Philippe Rolet, CEO of Los Vascos, in Hong Kong at Conrad Hotel (pic: Natalie Wang)

Philippe Rolet of Los Vascos reveals why the estate chose now to launch the first organic wine range Chagual in the estate's 35 years of history.

It was one of these early autumn days in Hong Kong when humidity retreats for a crisp bright day. The morning sun streamed through the windows of the lobby lounge at the Conrad Hotel, casting a warming hue on the plush interiors as I sat across from Philippe Rolet, the CEO of Los Vascos.

Los Vascos, DBR Lafite Rothschild’s groundbreaking venture in Chile, marked the first French wine foray into the South American nation back in 1988. As Rolet, who himself came from a long linage of winemaking family in Jura’s Domaine Rolet, began recounting his most recent business trip to South Korea, it became clear that he’s not just a Frenchman running a Bordelais-owned Chilean winery; he’s someone who has deeply imbibed the South American spirit.

“I’ve spent over two decades here,” he said. Before joining Los Vascos three years ago, Rolet worked at DBR Lafite’s Argentine winery Bodega Caro. Now he heads both wineries.

Steeped in tradition and history, as Rolet puts it, the estate has always been “relatively quiet.” But as he continues, it became evident that there has been a whirlwind of transformations. Its flagship “Le Dix” range underwent a sophisticated facelift, capturing the essence of modern elegance. This was swiftly followed by the unveiling of the “Cromas” range, featuring single varietal wines made from Los Vascos’ hillside vineyards.

But the pièce de résistance was the unveiling of “Chagual,” Los Vascos’ pioneering organic wine range. Named after an indigenous plant of the same name, Chagual, is a step forward in the winery’s sustainable endeavours. As Rolet continues, he emphasized that this wasn’t a fleeting endeavor but a culmination of a journey that began over 20 years ago.

In 1991, the winery started its organic exploration. By 2011, the winery celebrated its first organic vineyard certification. When Saskia de Rothschild took over from her father Baron Eric de Rothschild as Chairman of Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) in 2018, the estate further expanded its organic footprint.

Currently, 90 hectares are certified organic and half of the estate’s over 600 hectares vineyards are in organic conversion. “Our immediate goal is to convert half of the estate, with a long-term vision for complete transition,” says Rolet.

Consisting of a Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon, the Chagual collection is not stopping at two, Rolet suggests, “We are experimenting with new varietals, new ways of production. It’s going to be interesting.”  

In a bold, environmentally-conscious move, Rolet revealed that the Chagual range has eschewed the traditional wine capsules. “We decided to use it without cap,” he said firmly. “Problem with caps is it’s either plastic, aluminium or tin; the tin is recycle but costs a lot, and aluminium is not recycle, so we went without a cap. It’s quite new for us and for Lafite.”

Continuing on the winery’s sustainable efforts, Rolet spoke of the estate’s reverence for nature, from harnessing solar energy to preserving biodiversity. Currently, 95% of the energy is powered by solar panels, Rolet says proudly.

Certified by the Code of Sustainability of Wines of Chile, the estate reuses, recycles, and recovers everything from pruning residuals to water and packaging, he adds. Amidst their vast 3600 hectares, a mere 670 are dedicated to vines. The remainder is a lush mosaic of forests, reservoirs, and ponds.

Under Saskia’s leadership, Los Vascos, an estate that has traditionally leaned on red wine production is diversifying its white wine offerings. “We’ve ventured beyond reds,” Rolet revealed, “The Chardonnay from Cromas is the first high-end white wine from the property.”

As our conversation waned, Rolet’s thoughts drifted to the East. “We started exporting to China quite early on,” he mused, “In 2014 or 2013 China including Hong Kong became our first market, surpassing the US.”

Los Vascos is exclusively imported and distributed in Hong Kong by China’s leading wine importer and distributor ASC Fine Wines. Makoto Nagae, Chief Executive Officer of ASC, commented: “We are delighted ASC’s partnership with Los Vascos has played an important role in contributing to the success of Los Vascos in the region. We are genuinely appreciative of Los Vascos’ wholehearted dedication to sustainability. It’s an honor to have Los Vascos as our supplier partner, and we take great pride in the commendable sustainability efforts they’ve undertaken.”

The Chagual range, introduced globally three months ago, was presented to ASC in Hong Kong and is set to be available in Cambodia, Japan, South Korea, mainland China, and Hong Kong soon.

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