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How to win a wine making contest

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COLCHAGUA, Chile---I was invited to participate in a wine making contest after a tour of the splendorous Viu Manent Winery, about 120 miles south of Santiago, Chile.
That's like inviting me to a silk necktie sale.

I know about as much about making wine as I know how to make glace au four (Baked Alaska). I did try that once in chef's class at Naperville Central High School.
We were paired off in teams in a conference hall at the winery which is in its third generation of operation. I was part of a group that included North America food service leaders and a couple media members. Like a grape in wine, we were immersed in an in-depth tour of Chile organized by the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association (CFFA) th the support of Pro Chile..........

My team consisted of Fernando Balart, Marketing manager for Chilean Fruit Exporters Association, Kevin Bechtel, Senior VP for Purchasing and Menu Development for Shari's Management Corp. in Portland, Ore., and Carlos Acevado, Senior Food Editor for Better Homes and Gardens Magazine in Des Moines, Ia.

I tried to lay low.

I kept the stats of how we were concocting our vino. We started with 40 percent cabernet, 20 percent merlot and 40 per cent malbec, for which the winery is known for. Malbec is also popular in Argentina and I recall enjoying its rustic touch a couple of winters ago at the Argentinian restaurant Folklore in Chicago's Wicker Park.

"Let's add a little bit of merlot for a better mouth feel," Kevin said. I nodded my head. Sounded great to me.
I'd also add a little bit of Cazadores.
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We fiddled with the formula , backing off on the malbec, increasing the cabernet.
We finally arrived at a 60 (cabernet), 20- 20 dry and hearty wine. It also pretty much replicated the blend of the other team which consisted of Sean Lockhart, Executive Chef for Parkhusrt Dining Services in Philadelphia, Pa. , Karen Berner, Food Editor for the Reader's Digest Association, Chuck Hatfield, Director of Prodcut Development for Sodexo and Tom Tjerandesn, Managing Director for CFFA.


Viu Manent Winery experts judged our product on taste and marketing.
Since our blends were close in flavor, we won out on our "marketing" program.

That was my contribution. Before the contest we were taken on a tour of the winery in a colonial carriage led by two horses. I figured we could name our wine after one of the horses, which would give it a local touch. We were told one of the slow moving horses was named "Princess."

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My pal Carlos immediately picked up on the theme. We named our wine "Princesa Gorda," in tribute to the red wine's thick (gorda) fruit forward feel. Carlos called it "A full bodied filly." I knew this would be grapes with giddy-up. But I kept that to myself.

We designed our own paper labels and affixed them to the bottle. Carlos cut out a tiny first place wine tasting ribbon. Viu Manent exports wine to 40 countries. Now they could add Kentucky to the list.

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I figured we could promote "Princesa Gorda" at this year's running of the Kentucky Derby. It would be perfect for "ladies, gentlemen, trainers and jockeys." Just about for everyone except those drinking Jack Daniel's in the infield.
I met artist Leroy Neiman--once---at the Ali Museum in Louisville, Ky.--- and I bet we could get him to design commemorative wine labels.
"Let loose the regins!," Carlos said.
We were having so much fun.

Tom was upset. I got the sense Tom doesn't lose much. It wasn't even a photo finish and Tom brought this up for the duration of the trip. We won a bottle of Viu Manent wine as well as a commemorative edition of our Princesa Gorda. I will always save some "Princessa Gorda" for Tom.

If you tour the 543-acre winery, anyone can set up their own "Winemaker for a Day" competition at Viu Manent. Viu Manent is ahead of the pack in terms of agritourism.

And remember, wine making is a lot of show-biz.

Since I was so busy drinking wine I didn't have a lot of time to check out Chilean music, but I did come across 30-year-old electronica-folk Chilean songwriter Yael Meyer. The Santiago born Meyer has relocated to Los Angeles but will be appearing at Chile's Lollapalooza, March 31 and April 1 in Santiago. Our wine had fire.

Like this song.
Cheers from Ch-Ch-Chile!

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Dave Hoekstra

Dave Hoekstra has been a Chicago Sun-Times staff writer since 1985. His collection of Sun-Times travel columns, "Ticket To Everywhere," was published in 2000 by Lake Claremont Press. He was lead writer for "Farm Aid: Song for America" (Rodale Press, 2005) which commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Willie Nelson inspired effort.
He won a 1987 Chicago Newspaper Guild Stick O-Type Award for Column Writing. Hoekstra wrote and co-proudced the WTTW-Channel 11 PBS special: "The Staple Singers and the Civil Rights Movement," nominated for a 2001-02 Chicago Emmy for a documentary program/cultural significance.
He lives in Chicago.

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