Lapostolle, a Historic Estate Looks to the Future

Charles-Henri de Bournet has ushered in a new era for the iconic Chilean winery with sustainability at its heart

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In 1994, Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle first glimpsed the potential of winegrowing in Chile in a vineyard of ungrafted vines on pre-phylloxera rootstock in the Apalta Valley. Nearly 20 years later, her son, Charles-Henri de Bournet, honored that moment with Le Parcelle 8, a single parcel bottling from those 100-year-old vines. “You need to do something to remember your parents,” says de Bournet. “I wanted to do a wine from the first parcel that they saw, the parcel that started it all.” 

As the seventh generation of the Marnier Lapostolle family, de Bournet officially took over management of the Lapostolle estate in 2013. The Le Parcelle 8 bottling is an example of his evolving vision, forward looking while also deeply rooted in the rich history of his family. These ties trace back to France when de Bournet’s ancestors founded Grand Marnier in 1827 and Château de Sancerre in 1919. The Chilean chapter began when Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle’s search for exceptional terroir led her to the Apalta Valley and those ungrafted vines.

Their motto, “French in Essence. Chilean by Birth,” has the ring of eloquent marketing speak, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Winemaker Andrea Leon explains, “We are not making French wines in Chile, but Chilean wines with a French winemaking philosophy.” That philosophy includes “an understanding of aspects such as sense of place, appellations, the influence of natural and human landscape, and the long-term vision that these wines need behind them.”

That vision is very much for the long-term with a strong focus on the Chilean home of the vines. “When you have a clear vision of an estate wine and property, the challenges are not so much about thinking about the brand as they are thinking about the terroir,” says de Bournet. As an example, a current vineyard project takes the long view, replanting Cabernet Franc, Grenache and Cinsault in place of Merlot. “We need to think 20, 30, 40 years down the road. It’s good now, but what about in 2050?”

The estate’s near-exclusive focus on the Apalta Valley also presents near-term obstacles: rain in 2016, wildfires in 2017, and the hottest season on record in 2019. “Nature gives you pretty intense challenges, and we don’t have the luxury to balance what we lack by bringing in fruit from other regions,” says de Bournet. 

An expansive look at the certification process has been an important part of de Bournet’s tenure. “We went through a beautiful journey, going from conventional to organic and biodynamic,” he explains. “We were 100 percent certified biodynamic in 2011.”

The estate’s experience with biodynamics was especially illuminating. “For us, it’s not a technique,” says de Bournet. “Biodynamic is a philosophy—you truly believe in the fact that everything is connected. This was really eye-opening for us. We went through the experience, we understood it.” Yet the certifications never appeared on the wine labels. Why? “Because we don’t use it as marketing; it is just a way of life to try to be better.”

However, by 2017 the winery began to decertify itself. “Biodynamic is born in the northern hemisphere and uses many things that do not grow naturally down here, so I had my concerns on this topic,” says Leon. Instead, the estate began to focus its attention on the Sustainability Code of the Chilean Winemaking Industry. Developed by Wines of Chile, its holistic view appealed to de Bournet. 

Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle, the founder of Lapostolle.
Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle, the founder of Lapostolle.

“It’s a 360 approach. It asks that you try to be better every year. It considers the vineyard, of course, but also the winery. It’s the way you sell the wine, the way you communicate about the wine, how you care about the social and economic impact of the winery and its surrounding areas,” says de Bournet. “That is an amazing code—second to none in the world right now.”

While not as romantic as the discussion about farming and winemaking, de Bournet has also been deeply involved with the evolution of the Lapostolle distribution network. In 2016, the Grand Marnier company was sold to Campari. The Lapostolle wines had always been aligned with the spirits brand in terms of in-market sales efforts, but now the winery had to move out from under that umbrella and stand on its own.

From a consumer perspective, the winery always had its own distinct personality, but that had to be reinforced at the trade level. “We now have our own reality. We’re not just ‘the winery of Grand Marnier,’” says de Bournet. “It was as if we were living through the teenage years to become adults, but we have a very solid foundation. We’re ready to tackle the next 100 years and that’s really exciting.”

Those teenage years have included introducing Clos Apalta onto the Place de Bordeaux, one of the first non-Bordeaux wines to join the marketplace, as well as evolving and clarifying the product lines. “It’s always about the origin of the grapes. We’re getting more and more precise with their origin,” explains de Bournet. This has involved leaning into their French essence, with the brand architecture resembling a pyramid.

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“Our Apalta red blend was created to celebrate, in 2018, the recognition of the Apalta Valley as a separate appellation from Colchagua,” explains Leon. Based on the Cabernet Sauvignon grape, it’s an expression of the valley, with fruit from two Apalta vineyards. The Cuvée Alexandre Cabernet Sauvignon narrows the focus to the heart of the estate, focusing on a single variety from a handful of plots within a single Apalta vineyard.

At the pointy end of the pyramid, Parcelle 8 serves up a glass of liquid history, with Cabernet Sauvignon sourced exclusively from the ungrafted vineyard that de Bournet’s parents first glimpsed back in 1994. De Bournet feels the weight and history of these vines, planted in the early 1900s using French massale selection. “What does it mean to be a caretaker of that?” he says. “You need to take care at all costs. This is the memory of our wine. We’re privileged to be able to vinify and make wine out of these grapes—[and] we’re very lucky that the result is quite good.”

Finally, less steeped in history but no less delicious is the Lapostolle rosé, a passion project de Bournet began when he moved to Chile in 2006. “I did it for me,” he says, “It was a selfish project—I just wanted to drink rosé.” It has evolved into a light, fresh, bone-dry style based on Cinsault, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Syrah. His parents enjoy it as well—getting enough of it to them in France for their summertime drinking is an annual distribution challenge.

De Bournet’s vision continues to prepare the Lapostolle estate for the future while honoring its past. “We love our wines,” he says. “We understand there are many amazing wines in the world but for us, we have the chance to be here at Apalta. We are doing our bit in this part of the world. We say what we are and we are who we say. I think when you drink the wines, they show it.” 


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