication have paid off with a lineup of terrific wines and well deserved recognition including being named Winery of the Year by Wine & Spirits Magazine. Despite their small production, the majority of their wines are exported to North America. We wouldn’t hesitate buying it if you see it, better yet, head down to Chile and see for yourself why they’re considered among the best wineries in the country.
This is their third vintage of this Rosé made from 100% Syrah. Light pink in colour, this elegant Rosé has a crisp, mineral-infused body with notes of strawberry and red apple. Very fresh, this is strikes just the right balance between refreshing and quaffable yet serious enough to be a dinner table wine paired with shellfish and other lighter fare. Earth notes add complexity.
Very Good/Excellent (USD$26 at the winery)
2017 CJ’s Barrel Sauvignon Blanc
Raised in both concrete eggs and stainless steel and then blended together, this is an utterly delicious Sauvignon that shows great texture and a complex array of flavours. Round and even slightly rich, this is a wine with a gorgeous mouthfeel. The back-end acidity keeps it nicely defined. Flavours of white peaches and pineapple are met with notes of grapefruit on the finish. Hints of mineral and ginger are subtle and add complexity.
Excellent (USD$28 at the winery)
Medium gold colour. Flavours of pear and apple are supported by hints of almonds and vanilla. Medium body and medium acid, this wine shows great balance. The finish is long and shows minerals and hints of citrus. A step away from today’s lean and acid driven Chardonnays, and it carries its difference with distinction.
Very good/Excellent (US$30 at the winery)
2017 CJ’s Barrel Syrah
Loaded with black cherry flavour, the wine gains complexity from the black pepper, spice and mineral notes. Medium+ body this youngster is just starting to express itself and promises to evolve for many years. There is a lovely floral quality on the nose, redolent of violets. Elegant, with good texture, the wine looks to deliver finesse over power.
Very Good/Excellent (USD $48 at the winery)
2018 Alazan Pinot Noir
It has been many years since we have had a Chilean Pinot Noir and now we are asking ourselves: why? This is an elegant, finesse-driven Pinot Noir that is wonderfully intense. Red cherry with raspberry dominates the flavour profile. The notes of black pepper, wet stones and baking spice make this a very complex wine. Terrific balance, the finish is earthy and long, showing plenty of mouth-watering acidity.
Excellent (USD$50 at the winery)
Hijuela El Maitén
Tastings: 10am-5pm (see website for exclusive tasting experiences)