The Buyer
Francisco Baettig on where his new project sits within Chilean wine

Francisco Baettig on where his new project sits within Chilean wine

2023 was the worst year in living memory for the mainstream Chilean wine category, with sales plummeting 25% almost across the board. Icon wines are known to sit in a separate global category but what of terroir-focused mid-priced niche wines? Lisse Garnett visits famed winemaker and icon creator, Francisco Baettig in Maule and gets his take on the Chilean wine category, just as he is launching his first Cabernet Sauvignons from his boutique winery Vinos Baettig. Her notes on the new Baettig wines follow.

Lisse Garnett
16th May 2024by Lisse Garnett
posted in Tasting,

Chile remains woefully misunderstood. There is one idea of Chilean wine, and then there are the terroir-focused winemakers to whom I dedicate this piece. For they are causing a quiet revolution of their own.

There is a reason why the third and final Sideways book was set in Maule and focussed on VIGNO, volcanoes, earthquakes (and sex). Francisco Baettig, Garage, De Martino and Bouchon have busted out of the straitjacket that ‘value and volume’ created. High-priced icon wines represent another strand of the Chilean story, but this piece is about fine niche wines at trade-friendly prices.

Vinos Baettig

Baettig made his reputation as the chief winemaker at the Errazuriz group, responsible amongst other things for making the iconic wines of Don Maximiano, Eduardo Chadwick, Kai and Seña. Although he is still the consultant winemaker at Errazuriz his main focus is now on Vinos Baettig the winery he set up in 2012 with Carlos de Carlos in the little known cool climate region of Traiguén in Malleco.

The first wines they produced were Pinot Noir and Chardonnay but now they're releasing their inaugural vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon, a grape Baettig is all too familiar with from his 23 years at Errazuriz.

Planting the new dry-farmed vineyard in 2014

Baettig produces small volumes and sells on allocation through long-term partners. Carlos de Carlos and Francisco Baettig waited years to plant their dry-farmed vines on their own land without reaching out to lenders.

Independence of this kind is hard won; they had no silver spoon. Bit by bit, they carved a niche through word of mouth. Quality is high, the wines are expressive of vintage variation and the rugged, cool terroir they hail from. Last year, Baettig grew by 15%.

"I think at this price, which is neither entry-level nor icon, people want something more original and terroir-driven, something unique. Several factors come into play; the right distributor is imperative. We work with 28 importers worldwide who know Carlos and me personally and believe in the wines. They understand the long-term commitment and hand-sell it takes to build a niche market. We don’t push volume, unlike many Chilean operations. We built Baettig gradually over time; we are just two people who do everything. A small brand in a big portfolio can get lost, but we feel seen," Baettig says.

Vinos Baettig

Old dry-farmed vines is essential to Baettig’s philosophy – here a 60-year-old Cabernet Sauvignon vine, head-pruned and grafted onto a 100-year-old Pais vine in Coronel de Maule, produces fruit for the new Cab Sauv

Flying in the face of adversity

An overreliance on Chinese exports, political uncertainty, and a worldwide recession have resulted in a perfect storm for the Chilean wine industry in 2023. 2024 looks similarly bleak in forecasts as the country teeters on the brink of recession. Crime and unemployment are increasing, and the economy is weak despite judicious management.

The construction industry has seen many bankruptcies, and hospitality has taken a hit, too. Yet a few niche brands bucked the downward data—brands that have traversed international waters and won—brands that show exactly what this long, thin country is capable of in bottle.

Chilean wine is better than ever, yet the category lacks the cohesive marketing identity of its neighbour Argentina. Baettig thinks attractive Chilean wines are still relatively unknown to international consumers.

Vinos Baettig

Tasting the new Cabernet Sauvignon with Carlos de Carlos

'Seven years ago, I wouldn’t routinely drink any Chilean wine. Today, when I eat out, I find wines I love; you can find attractive bottles made from Cinsault, Carignan, Pais, Chardonnay, Cabernet, and increasingly decent Pinots. Last Wednesday eating out, I drank three bottles of Chilean wine that I absolutely loved. Yet these wines are still very niche; those who produce them don’t have connexions with the international market.”

“Consumers still see Chile as a brand that makes simple, good, well-priced volume wine. We need more exposure to niche wines internationally, in restaurants and wine shops so that people can find them. Brand 'Chile' can act as more a hindrance than a boon, and that needs to change through discovery.”

Vinos Baettig

Traiguén is located 600 km south of Santiago de Chile, in the province of Malleco. The name Traiguén comes from the indigenous Mapudungun word trayén, which means waterfall. The region is littered with volcanoes, lakes and forests.

Like Britain, Chile teeters on the edge of an economic and political abyss; in the past, you would see the odd winery performing poorly or an adverse market shift, but never has there been a perfect storm like this with companies as solid as Viña Montes down more than 28%. China's closure and reopening with a focus on their own local production has hit Chile hard. Japan is in recession. Logistics have proved catastrophically pricey too, with container prices rising from around 3000 dollars to 10,000. Inflation in Chile and the rest of the world has led to reduced consumption, exchange rates and inflation are also critical; loans are more costly.

Baettig thinks Chile needs to reset, reduce volume, raise quality, and stop competing for the bottom. To achieve this lofty list, it would be necessary to start again and make a loss, something that many cannot or will not countenance. Carlos and Francisco make their wine in volumes tempered by the vicissitudes of climate; they are driven by a philosophy that is both ancient and modern.

“Carlos and I worked and saved for many years before we launched Baettig; we did not take out loans. We needed to be in control of our production. We have always thought small and focused on quality, not quantity. That meant owning our vineyards and keeping volumes low. We don’t want to put ourselves in the position of brand 'Chile' and make more wines than we can sell. We have 15 hectares in Traiguén and five in Maule, but it's cold, and yields are small. The most we are able to produce in Traiguén is 8000 cases.”

“We do everything, Carlos and I, not because we don’t want to pay anyone else but because for us as a concept, it makes a difference if it's me making the wine and managing the vineyard, bottling, etc, and Carlos out there selling and negotiating. To do that, we cannot grow too much; we want to manage everything ourselves. In 2023, we had a wonderful and bounteous production in Traiguén, but in ‘24, we were hit by the frost in November, and the production will be small. We will manage because we don’t have debts to pay.”

The Vinos Baettig wines

Vinos Baettig

Baettig Vino de Viñedo Los Parientes , D.O Traiguén Chardonnay 2023 13% abv

Whole cluster, barrel fermented, native yeast. 8 months in French oak, (8% new). Creamy candied waxy lemon, mint and sapid salty zesty sherbet with a touch of lime and vanilla. This is utterly divine and impossible to put down. Pithy, concentrated, mineralic, savoury and round; complex and texturally titillating, Francisco is a Chardonnay Maestro.

Baettig Selección de Parcelas Los Primos Chardonnay 2022 D.O Traiguén 13.5% abv

Whole cluster, barrel fermented, native yeast. 13 months in French oak, (37% new). Golden, creamy, concentrated and fabulously intense. Candied lemon, lanolin, honeysuckle and clove marry well with savoury walnut skin and salty tangy apricot. An endlessly pleasurable mineralic dream. Sup to sate the soul.

Baettig Vino de Viñedos Los Compadres Cabernet Sauvignon 2023 14% abv. 10 months in French oak (10% new), 15% barrel fermented. Old vines grown in cool climes bring damson, violet, cherry, earth and English blackberries; the wine is lusciously moreish, bitey, with the texture of gossamer silk and fine chalky tannins, tinged with sweet moist cigar and liquorice.

Baettig Seleccion de Parcelas Los Padrinos, D.O Cauquenes, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2022 14% abv

15 months in French oak, (65% new). Dense yet fresh; liquorice-laced, dry, structured, firm, and textural. Savoury notes of tar, graphite, warm moist cigar and dry leaves. Blackcurrant, puckered plum, cloves and nutmeg. Tannins are fine, chalky and firm. This remarkably complex, structured, deliciously textural intriguing drink goes on forever too.

Baettig Vino de Viñedo Los Parientes, D.O Pinot Noir 2023 13.5% abv

15% whole cluster, native yeast and 8 months in French oak (8% new). Strawberries, cherries, and an angel's kiss in spring. This is divine; sensual, structured, fresh with sapid damson and supple as silk. Savoury, super-fine tannins and a delicious bitterness on the finish bring ever more pleasure.

Baettig Selección de Parcelas Los Primos, D.O Traiguén Pinot Noir 2022 13.5% abv

20% whole cluster, native yeast and 14 months in French oak (41% new). Fresh wild strawberries, black cherry, a bat squeek of orange liqueur and fragrant rose; the impression is savoury, earthy and sensual. Fine-grained fragrant tannins, a touch of blood and a hint of spice on the finish. Mesmerising.