In Chilean wine, the Huneeus name is as famous as Mondavi is in the United States. Since the 1960s, the winemaking family behind the Veramonte label has helped turn Chile into a powerhouse of dependable, inexpensive reds, and more recently, they have pioneered fine single-estate blends in California. Now, as four generations gather for Easter at patriarch Agustin "Cucho" Huneeus and his wife Valeria’s house in the glamorous beach town of Zapallar, Chile, the family discusses its new mission: to show the world that inexpensive Chilean wine can be better than dependable—in fact, it can be stellar.
The day begins with an Easter egg hunt, organized by Valeria. After the granddaughters have searched and screamed through the house—an 1890s adobe villa with an inner courtyard full of hydrangeas, calla lilies and jacaranda trees—the family gathers in the front garden for an Easter feast. At a table overlooking a cove filled with red and blue fishing boats, Agustin Sr. and his son Agustin Francisco pour the wine. Delicate shooters of local king crab and sweet avocado are delicious with a crisp Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc. The main course is a juicy leg of lamb encrusted with bread crumbs, mustard and fresh herbs; it’s matched with Primus, Veramonte’s signature blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chile’s Carmenère. Valeria, who is a vegetarian, serves the lamb alongside crispy, puffy potato balls (papas duquesas) and a traditional Chilean tomato salad with sweet onions. "I always cook a meat because I cannot impose myself," she says in a voice that is both regal and breathy.
The Veramonte vineyards are in Casablanca Valley, 45 minutes northwest of Santiago. Not long ago, the area was nothing but pasture and scrub forest, and unlike the majority of Chile’s wine areas, it does not get water runoff from the Andes. Agustin Sr. bought land there in 1990 after noting the distinctive flavor of grapes from a small local vineyard. "When my father made his investment here, Casablanca didn’t exist," says Agustin Jr. "People thought he was insane." Because of its long, cool growing season, the valley is now a prized appellation—Casa Lapostolle and Concha y Toro both have vineyards there—producing richer, though far fewer, grapes than Chile’s warmer Central Valley. "We can hold off on picking the grapes to make the tannins smoother without losing fruit flavor," says Veramonte winemaker Rafael Tirado. The winery building—imagined by Agustin Sr. as a replica of Santiago’s central market, which was designed by Gustave Eiffel—is surrounded by 1,100 carefully planted acres of the Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carmenère grapes that become 200,000 cases of Veramonte and Primus wine each year.