Odfjell: Organic (and Biodynamic) Wines from Chile

Today’s tasting takes us on a virtual trip to Chile for a sip of three wines made using grapes that are farmed organically and biodynamically. The winery’s story includes a Norwegian ship owner, Norwegian Fjord horses and very old Carignan. Sounds interesting, no? We received these wines as tasting samples.

Dan Odfjell (odd-fee-yell) made his fortune in the shipping business. He discovered the Maipo Valley in Chile more than 25 years ago. Needless to say, the warm, sunny climate was unlike that of his native, rainy Norway. By 1994 the first estate vineyard was planted in the Maipo Valley. The gravity-flow winery, which is built into a hillside above the Maipo Valley vineyard, was designed by Dan’s son, Laurence. 60% of the winery is located underground allowing for efficient temperature control. Additional Estate vineyards in the Lontué Valley (within Curicó Valley) and in Cauquenes in the Maule Valley bring the total vineyard acreage at Odfjell to 284.

Odfjell vineyard map from the winery website
Odfjell vineyard map from the winery website

The Padre Hurtado Vineyard in the Maipo Valley is located nearly 25 miles southwest of Santiago and enjoys a climate influenced by the Coastal Mountain Range as well as the Pacific Ocean. It is the largest Odfjell vineyard and is planted to mainly Cabernet Sauvignon along with Merlot, Carménère, Syrah, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. Deep, alluvial soils contain stones of various sizes and are of medium to high fertility. The first vintage was released from this vineyard in 1999.

The Tres Esquinas Vineyard is located in Cauquenes in the Maule Valley. Very old Carignan bush vines are planted here in deep, clay soils of low vigor. The vineyard yield is very low from these special vines.

The Ribera del Río Claro Vineyard is located in the Lontué Valley near Curicó in the Curicó Valley. It was planted in the 1960s on the banks of the Claro River. Soils are low in fertility and well-drained. Malbec is the star variety here.

All three vineyard sites are farmed and certified organic and biodynamic. That certification is important because it indicates an extra level of commitment to these farming principles. Every wine in this group is labeled Made with Organic Grapes making that fact evident to the shopper. Also important. You must dig a bit deeper, however, to discover that biodynamic principles are followed in the vineyard. Additional requirements must be met for the biodynamic certification to appear on the bottle.

And in the vineyard is where the Norwegian Fjord horses come into the picture. This distinctive breed migrated to Norway more than 4000 years ago where it was domesticated and has been selectively bred for more than 2000 years. These sturdy horses were brought to Chile by Dan Odfjell and are used in the vineyards. The use of horses in the vineyard can be a part of biodynamic principles that bring plants and animals together in a complementary way.

2016 Odfjell Armador Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley, Chile
2016 Odfjell Armador Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley, Chile

2016 Odfjell Armador Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley, Chilemedium ruby in the glass with aromas of red fruit, dried herbs and green olives. Berry flavors, primarily blackberries and raspberries, blend with background notes of dusty earth, dried herbs, hints of roasted green peppers and tar. The fruit flavors and lively acidity keep the flavors lifted and energized. Tannins are smooth and integrated with the flavors in this medium-bodied wine. The finish is medium+ in length. 13.5% abv. SRP $15

The Armador, which means ship owner, is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and is sourced from Odfjell’s Padre Hurtado Vineyard in the Maipo Valley. Shoot thinning, leaf removal and green harvest all assure a high-quality crop, but with low yields. The 2016 vintage began with a cold spring and continued with a cooler than normal growing season, which allowed for a slow, gradual ripening of the Cabernet. 

Whole clusters were de-stemmed and allowed to macerate for four days prior to beginning fermentation with a combination of native and selected yeasts. Aging took place 80% in stainless steel and 20% in third-use barrels for four to six months.

I had to look at the SRP of this wine twice to make sure I had read it correctly. This elegant Cabernet is a steal at $15. It is a red wine I am happy to sip on its own and one that will pair with chicken, pork or pizza. That said, it was delicious with our hearty meal below.

2017 Odfjell Orzada Carignan, Maule Valley, Chile
2017 Odfjell Orzada Carignan, Maule Valley, Chile

2017 Odfjell Orzada Carignan, Maule Valley, Chiledark ruby in the glass with generous red and dark fruit aromas, dried hay and crushed flower stems. Flavors of ripe black cherries and tart red fruit blend seamlessly with dusty earth, hints of cedar, leather and crushed flower stems. Juicy acidity, ample fruit flavor and grippy tannins make for a medium-bodied red wine with depth and complexity. The finish is medium+ in length.  14.5% abv. SRP $23

Carignan stands on its own in Orzada, which is a nautical term for sailing into the wind before setting a direction. The vines are 20 to 80 years old and sourced from the Tres Esquinas Vineyard. Warm days are moderated by cooling ocean breezes. Shoot removal and leaf-thinning result in the best grapes possible from these old vines, which are harvested by hand.

Bunches were de-stemmed but not crushed before a four-day cold maceration prior to fermentation using both native and selected yeast. A post-fermentation maceration lasting 10 days preceded malolactic fermentation and aging in stainless steel. The Carignan was harvested in March 2017 and the wine was bottled in January 2018.

Vibrant fruit flavors and lively acidity blend deliciously with grippy tannins this energetic Carignan. It had me thinking about its every nuanced flavor as I sipped it.

2013 Odfjell Aliara, Central Valley, Chile
2013 Odfjell Aliara, Central Valley, Chile

2013 Odfjell Aliara, Central Valley, Chiledense ruby in the glass with generous dark plum, ripe blackberry aromas along with dried mint. Flavors of dark cherries, raspberries and plums are ripe but tart at the same time and backed by crushed flower stems and earth. Tannins are chewy and well integrated with the complex flavors. The finish is juicy and medium+ in length with flavor and tannins. 14.5% abv. SRP $44

Carignan plays well with 20% Syrah and 15% Malbec in this delightful blend. Aliara is a term for the cup that was used to measure the daily allotment of wine allowed each sailor — back in the day. Carignan, Syrah and Malbec are sourced from all three of the Odfjell estate vineyards. Each variety was harvested at its peak between late March and mid-April. 

Whole clusters were de-stemmed, but not crushed, prior to a six-day cold maceration then fermentation with native and selected yeast. A 15-day post-fermentation maceration took place before malolactic fermentation and aging for 16 to 22 months in French oak. The wine was bottled in February 2016.

Merguez Lamb Sausages with roasted carrots and cauliflower
Merguez Lamb Sausages with roasted carrots and cauliflower

Once again, this is a wine with complexity, structure and weight that is not at all heavy. All of these wines are full of energy and pair beautifully with food. Our meal of Merguez Lamb Sausages with roasted carrots and cauliflower was absolutely succulent. The fruit-savory-spicy combination was addictive.

Finding flavorful, energized wine is so exciting and when they are grown organically and biodynamically is even more rewarding. These are quality wines worth the price (and there is a price for every budget in this group of delightful wines from Odfjell.) I hope you will look for them.


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