Thursday, January 31, 2013

Agustin Huneeus

This is our second blog about historic contemporary Napa winemakers.  On October 27th of last year we blogged about Bernard Portet of Clos du Val.  Back on April 18th of '11 we blogged about Alex Guarachi, owner of his eponimously named winery but not the winemaker, but like Huneeus, a Chilean immigrant to Napa, which may be significant considering the quality of the wines they both make.

Agustin Huneeus was born to wealth in Chile being the son of a fishing magnate.  At the age of twenty-three in 1960, young Huneeus bought a struggling jug wine company for the purpose of shutting it down to secure the land for another project.  Instead he took an interest in the winery and introduced European styled cork finished 750ml bottles to the property making that winery profitable for the first time.  The winery, Concha y Toro, is now the largest in Chile.

In 1971 when political unrest swept Chile, Huneeus emigrated to America where he took a position with Seagrams, the multinational liquor giant.  He headed the worldwide wine division which was floundering because liquor people, in short, don't understand the wine business.  The importance of "place" and terroir in the making of wine eludes liquor folks but is primary to wine people.  From Huneeus: "Everything that we do is based on our beliefs that wine should be - and our wine will be - known for the property from which it originates, rather than its varietal composition."  When I entered the wine industry to stay in 1981, Seagrams Chateau & Estates wine division was exemplary for representing quality wines sourced from around the world and pricing them very fairly.  Again, Huneeus made that happen.

In 1985 Huneeus bought Franciscan Oakville Estates in Napa and seemingly turned around a most mediocre winery into a top flight contender overnight.  Amongst his other accomplishments Huneeus created the first wild yeast fermented Chardonnay in Cuvee Sauvage and with a pioneering group of Bordeaux-loving Napa colleagues, created the "Meritage" category of Cabernet-based red blends. Magnificat would be Huneeus' Fransiscan entry into that competition.

Huneeus sold Franciscan to Constellation brands in 1999 and now occupies his time with Quintessa in Napa and Alexander Valleys in California and Veramonte in Chile.  But at varying times he has owned the following:  Noble, Estancia, Concannon, Mistral, Mount Veeder, Faust, Illumination, Neyen, Flowers, The Prisoner, Saldo, Ritual, and Caliterra.  Wine writer Karen MacNeil says, "Huneeus combines phenomenal business acumen with an almost intuitive sense of where the wine industry is headed."

Quintessa, by the way, is a Napa Red Meritage blend priced upwards from a hundred dollars a bottle.  Veramonte and its luxury label, Primus, sell in the $10-$20 range and show value throughout the line and that quality control is a Huneeus trait I will offer up as being consistent with every project his career has afforded.

On Friday February 1st we will be tasting red varietals here at the store from 5 to 7pm.  Concurrently Amanda Wilbanks and Buttermilk Pies will be tasting out her wares across the room.  Perhaps a Moscato may be in order for crossover purposes.  Please join us for the event.

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