Owner: the Said-Handal family
Founded in 1992, Viña El Principal was originally a partnership between Jorge Fontaine, owner of the Hacienda El Principal, and the French winemaker Jean Paul Valette, former owner of the famous Premier Grand Cru Classé Château Pavie in Saint-Émilion.
Their goal was to produce a top-quality range of red wines that fully reflected the Chilean soul and the Valette family’s heritage and experience in making fine wines. The El Principal terroir, located at the foot of the Andes Mountains in the Alto Maipo Valley (D.O Maipo Andes) was perfect for their project; its singular combination of climate, soil type, and altitude made it ideal for producing wines with character, unique identity, and extraordinary quality.
The partners selected 54 hectares of the property to plant Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere varieties. Ten years later, the first vintage of the winery’s icon, the 1999 El Principal, was successfully released earning the international recognition as one of the Ultra Premium Chilean wines and confirming the potential of Chile as a world-class denomination of origin.
Today, El Principal is a family-owned winery. German shipowner Jochen Döhle bought the winery in 2005 and later partnered with the renowned Chilean Said-Handal family, who acquired 50 percent of the ownership in 2013. From the beginning, Mr. Döhle has been determined to continue making high quality wines, and his strategy has included planting additional hectares, searching for new varieties, and investing in equipment and storage facilities. Together the two families have overseen the execution of this strategy while maintaining the tradition and distinct identity of its wines.
The Said Handal Family acquired the 100% of the property at the end of 2018. The determination of the family is to keep creating wines who achieve the best quality that the terroir of Maipo Alto can give, but at the same time keep the main soul of the only four wines they make.
Winery Acreage: 210 acres
Winery Production: 15,000 / 9L cases
Varietals Produced: Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Verdejo, Malbec.
51 ha - Cabernet Sauvignon
17 ha - Carmenere
17 ha - Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec
2.1 ha - Verdejo
Winemaker: Gonzalo Guzmán
Gonzalo Guzmán has led the enological team as Technical Director of Viña El Principal since 2005. During this period, Guzmán's quest has always been the same: to achieve the purest expression of the terroir by promoting the personality and uniqueness of each of his wines.
Under his direction, El Principal has slowly envolver from a Cabernet Sauvignon-Carmenere blend to a more sophisticated and elegant blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. He has also made fine adjustments to the winery's Memorias and Calicanto wines to enhance their freshness and complexity.
In his passion to discover what this terroir is able to produce, Guzmán has planted new Spanish varieties such as Verdejo, Albariño, Graciano, and Mencia with great success. In 2014 Viña El Principal launched Kiñe, the first New World Verdejo wine.
The renowned Bordeaux consultant Patrick Léon, who joined the Viña El Principal team in 2006, has been crucial in the winery’s purist approach to winemaking. His talent and unparalleled experience in producing high quality wines has established him as a consulting winemaker for some of the most prestigious wineries in the world.
Patrick was the Technical Manager of Château Lascombes Crus Classé in Margaux and Château Castera in Lesparre-Médoc, and he also spent two decades as the Managing Director for Baron Philippe de Rothschild, where he oversaw the company’s vineyards and winemaking facilities for Château Mouton Rothschild, Clerc Milon, Le Petit Mouton, Aile d’Argent, Opus One in California, Almaviva in Chile, Domaine de Lambert and Domaine de Baron’arques in the Languedoc, and Mouton Cadet in Bordeaux.
THE ANDETELMO ESTATE: A UNIQUE TERROIR
There are many factors that contribute to the uniqueness of El Principal wines, and one of the most important is its exceptional terroir. The Andetelmo Estate now consists of 90 hectares of vineyards in the Alto Maipo Valley (D.O Maipo Andes), at the foot of the Andes Mountains.
The El Principal vineyards are located among 750 to 950 above sea level, therefore some blocks or parcel are in the flat soil (our oldest vineyards, 1993) with an altitude around 750 - 800 mts. and others (planted among 2006 and 2007) are in the Andes foothills with an altitude among 820 to 950 mts., all of them on the same farm.
Geographical influences have generated a diversity of soil types that allow each grape variety to reach its finest expression and lend a particular character to the wines. The varied soils present a true mosaic of colluvial, alluvial, and gravel-cone collections and deposits. The hills have light-colored clay marbled with lime sediments, stone, and gravel, which allows for good drainage.
Furthermore, the mineral-rich waters of the Maipo River that flows through the vineyard also lend subtle complexity to the wines. The cooling effects of the Andean winds and the Humboldt Current create particular climate conditions and a broad daily temperature oscillation of more than 20ºC. This slows the ripening process and allows the grapes to develop intense fruit flavors with high concentrations of polyphenols, deep color, and ripe, elegant tannins.
El Principal wines are made exclusively with grapes grown at the Andetelmo Estate in the Alto Maipo Valley. The vineyard has been mapped into micro-zones that consider soil, altitude, solar exposure, and climate to identify the perfect blocks for producing the best quality grapes for each wine.
The grapes are harvested entirely by hand with controlled production and the sorting of clusters both in the field and again at the winery. The grapes are lifted to the top of the tanks to achieve gentle gravity-flow filling and thus avoid using pumps. The vinification process begins with a 5-day cold maceration at 8º–10ºC, followed by alcoholic fermentation, which lasts 8–14 days at temperatures that fluctuate between 28ºC and 30ºC using gentle manual pumpovers managed in accordance with the concentration and degree of ripeness of the grapes to ensure a gentle and controlled extraction.
This traditional Bordeaux vinification process and later ageing in French oak ensures the inimitable character of El Principal wines that reflect the elegance and identity of their terroir.
Viña El Principal's oenology develops starting with the vineyards. The wines are exclusively processed with grapes grown on the lands, where the vineyards are continually studied as to their physiology and their relation to the terroir, in order to identify and perfect the best plots and thus obtain top quality raw material. Harvesting is carried out entirely by hand, with controlled production and the sorting of clusters both in the field and later in the wine cellars. This is followed by a careful traditional Bordeaux vinification process and ageing in French oak, resulting in the inimitable character of these wines capable of reflecting the elegance and identity of the terroir.
The winemaking process starts with a harvesting entirely by hand and sectorized. Later, also by hand, in the wine cellar and on a vibrating table, the best clusters are selected before entering the de-stemmer. An optical selector is used to pick out the best fruit. The grapes are raised to the upper part of the tanks to achieve gravity flow filling and thus avoid the use of a pump. Later, cold maceration (between 8 and 10ºC) takes place for 5 days, followed by the start of the alcoholic fermentation which is prolonged for 8 to 14 days at a temperature fluctuating between 28ºC and 30ºC, with gentle manual remontage according to the concentration and maturation of the grapes. This ensures a gentle and controlled extraction.