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Finding 'Beauty' in Vineyards

Tarara Winery hires Chilean-born winemaker to oversee the winery and vineyards.

Andrés Basso’s eye sees the beauty that comes from 60 acres of vineyard grapes at Tarara Winery. He sees it in the stacked row of oak barrels and the steel tanks in the 6,000 to 7,000-case winery tucked in a cave 12 miles north of Leesburg.

“It’s a very beautiful world. People are always happy,” said the Chilean-born Basso, Tarara’s winemaker since early July, in an accent that one of his co-workers describes as “quite memorizing.”

The ingredient for that beauty is wine. Basso has the taste for it, the education to know the science of its making and the love for its being. From the rows of grapes grown on fences to the wine bottle, Basso oversees the process, mixing in his knowledge and creativity along the way.

Basso attended the University of Chili in Santiago, earning a degree “Distinción Máxima” in 1997 in vitivinculture and enology — the study of wine and fermentation science.

Since he was a child, Basso has liked wine. He used to taste it with his grandfather at mealtime, following the culture of his family. “I was just tasting it. I don’t think they let me drink,” he said. Even today, “I’m not a wine drinker. I’m a wine taster. I love the taste of wine.”

WITH THAT LOVE, Basso worked in vineyards part-time until he was out of school, then entered the business full-time in 1997. He took his first job at Viña Carmen, working for one year for the Chilean winery, then worked for Viña Cono Sur, also in Chile, for another year.

Basso and his wife Lisa moved to Chicago, Ill. in 1998. They had met in Chile, where she was working at the time, married in 1996 and decided they wanted to settle in America, where they now have two young children.

“We were looking for some new experiences,” Basso said.

In 1998, Basso took a position as the winemaker for Lynfred Winery in Chicago, where he oversaw the production and operation of the 21,000-case winery. “It was good experience, dealing with 50 different wines, making fruit wines to traditional wines and the blends in between, working with fruits from different parts of the country,” he said.

Basso wanted to work in vineyards, which Chicago lacked due to the “tough weather” for growing the crops, he said. So in 2000, he took a position as cellar master with Merryvale Vineyards in Napa Valley, Calif. A year later, he relocated to Washington to work for Gordon Brothers, a family-owned company with a vineyard and winery that has since been sold. At that point, Basso decided to take on the “challenge of Virginia’s” humid weather conditions, ideal for diseases in the vineyards, he said.

“On the other hand, Virginia is a very strong state pushing for winemaking and the winemaking business,” Basso continued. “It’s a challenging area, but it’s interesting at the same time.”

BASSO TOOK a position at Tarara, liking that it is an estate-grown winery. The estate is 475 acres.

As Tarara’s winemaker, Basso makes decisions about the harvesting of fruit and grape crops, checks the chemical analysis of the grapes and juices, and oversees the fermentation and bottling processes. Wine processing typically takes from six months to two years, depending on the type of wine. Tarara grows 10 to 11 different grapes to produce 12 types of wine.

“There’s some art behind this,” Basso said, explaining that the art is in the way the grapes are grown, how the wine is made and the processing methods used.

“In this business, you’re creating something out of soil, air and the surroundings. You’re making something very unique,” said John Bellnculla, sales manager for Tarara. “We try to be diverse. We try to do something different. We try to create artistry here.”

To make the wines, Tarara employs a staff of 10 laborers during harvest season in September and October and another three staff members in the winemaker’s cave, where the wine is produced and aged, kept cool and at a steady temperature. Basso manages the vineyard staff and the farm operation, along with worker safety and labor scheduling.

“He truly has a lot of working knowledge that he has put to use,” Bellnculla said. “He’s come in and cleaned house. He’s organized our winemaking facility beyond our wildest dreams.”

IN THE PAST, winemaking has been a “Mom and Pop industry,” but with Gov. Mark Warner (D) behind the industry, it’s become “big,” Bellnculla continued. “We’ve had good winemakers in the past. [Now] we’re bringing in professionals. We’re bringing in the people we need to raise the bar.”

“He has an incredible reputation,” said Marta Wallace, Tarara’s marketing manager. “He’s made high-quality, award-winning wines wherever he’s gone. … With his experience and expertise, he’s going to raise the level of what we’re doing 100 percent.”

Basso said, “If you make good wine, it’s a very extra-ordinary good feeling. You know that the people tasting your wine will love it. … You get to see people happy all of the time. That’s why the wine business is beautiful because it brings smiles.”

Basso’s favorite wine is cabernet sauvignon.