Interviewing Casillero's Winemaker, Sebastián Rodriguez
We had the pleasure of interviewing Sebastián Rodriguez. For Sebastián Rodríguez, the road to winemaker began along the coast of Chile. Growing up in San Antonio, a coastal city to the north of the Maipo River, Sebastián was drawn to the land — to the agricultural fields, to the diverse plant life, to the valley and the beach.
“My interest in wine began with viticulture, so even as a winemaker today, I am very focused on what’s happening in the vineyards and how we’re caring for each block,” said Sebastián. “Without quality grapes, we cannot make a quality wine, so the vineyard is still the most important part of the winemaking process for me.”
As the winemaker behind Casillero del Diablo, Sebastián crafts a broad portfolio of offerings, from a signature Cabernet Sauvignon, which includes fruit from the famed Maipo Valley, to a crisp Sauvignon Blanc sourced primarily from the coastal vineyards of the San Antonio Valley, closer to his roots. He studied agronomy — the science of soil management and crop production — at Universidad Mayor in Santiago, before earning his technical diploma in winemaking from the prestigious Universidad de Chile. He honed his skills crafting small-lot wines at Casa Marín, a boutique winery in the San Antonio Valley, and also spent time working in the vineyards and cellar of DeLoach Vineyards in California’s Russian River Valley. Sebastían joined Casillero del Diablo in 2007, under the tutelage of celebrated winemaker Marcelo Papa, Technical Director for Concha y Toro. Together, they emphasize quality in the vineyard and ferment individual lots separately to allow the full expression of Chile’s soil, marine fog, and mountain snowmelt to emerge before aging selected wines with French and American oak for greater complexity.
“In the earliest days of winemaking in Chile, the focus was on emulating an Old World style of wines,” Sebastían explained. “Today, we understand where each variety thrives best in Chile, and we craft our wines to showcase the site-specific characteristics of our many exceptional terroir.”
The result is a collection of wines that maps the terror of the Valle Central, from the interior Maipo Valley, where Cabernet Sauvignon finds its ultimate expression, to the San Antonio Valley, where cool-climate varieties like Sauvignon Blanc bask in the coastal influence. When he’s not walking the vineyard rows or blending in the cellar, Sebastían returns to his family home in San Antonio and finds his way back to the coast, where his passion for winemaking began.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thank you for this interview. First, to clarify, in Chile, you are required to have a university degree in agronomy to become a winemaker. When I was at University, I lived very close to a vineyard in the coastal San Antonio Valley. I spent a lot of time there with my family and friends, and I became really attached to the vineyards, the vines, the grapes, and of course as a result of all of this, so began my love of wine.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
Fittingly, my first experiences were in the San Antonio Valley. In those times it was unthinkable to produce wines in these areas on a commercial scale. At the time, the traditional valleys for producing wines were located mainly in the Central Valley, not in the areas near the sea.
This area posed a challenge, but it would ultimately become a valley with extraordinary conditions for the development of wine, especially white wines. The same happened with other influential coastal valleys such as the Limarí Valley and the Rapel Coast, exactly where some of our Casillero del Diablo varieties come from.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
The key was insisting on this type of project. There are times when the idea will flourish, as it usually follows global trends from developed countries in the wine world. This was one of those cases — where we opted for colder valleys, influenced by the cold Pacific Ocean that decreased the temperature of these places.
I always had faith in this valley, and generally in the valleys with slightly colder climates and a coastal influence. You had to adapt to these climates and lands, test different varieties, and measure each vine’s growth. And of course, see the result, where we could really surprise ourselves with wines such as chilled Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay with a pleasant, fruity expression.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The most common error during those times was planting varieties that did not correspond to the area, the climate, and the soils, so ultimately, they did not adapt well. No matter how hard you try, it is impossible to adapt to a variety that does not correspond to an area’s climate and soil.
I will add that if you do finally manage to grow a variety that doesn’t usually grow in these lands, you can be certain the grapes won’t have the traditional and classic characteristics that normally define them.
If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self-regarding life lessons, things you would like him to know what would they be and why?
With the wine studies that exist today, everything would be so different. I would certainly apply new techniques and concepts to my wine craft, as there have been many developments that make the process go a bit easier!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Absolutely. As one of the core brands within Concha y Toro, Casillero del Diablo has been named the second most powerful wine brand in the world for the third year in a row. Concha y Toro stands out within the wine industry and has done an extraordinary job producing quality and unique Chilean wines that our territory offers us. Yes, a good climate and soil is needed for great wines, however, teamwork in the fields of agriculture and oenology is imperative and goes hand in hand. It is essential to work together to achieve an optimal result and product.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
That they persevere in what they seek, and they are supportive among their teammates. At Concha y Toro, we have achieved many great things thanks to the coordinated teamwork of our different departments.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Professionally, I thank María Luz Marín and Marcelo Papa. Both are extraordinary winemakers and great people. We continue to work with Marcelo in our company today. He serves as Concha y Toro’s Technical Director, while I work as Casillero del Diablo’s winemaker.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Before considering myself successful, I think that Concha y Toro’s work is successful. I feel that the company, and therefore its workers, has to promote the message of caring for the environment, of being aware that we have to take responsibility for creating awareness, and collaborating to solve the many environmental issues that affect us today.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started my company” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
Solidarity, humility, respect for the environment, freedom of thought, and simplicity.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
That is too kind! I would not consider myself an influential person, rather, part of a team. Respect is the most important thing, and if we were to start a movement, I would say it should involve respecting others.