AT a recent wine tasting, the gentleman who took to the floor to talk about the wines was an architect, not a winemaker. Just pronounce “Odfjell” without the “j,” Laurence Odjfell must have explained countless times. The family name is Norwegian, linked with a shipping business based in Rotterdam, the largest freight terminal in the world. Odfjell is also the name of the winery founded in Chile almost 25 years ago by Dan Odjfell, Laurence’s father. What had started out as an orchard, bought by the senior Odjfell in the 1980s, is now one of Chile’s most forward-thinking wineries.
Red is the wine color of choice at the Odfjell winery. The first vineyards were planted in 1992 and with consultant winemaker Paul Hobbs, (famous for his single vineyard wines in California), a search went under way for old vines. Astonished by the discovery of old plantings of Carignan, Cinsault and Cabernet Franc, the winemaking team, led by chief winemaker Arnaud Herveu (a Bordeaux native) decided on making single grape wines from the old vines.
Varietal Carignan, first produced in 2001, is now the acknowledged specialty of the house, made from certified organic, 100-year-old vines in Cauquenes, a region in the coastal hills of the Maule Valley. This is why the Orzada Carignan 2011 was easily the star at the wine tasting—as deeply colored as it is intensely perfumed; bold and firm-structured with a mouth-filling juiciness.
The same bright seam of acidity I found in the other Odfjell offerings I tasted: Armador Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Armador Carmenère 2012, Orzada Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Orzada Carmenère 2011 and Orzada Malbec 2011. The Armador wines I noted for their fresh ripe fruit and sweet spice profile; the Orzadas, more intense and muscular, with more dried than fresh fruit on the nose, and earthier aromas of mushrooms and cigar box meshed with sleek tannins.
There is also the top-tier wine, Aliara (not present during the tasting), produced in small quantities from differing blends of red grape varieties every year. (The Aliara 2010, for example, is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec and Carignan.) Like “aliara,” the term for the tin cup that measured the daily ration of wine for the ship’s crew in the olden days, the names of the wines make references to the Odfjell family’s shipping business. Laurence told of how he scoured through sources of Spanish nautical terms, ultimately finding words like “armador” (shipbuilder) and “orzada,” which refers to the ship’s sailing against the wind before finally setting on its course.
In a way, the names mirror the Odfjell winery’s philosophy and pioneering spirit. The first winery in Chile to produce and export 100-percent Carignan wine from century old vineyards. Organic and biodynamic viticulture in its vineyards in the Maipo, Colchagua, Maule and Lontué valleys. A commitment to sustainable agriculture and environmental winemaking practices. Whole cluster fermentation using native yeasts. And then there is the distinctive gravity flow winery designed by Laurence—the first in Chile—that he said minimizes the agitation of the wine, thereby ensuring the preservation of the wine’s fruit characteristics from vineyard to bottle. Production runs into about 70,000 cases annually—too big for boutique and too little for big winery output, says the Singapore-based Laurence, who also looks after the family’s shipping company from there. How did he discover Werdenberg International, the Philippine distributor of the Odfjell wines? By chance, through the Norwegian Embassy in Manila, he said, when the discussions were about the shipping business—not wine.
The Odfjell wines have finally docked on Philippine shores, bringing with them another facet of inspired winemaking in Chile.
Odfjell wines are exclusively imported and distributed by Werdenberg International, and are available at all Santis Deli stores, including the newest branch at Capitol Commons, Mandaluyong City.