2020. What a trying, heart-breaking, anything-but-simple year on so many fronts. Making good wine relies on planning and precision, two luxuries that we were not afforded in a time of such uncertainty. However, a bit of serendipity allowed us to move forward with wine production even as the world shut down, and we ended up with an assortment of vintages as varied and complex as the year itself.
Reflections on a Challenging Season
Over the last eighteen months the pandemic created obstacles for businesses and communities across the world. Our small Kingston Family Vineyards team in Casablanca Valley, Chile was no exception. Everyone on our team had to quickly pivot to new roles (with the tasting room closed) and new protocols, such as social distancing and mask wearing, while harvesting and sorting grapes and making wine. That was on a good day. At more challenging times during the pandemic, there were mandatory lockdowns or periods when our winemaker, Amael Orrego, was in quarantine and had to have vials of KFV wines in-process driven to him for tasting and monitoring.
Amael expressed the difficulty of operating during the pandemic while also offering an optimistic outlook: "It was such a year for personal growth, especially in terms of developing more patience and understanding each one of the different processes of vine growing and winemaking so much better. I had the time to slow down and focus even more on the fundamentals." Team member and veteran employee, Coni Beytía, described her personal journey and the way in which our small team supported one another during the pandemic: “This time made me realize how lucky I am to work with our team. I felt very supported not just by the family, but also by my coworkers.”
Counting Our Blessings
The first blessing we recieved was an unexpectedly warm climate resulting in an early harvest: while we usually start picking in late February and continue all the way until the end of April, in 2020 all of our grapes were in the winery by March 23rd, just about a week after the reality of the pandemic came to a head across the globe. Even though the U.S. participants in our hospitality fellowship program had to be sent home almost immediately following the closing of our tasting salon, the incredible work put in by our Chilean staff to get all our grapes harvested in time saved us from paralysis.
The second blessing was the agricultural exemption we received from the government to continue winemaking operations even as the country fell under strict lockdowns. Those employees who were allowed to travel to the winery from their homes – among them our cellar master Manuel Fuentes – were warriors in seeing the winemaking process to completion.
The End Result
It ended up being an excellent year for our Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah, both of which tend to do well in warmer climates. The Sauvignon Blancs are flush with notes of citrus like pineapple, papaya and mango, with a mouthfeel that is smooth and medium-to-full bodied. The Syrah is darker and richer than in previous years, with beautiful textures and tension across the palate. While wines from warmer years tend to evolve a bit faster, these vintages should have life in the bottle for at least a decade into the future. The Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vintages from 2020 were success stories as well; very balanced and with an appealing acidity, they contain a great expression of red fruit and spices. The Chardonnay is more tropical in nature but maintains that butteriness that moves with ease across the tongue.
Kingston At Home
With the shutdown of our winery due to the pandemic, we could no longer offer in-person tastings and tours to our guests. Soon after, Chile declared a state of catastrophe and closed its borders. Things were feeling bleak. However, we soon found a silver lining admist all the chaos and uncertainty: if people couldn't come to Kingston then Kingston Family Vineyards would come to them.
We quickly shifted to offering virtual wine tastings, shipping bottles to customers in advance. Our goal was to bring a little taste of Chile and our family vineyard into our customers' homes. Virtual tastings enabled people from all over the globe to come together and raise a glass. We hosted professors and MBA students for immersive education events, tech companies, alumni groups, birthday celebrations, book clubs, and more. With all the challenges the pandemic has created, "bringing a little bit of light into this difficult time," Courtney Kingston says, "is what we have aimed to do."
We hope that you experience something very special in this year’s new wines knowing that they were made in challenging times with tremendous perseverance and care from our small and committed Chilean team to whom we are so grateful.
Stay well and we look forward to sharing a glass with you, either virtually or in-person, very soon!