If what they say is true about the steadily rising popularity of Latin American food – and more broadly culture – then David Stevens-Castro is a shrewd man. As consultant/adviser for and representative of Wines of Chile in the Queensland and Northern NSW region – with, moreover, an Honours degree in Agricultural Science in which he majored in oenology – he is a passionate advocate for the wines of his native country and anxious to educate the rest of us about them. Born into a family deeply involved in wine, (his grandfather started growing grapes in the early ‘60’s and an aunt and uncle two decades later developed a laboratory for wine certification) he came to Byron Bay in 2007 and became a permanent resident the following year. Working in landscaping is his ‘bread and butter’ as he seeks to establish himself in the wine industry, largely in an educational capacity. He wants to teach people how to appreciate wines but in a simple rather than an elitist way.
Chile is the fifth largest exporter of wines in the world and the ninth largest producer, with a climate described as midway between that of California and France. Despite the fact that its viticultural history dates back to the 16th century (when colonising Spanish conquistadors brought vines with them) the country is regarded, as Australia and the US are, as New World in terms of its industry.
It wasn’t until the early 1980s that the introduction of stainless steel fermentation and the use of oak barrels for ageing resulted in quality wine production and rapidly growing exportation. From 12 in 1995, the number of wineries has grown to well over 70.
The country itself is a long skinny strip contained within the four natural boundaries of Pacific Ocean, Andes Mountain, Atacama Desert and the Antarctic. ‘You can go surfing in the morning and ski in the afternoon, it’s such a skinny country’, jokes David; in fact it would be entirely possible. From top to bottom it measures more than 4000 kilometres, with a wildly diverse landscape of barren desert and lonely beaches, mountains and lakes – and of course that endless coastline resulting in an abundance of seafood. David was flying back home recently, part-holiday and part-research, when an announcement was made to the effect that due to a technical problem the plane would be forced to land at Easter Island, off Chile. It was there that the passengers learned about the earthquake. But – ‘it’s a very seismic country’, David says calmly, almost cheerfully. ‘We know a lot about earthquakes – everyone expects one about every 20 years.’ Provision for and means of coping with a catastrophe of this scale are therefore highly professional and finely tuned; according to David, most of those who perished were tourists struck by the tsunami as the Chileans themselves wisely fled inland.
Red wine is the big thing – David mentions the variety known as ‘carmenere’ often, explaining that Chile is becoming well known for this particular type: ‘a soft red with soft tannins, quite sweet, which gives you the sense of eating chocolate.’ It’s food- friendly wine too, particularly, he says, with Asian food and specifically Thai. ‘Wine is very important,’ he tells me. ‘It’s about celebrating, celebrating the fact we are together.’
David is available, and happy, to conduct tastings and events – and not only of Chilean wines but also Argentinian ones.
For anyone interested he can be emailed at [email protected] or contacted on 0403 050 375.