Roberto Henríquez is a fu manchu-mustachioed phenomenon, a pioneer tirelessly working to promote the winegrowing heritage of his homeland. He works closely with farmers in the beautiful countryside of Itata and Bío-Bío, and preaches the gospel of authentic Chilean wine.
Roberto was one of the first winemakers from southern Chile to succeed in selling his wines around the world (he made his first wine in 2013). His influence at this stage is hard to over-estimate. It is largely thanks to him that the dryfarmed valleys of southern Chile and their signature grape variety, país, now get a proper mention in wine reference books.
Roberto is a gentle spirit, but he is also extremely dedicated and focused. He has built his reputation through hard work, year after year. He's ambitious - though for his region more than for himself. Making great wines is almost secondary to protecting and nurturing the land of his roots. He is guided by the sort of sensitivity to nature, to his environment, that was so important to his Mapuche ancestry - and which is seemingly of zero importance to the logging companies whose pine and eucalyptus plantations now dominate Roberto's homeland of Bio-Bio.
Roberto is often tagged as a natural winemaker, but that’s not a label he pays much attention to. He is more concerned with working with local grape varieties to express terroir. To this end he has learned only to intervene if things are going wrong; otherwise he simply trusts the grapes (he works with ungrafted bushvines that are up to 200 years old) and the terroirs around him, and which he has such a privileged access to.
I first discovered the grape variety país through Roberto - through a revelatory tasting of his Santa Cruz de Coya at Raw London. The story of país is the story of the soul of Chilean wine, and to my mind Roberto is communicating that story better than anyone else.