CHANGE IS AFOOT in Alto Jahuel. First planted in 1850, the roots of Santa Rita’s historic 600ha wine estate run deep. This is a site of both viticultural heritage and cultural importance for Chile: it was once a hideout for 120 soldiers during the independence wars, and it was in this same vineyard that Carmenère was first identified, hidden away between Merlot vines, in 1994. Alto Jahuel is part of Chile’s vinous patrimony and it is the main artery for Santa Rita’s 100 million-litre production – including its Carmen brand and Casa Real, one of Chile’s foremost icon wines.
Long though its history may be, there is a seismic shift underway in Santa Rita. Cecilia Torres, winemaker for Casa Real since its inception in 1989, stepped down in 2017, handing the reins to Sebastian Labbé (who joined Viña Carmen in 2005). Labbé is also taking over Santa Rita’s premium wines from Andrés Ilabaca, who after 20 years is now downscaling to consultant winemaker. There may be new faces in the barrel room, but the big change is going on in the vineyards.