Chile’s Odfjell Vineyards
A boutique winery with Norwegian roots delivers specialty red wines
M. MICHAEL BRADY
Dan Odfjell is a man with a preordained mission. Born, raised, and educated in the maritime environs of Bergen, with a degree from the Norwegian Naval Academy there, and business management skills acquired at Harvard, he sought opportunity wherever it arose, at home and afar.
On a voyage in 1982, he discovered the Maipo Valley of Chile, at the north end of the country’s long Central Valley, just south of the capital of Santiago. He fell in love with the scenery and dry climate of the Maipo and decided to put down roots there to realize his lifelong dream of becoming a farmer. He bought a fruit plantation, which in time became the Odfjell Vineyards, which, in 1998, released its first vintage wine.
Today, there are Odfjell Vineyards in the Maipo, Lontué, and Cauquenes Valleys of Chile, in all 284 acres of land between the Coastal Mountain Range to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. They are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carménère, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and old-vine Carignan grape varieties, all handpicked.
Starting in 2012, all the vineyards became organic and biodynamic with annual certifications by Demeter, the oldest (founded 1927) and largest certification organization for organically produced foods, named for the Greek god of agriculture and the harvest. Demeter is now active in more than 50 countries.
Internal transport in the vineyards is handled by a unique gravity flow system designed by Dan’s architect son, Laurence. The apparatus of the winery itself is built into a hillside above the vineyards, with more than 60% of it underground. In the processes of winemaking, pumping is minimal, which diminishes agitation of the wine. This gentle handling helps preserve the subtle grape characteristics from the vineyard to the final bottled wines.
In the lingo of their trade, the Odfjell Vineyards are a “boutique winery.” The word boutique is French for “shop,” and hence, the root word for the equivalent butikk in Norwegian. But in English, it’s a loan word that means a small or fashionable shop. A boutique winery is an artisan enterprise that produces less than a large-scale, commercial wine producer. One of the advantages of being small is that the Odfjell Vineyards specialize by producing only red wine.
Through the three generations it has existed, the surname Odfjell is unique to Dan’s family. It’s a construct devised by Capt. Berent Daniel Olsen (1849-1912), the father of the three brothers who founded the Odfjell shipping company in 1914. Captain Olsen had extracted Odfjell from Oddefjellet (literally “Odde bedrock”), an area and road name in the small port of Loshavn, where his father-in-law grew up in the archipelago off Norway’s southwest coast at Farsund in what now is Agder County in the southern tip of the country.
The staff of the wineries of today reflects the international history of the enterprise. Arnaud Herau, from the Bordeaux wine-producing region of France, handles winemaking. Arturo Labbé, a Chilean biodynamic winemaker, supervises viticulture. Paul Hobbs, an American who owns a winery in Sebastopol, in the Sonoma County of California, is a consultant.
Settling down in the Maipo Valley enabled Dan to practice a hobby permitted by his becoming a farmer, the breeding of Norwegian Fjord Horses. The Fjord Horse, one of the oldest and purest breeds, is believed to have migrated to Norway some 4,000 years ago and to have been selectively bred for more than 2,000 years.
Most Fjord Horses, and all of those at the vineyards, are brown dun (a yellowish tan) in color. They are a small breed, at the withers standing 13.2 to 14.2 hands (52.8 to 56.8 inches), compared to 15.2 hands (60.8 inches) for the average horse.
The Vikings are known to have used Fjord Horses as war mounts that they took on their travels to Iceland, Scotland, and elsewhere. Hence the Fjord Horse is the aspect of Viking culture that triggered the evolution of the Icelandic Horse and the Highland Pony.
And at the vineyards, Fjord Horses, not tractors, provide hauling power, carrying on a proud Viking tradition in the Maipo Valley of Chile to bring consumers around the world delicious high-quality organic and biodynamic Chilean red wine.
Visit the Odfjell Vineyards website at odfjellvineyards.cl/en/home.
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 23, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.