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Last week I had the honour of attending a small dinner with Francois Lurton of the iconic Lurton wine making dynasty. Held at Lima Floral, just off Garrick Street it bought back memories of when I worked as the Dining Rooms Manager for the Garrick Club. It had the most amazing art collection and members would often host dinners using their own wines they stored there for that purpose. It is not often you have the opportunity to have a vertical tasting on 1982 1st growths but I had the pleasure twice. Amazing.

Francois Lurton

Francois Lurton

I am of course familiar with various wines in the families portfolio, and they do hold special memories for me. One being a magical bottle of 1985 Brane Cantenac enjoyed in Meribel circa 1992 whilst on a ski trip – it was astonishingly good with dinner one evening. What I am not familiar of are the wines from Argentina and Chile by Francois Lurton so was very much hoping that this dinner would be enlightening.

The first thing you notice about Francois is his energy and enthusiasm. Here is a man who is at the top of his business and knows how to manage his time well and command a room. He can seemingly talk passionately for hours about his ventures around the world but what struck me most was his love of Sauvignon Blanc. To me it seemed like this varietal was more important to him and more loved than the reds which surprised me. Soon after tasting my first example of Hacienda Araucano Humo Blanco Sauvignon Blanc 2016 though I could see why. I was expecting an explosion of rich, ripe, in your face fruit as per many new world examples but instead found minerality, elegance and structure. This was consistent with the Clos De Lolol (blended with a small percentage of Chardonnay) cementing the fact that these wines are made to be enjoyed solo or with food as they will compliment and not overpower.

Francois owns estates in Spain and France in addition to Argentina and Chile which I have given some background to below.


Please click to listed to a interview I conducted with Francois Lurton at Lima Floral whilst celebrating 20 years of his wine making in South America.

Argentina – Bodega Piedra Negra
In 1992 Francois and his brother Jacques (then still a business partner) arrived in the Alta Uco Valley in the foothills of the Andes after much searching for a suitable viticultural site. Realising that this region with its semi-desert geology might just be perfect for grape growing they undertook tests on the terroir, climate and availability of water (this actually comes from melted mountain water underground from the mountains) before asking their father to fly out and confirm their findings. He was very enthusiastic and likened the gravel soil to that of Pessac Léognan. 200 acres were subsequently purchased in 1996 at an altitude of 1100m in the foothills of the mountains just 80km SW of Mendoza in a stunning location with snow capped mountains providing a year round backdrop.

The climate here can be challenging with temperatures ranging from 40°C during the day in summer to a cool 10°C as the sun descends. This allows for a slow ripening period but also means there is a constant risk of hail so the vineyards are protected by netting. Being semi-desert it is dry with only 200mm rainfall a year (Pessac Léognan has 930mm) so irrigation for the now 136 hectares comes from the estates own natural springs. Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon with a majority of Pinot Gris are all grown here.

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Chile – Hacienda Araucano
Protected from the Phylloxera aphid by the Atacama Desert to the north, the Pacific Ocean to the west, and the Andes Mountains to the east, Chile holds a relatively unique position in the major wine growing regions of the world with a few select other individual areas in Germany and Australia. It’s stable climate has proved to be so good that Francois decided to make his estate, the Hacienda Araucano biodynamic following on from organic principles at his other estates. He first purchased 200 acres here in the year 2000 although had previously made the first bottles of Araucano in 1997.

Located 2 hours drive from Santiago just outside the historic village of Lolol in the Colchagua Valley, Hacienda Araucano’s closest major town is Santa Cruz 30km to the west. Located in a test to west running valley cold air is drawn in from the Pacific Ocean. With the temperature being higher inland a white fog develops called the ‘Humo Blanco’. This is a dry area during the summer with temperatures rising to 28°C but the breeze and for temper this. 650mm of rain falls a year but this mostly occurs in winter so irrigation is still needed.

Francois favours planting varietals that prefer cooler climates and in particular Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir here, the former making a very complex wine (I have not tasted the Pinot Noir but can assume the same). Being eco friendly is very important to Francois and as such Viña Hacienda Araucano is the first vineyard on the American continent to be powered by 100 percent sold energy.

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The Tasting and Dinner
Prior to dinner we had the opportunity to taste a selection of wines from both countries starting with the Chileans which I found to be delicious and in particular the Sauvignons as mentioned previously. Unusually we had a choice of food for dinner with each course being complemented by 2 wines. I opted for :-

Starter

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SEA BREAM CEVICHE –
Raw chunks of sea bream freshly marinated in traditional tiger’s milk with avocado purée, crispy cancha corn and dehydrated onion

This was accompanied by
Clos De Lolol White 2011 – 70% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Chardonnay
Gran Lurton Blanco 2007 – 70% Tokay Friulano, 20% Pinot Gris, 8% Chardonnay, 2% Torrontès

Main Course

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LAMB RUMP AMAZONIA – Seared and slow-cooked rare organic lamb rump coated in huacatay herbs and coffee dust – with 4,000m Peruvian potatoes, fresh cheese and red kiwicha

Accompained by
Gran Araucano Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 – 100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Gran Lurton Red 2005 – 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Malbec

Pudding

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AMAZONIAN TREE TOMATO – Tree tomato mousse with 75% Amazonian chocolate and kañiwa crisps

Accompanied by
Alka 2003 – 100% Carmenere
Chacayes 2003 – 80% Malbec, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon

During dinner Francois discussed with us his wines and philosophies at a very fast pace. He is a man born to communicate and pack a lot of information and facts into a relatively short amount of time. His wines are serious and deserve to be enjoyed over dinner. What was evident was how well they matured. Having tasted the 2013 Chacayes in the tasting the 2003 was still fresh, yet developed and softer due to it’s maturity and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon instead of 10% in the 2013. Overall I throughly enjoyed the wines and will be seeking them out in the future.

The wines are available at Condor Wines and Roberson Wines.