Visiting Chile's wine regions
Part 7: Odfjell


We arrived at the Odfjell winery in Maipo to be greeted by some rather unusual looking horses. They are Fjord ponies, and they’d been brought over to Chile by air. They’re actually quite beautiful.

Odfjell, as the name suggests, has a Norwegian connection. Founded by Dan Odfjell, who made his money from shipping, the winery is designed by his son, Lawrence Odfjell, and architect. Lawrence also designed the wineries at Matetic and Callina. 60% of the winery is below ground, making it highly energy efficient. A gravity flow design minimizes the need to pump wine. 

Dan Odfjell lives in the Netherlands, where he is involved in shipping and freight terminals. The ships we are talking about are tanker-sized freight ships with double hulls, which cost $70–100 million each. Rotterdam is the biggest freight terminal in the world. He bought this property in the 1980s initially as an orchard, but he didn’t really like that business, so he switched to wine. The vineyards here were first planted in 1992 onwards, and the winery was built in 1997 (first vintage 1998).

Red wine is the focus here, with grapes coming from three vineyards: this one in Maipo, one in Cauquenes (Maule) and the third in Molina (Curico). Production is 60–65 K cases. Paul Hobbs has been consultant winemaker here since 1998, but winemaking is in the hands of Arnaud Hereu (above).  

Carignan is a speciality here, and the first varietal Carignan was made in 2001. It’s harvested late, and potential alcohol levels can be as high as 17 degrees, which makes fermentation tricky. ‘For the first three years we had stuck fermentations and lots of wines with residual sugar,’ recalls Arnaud. ‘Every year we have to fight to finish fermentation, but we are getting better at it.’

‘In Chile sugar levels go up quickly, so to get tannin maturation you get high sugar levels. This results in high alcohol, so you extract a lot of stuff: you have to be sure that everything going into the tank is ripe or you get greenness.’ He adds that at the end of fermentation there is 15% alcohol and a temperature of 32 °C. ‘It’s very extractive.’

‘We work the first third of fermentation a lot when there’s low temperature and low alcohol.’ A cold soak at 12 ° for four or five days is typically employed.

He cites Carmenčre as the most difficult variety to work with because of its tendency to develop brettanomyces.

Oak use is 60% French, 40% American. 300 new barrels are purchased each year. Arnaud doen’t like central European oak. ‘Each year we do barrel trials with coopers,’ he says. ‘We have discovered some really good coopers who aren’t well known. Many Chilean producers have been buying by reputation.’ Arnaud is not a big fan of topping up so there is often air space in the barrels. He tops up every 15 days, whereas 4 is more common. The barrels often get a flor, but this isn’t a problem. ‘I don’t maintain a constant temperature and humidity,’ he says. ‘I believe wine has to follow the seasons; wine moves.’

He has used alcohol reduction. ‘I did some experiments dealcoholizing the wine and it is better at 13.5% than 14%,’ he reveals. For this, for a 40 K litre blend, 5 K litres were dealcoholized to 2% and then blended back. He’s extending this experiment to more wines. 

With Paul Hobbs, Odfjell went looking for old vine fruit and found Carignan, Cinsault and Cabernet Franc. They were surprised by the quality, and rather than using it in blends, they ended up making varietal wines.

Arnaud reveals that they had big problems with Brettanomyces until 2002. They had brought barrels from another producer and these introduced brett into the cellar. This wasn’t detected until the wine was in bottle. Now the problem is solved, although Carmenčre remains a bit of a problem.


Odfjell Armador Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Attractive sweet blackcurrant fruit nose with some heat and a spicy edge. The palate is attractively fruity and spicy with firm savoury tannins. Complex and savoury. 90/100

Odfjell Armador Carmenčre 2005
Very ripe, rich, dark spicy nose. Really intense and bold. The palate is focused and quite balanced with lush fruit and a lovely spicy savoury character. 91/100

Odfjell Orzada Malbec 2005
Quite high toned, a hot nose with sweet, pure liqueur-like fruit. The palate is darkly fruited and quite elegant with some earthy notes. Attractive and spicy, this is quite a serious effort. 91/100

Odfjell Orzada Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Very distinctive liqueur-like nose of pure blackcurrant fruit. Ripe with high alcohol. The palate is smooth with nice purity and elegance. Some earthy spiciness in the background. 90/100

Odfjell Aliara 2004
A blend of Carmenčre and Cabernet Sauvignon. This was a complicated year with rain ahead of harvest. Brooding smooth dark fruits nose with a liqueur-like character. The palate is dense and smooth with lovely integrated oak and some nice spiciness. A serious effort. 92/100

Odfjell Orzada Carignan 2001
100 year old vines. Smooth, lush perfumed nose with some Brettanomyces evident: leathery, earthy notes. Complex and intense. The palate has some lovely earthiness and attractive spicy red fruits. Lovely wine. 92/100

Odfjell Orzada Carignan 2002
Smooth and dark but with a bit of mustiness (there was a tribromoanisole problem this year) on the palate. Dense, firm and spicy, with a subdued quality to the fruit. Tight and savoury.

Odfjell Orzada Carignan 2003
Lovely sweet dark chocolatey nose is quite brooding and smooth. The palate has lovely freshness and earthiness with a delicious spiciness. Firm, complex, spicy and tannic. A serious savoury effort. 92/100

Odfjell Orzada Carignan 2004
Very smooth, varietally true, lush focused dark fruits on the nose. The palate is ripe but restrained with concentrated dark fruits and firm tannins. Really lively and bold with good acidity. A massive wine. 93/100

Odfjell Orzada Carignan 2005
Lush, over-ripe liqueur-like nose with smooth dark fruits. The palate is fresh and dark with great purity and focus without being heavy. Fresh with some spicy tannins. Striking and interesting. 92/100

Odfjell Orzada Carignan 2006
Rich spicy dark fruits nose, with lots of ripeness and a bit of roasted oak. The palate is focused and pure with quite a bit of oak evident supporting the pure dark fruit. Tannic and bold. 91/100

Odfjell 2005
15.5% alcohol. Sophisticated, smooth and lush with some alcohol and sweet dark fruits. The palate is very rich and bold but also quite tannic and savoury with good acidity. The alcohol comes across a bit too much. Pushing the limits of balance. 91/100

Odfjell Cabernet Franc 2004
Very smooth, fresh and quite elegant with pure red and black fruits. The palate is midweight and nicely poised with some tannin. 90/100


Wines tasted 01/08  
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