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Vignettes of an evolving industry: Interview with California’s expert on Chilean Wine

Chile's Wine Ambassador Rebecca Chapa hard at work in San Francisco, California.

Chile's Wine Ambassador Rebecca Chapa hard at work in San Francisco, California.

In this series of interviews with the major players in Chile’s centuries-old industry, Wines of Chile gets an inside look at the ins and outs of winemaking and sales, from the grape harvests in southern Chile to the wine list at New York’s hottest restaurants.

Wine grapes have been a staple of Chile’s valleys ever since the arrival of the Spaniards. Yet in recent decades, the nation’s wine industry has transformed from a young New World producer into a burgeoning source of luscious, award-winning varietals, emphasizing sustainability and premium wines and exporting to five continents around the globe.

Today we talk to Rebecca Chapa, Chile’s premier Wine Ambassador in the Bay Area, about the delicious diversity that Chilean wines have to offer the U.S. market.

In March 2011, Chapa teamed up with Wines of Chile with one goal in mind: to bring the best of Chilean wines to San Francisco’s bars, restaurants and retail stores. With a passion for good wine and a degree from Cornell University, Chapa embarked on a career in wine and food, soon becoming a Certified Wine Educator and Certified Sommelier, with a diploma from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust in London.

“Most consumers and sommeliers don’t realize that there is incredible diversity within Chile,” Chapa says. “The multitude of regions, climates [and] soil types ensure that there is a wealth of different styles of wine, something for every palate.”

As part of her job as “Wine Ambassador,” Chapa also works to expose people to the rich and wonderful world of Chilean cuisine and culture, adding another facet to enjoying a good Chilean wine.

“The best part of the job is when I find someone super excited about the wine they taste and see the smile on their face, having experienced something new or learning something about Chile they didn’t know,” Chapa says.

You work in California’s cosmopolitan Bay Area, steps away from one of the world’s best-known wine regions. What attracted to you working with Chilean wines?

I think it’s exciting working with these unique wines. Although we are surrounded by great wine throughout California, the wines of Chile are really unique. I find that it’s exciting to taste the same varieties grown in a different country and find that there really is a typicity to Chilean wines – they are completely unique from what is grown here in California and both have a reason to be on a wine list or on a shelf.

What do you think sets apart Chile’s wine region and wines from those in Napa Valley?

Chile has been doing some really exciting cool climate wines, some exciting blends and great whites. I would say the Chilean wines have a certain vibrancy while Napa wines can be a bit more dense. I have had fun doing some blind tastings with sommeliers and slipping a Napa wine in the mix — it’s unmistakable, not better or worse, just different.

You work with restaurant and bar owners to promote and inform them about Chilean wines. What is the most common misconception they have about Chilean wine?

Most people expect that Chilean wines because they are a good value can’t hold up to California wines in terms of quality. They also assume that Chilean wines are rich and fat, while the cool climate areas [like Chile’s Casablanca and San Antonio valleys] are really creating some exciting very vibrant high acid wines.

Say I live in the Bay Area. Where should I go for a good selection of Chilean wines, and a staff who can guide me to best choice for my tastes?

Epic Roasthouse has brought in a wide selection of Chilean wines, which is great. Weimax in the Peninsula has a great selection right now for a retailer.

The Bay Area and San Francisco specifically is known for its diversity in food and nightlife. What popular types of food in the Bay Area pair well with Chile’s finest?

Chilean wine can be truly diverse, so the food options are endless. The whites can be fantastic with oysters and shellfish. A favorite of mine is Carmenere with barbecue. We actually had a great dinner at a Brazilian Churrascaria – (the Carmenere) was fabulous with everything from beef to chicken hearts!

Chile's Wine Ambassador Rebecca Chapa hard at work in San Francisco, California.

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