The image of Chile as an outpost of rugged gauchos and cheap wines says a lot more about gringo stereotyping than about the place itself. Chile considers itself a "European" South American nation, with a quarter of the population claiming old-world ancestry. And if these days the country seems a touch more Continental, at least part of the reason is Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle of the remarkable Casa Lapostolle vineyards.
Marnier Lapostolle, who was born in 1957 ("a good vintage," her husband points out), wears well-cut, understated suits and discreet high heels that are offset by a couple of rather prominent diamond rings. She is the great-granddaughter of the founder of Grand Marnier, the Paris-based company that since early this century has produced wine as well as the famous orange-flavored liqueur. Since 1994, Marnier Lapostolle has brought her savvy to Chile and, in the process, helped raise the standards of Chilean winemaking.
Marnier Lapostolle and her husband, Cyril de Bournet, were looking to expand the wine side of the family business, and the improving political and economic climate, along with an ideal grape-growing climate, led them to South America. A Chilean Grand Marnier distributor who had worked with the company for 60 years suggested Chile. "One day he showed us a vineyard called Apalta," Marnier Lapostolle says. "It was a coup de coeur--love at first sight."