Seña means ‘signal’ in Spanish and this wine was created to make a difference, to showcase Chile’s full potential. In less than three decades, Seña has become one of the jewels of Chile’s vineyards. It is the first fine wine to be recognized from Chile and it was awarded a perfect score of 100 points by Robert Parker in 2015 and 2018. The 2017 vintage received an almost perfect score of 99 points from James Suckling.
This was no accident. Created in 1995 by Eduardo Chadwick from the established family winery Errázuriz and wine icon Robert Mondavi, the pair set out to put Chilean wine on the world map.
It is now an iconic wine comparable to prestigious Premier Cru (First Growth) wines like Petrus, Chateau Latour and Sassicaia. The Premier Cru classification established in 1855 in France was initially restricted only to French wines, and in particular, Bordeaux. Italian wine was awarded international recognition only in the 1960s with the advent of the super Tuscans, and Californian Napa wine in the 1970s.
In the 1990s, Chilean wine was known for its good price value and easy-drinking table wines. Eduardo Chadwick’s dream was not only to make a premium Chilean wine comparable in quality to the world’s internationally renowned wines but to be recognized on the same stage.
The Seña vineyard is situated on the slopes facing the Andes mountain with volcanic and gravel soils. Warm sunny days and the sea breeze from the Pacific Ocean provide a good difference in temperature that gives the grapes a boost of intensity and freshness.
Seña has the finesse of a Bordeaux wine and the intensity of the Mediterranean climate.
This interview with Eduardo Chadwick has been edited for clarity.
Q. How did this dream of yours begin?
I joined my father in the family wine business, Vina Errazuriz, in 1983. Chile had only started exporting wine in 1989 but I knew that our land and climate had great potential to produce a great wine.
Robert Mondavi and his wife Margrit came to Chile in 1991 because they wanted to understand Chile as a wine country. I was asked to be his wine guide by a common friend and I organized the trip for them.
During the trip, he told me that Chile reminded him of Napa in the 1960s when he started his wine career and that he saw its potential to produce great wines, not just wines for daily consumption. He wished to participate in creating this wine and invited me to make a joint venture. As we drove, we talked about creating a Bordeaux-style wine with a distinctive Chilean personality that would make the world sit up and take notice.
Robert Mondavi was instrumental in elevating the image of Napa when no one believed it to be capable of creating world-class wines. He was influential in developing the reputation of Napa as he founded Opus One with Baron Philippe de Rothchild.
It was my dream, to gain recognition for Chile in the international world for fine wines. Though at the time, it seemed like a very distant dream. Chile was not well known and critics were sceptical of its ability to produce a wine of top calibre.
Q. What was it like to partner and collaborate with Robert Mondavi?
Robert Mondavi was a great mentor. He had an amazing personality, a strong drive and extensive knowledge. Working alongside him accelerated my growth. He was very generous in sharing his experience. The Mondavi family was open at a time when most in the wine industry held their cards close to their chest. They were keen to share their experience and innovation with whoever was interested. He saw that our family had the passion to produce a great wine.
I asked him why they were so willing to share their trade secrets. He explained their philosophy.
“The day you start to keep secrets, you will not evolve. When you share, you need to keep moving and innovating.”
I have only positive memories of how we started and developed the property. There was an openness to changing and adapting. We had a friendship and enjoyed working together.
Q. Can you share some insights from your experience that can help others fulfil their dreams?
For me, the goal was to ‘join the party’ of the big league of fine wines by making a wine that was truly the best representation of Chile. We focused on one wine.
We make sure everything that touches Seña is authentic and aligned. This is reflected not only on the wine but is also in the way the vineyard is designed as well as the architecture on the property.
Seña was envisioned to be a Bordeaux blend with a distinctive Chilean character. The Carménère in the Cabernet Sauvignon-based blend gives it a Chilean uniqueness. This gives it a typicity that is not Bordeaux, Tuscan or Napa.
Q. Was sustainability a part of your vision?
A sustainable approach to viticulture was definitely part of this vision. This evolved into biodynamic farming which I believe gives the ultimate respect to the land. It commits to using resources that are naturally present. It does require a lot more attention to detail, but it adds to the uniqueness of the wine and it preserves our land.
The estate is self-contained. The vineyard is designed with sustainability in mind. Having optimal natural conditions make it easier. There is good irrigation from the rivers flowing from the Andes. We use natural compost without adding fertilizers or chemicals.
Q. How did you overcome the challenges?
Achieving a vision needs long-term stamina. We require persistence and determination as there will always be challenges.
When we started, there was a resistance in acknowledging that Chile could produce world-class wines. Chilean wines were not even on Robert Parker’s radar. They were not rated.
To cross this hurdle, I decided to put our wines to the test in blind tastings. Internationally-acclaimed wine experts Steven Spurrier and René Gabriel helped organize a masterclass in Berlin in 2004. Thirty-six key wine critics were invited to do a blind tasting of 18 wines. Amongst them were top French classics Château Lafite, Château Margaux, Château Latour and Italian cult wines Tignanello, Sassicaia, Solaia.
I hoped to place our wine in the top five. I was terrified it would be ranked at the bottom. To my delight, Viñedo Chadwick 2000 came up on top, and Seña 2001 was listed as second and Seña 2000 as fourth. I was ecstatic! Finally, we were getting some recognition.
I knew this was not enough. To establish our credentials, I repeated this masterclass 22 times in different wine capitals throughout the world in the following years. Our wines ranked consistently in the top three.
However, Seña has only been in the market for 25 years. We have a long way to go compared to other established wines. It is a journey that I am enjoying tremendously.