Søren Axelsen and the Cabernet Corporation Back Story

Feb 22, 2018

Hans Christian Andersen Would Be Proud

Back in 1952 when 20-year old Søren Axelsen first left his native Denmark bound for a job in New York City, little did he realize he was embarking on a 50-year odyssey that ultimately would see him build a dynamic wine company with sales spread over three continents. Opportunities for ambitious young men were not plentiful in post-WWII Denmark. Some, like Søren Axelsen, were able to take advantage of US assistance programs that brought them to America for work experience. In Søren’s case, he was assigned to the New York office of a large Danish shipping company.

By chance, Søren’s job had him supervising shipments of iron ore from Chile. This brought the young twenty-something to Santiago where he lived for two years. Along with getting to know the local customs…

…he got to know the local wines and was pleasantly surprised by the quality. Søren’s next career move took him back to Denmark where he worked for Tuborg, a large beer company based just outside Copenhagen. Around this time Søren married Miss Denmark (literally) and shortly after was transferred back to the US. Eventually Søren left the beer business and relocated his family to Monterey, where in the early 1970s he became one of the region’s first commercial grape growers. This took insight as well as guts to pull off. Søren lacked neither and both proved to be assets in the problematic early days of Monterey County’s modern viticultural history.

As usual, Søren Axelsen saw opportunity before others. He became the first Monterey County grower to export grapes to Scandinavia. This was the official beginning of Cabernet Corporation. A few years afterward, in the late 1980s as the political situation calmed down in Chile, Søren chose to return to the land he had formed a deep attachment to in his twenties. Again he was among the first wine merchant to do so, followed over the next ten years by many others. Søren never forgot the local wines nor his dream of one day exporting them.

Success came quickly to Chile’s very first foreign investor.

In 1987, Søren took a major step forward when he became the first producer to sell bulk Chilean wines to European customers, opening a huge new market. Heading toward the 1990s, Cabernet Corporation was on a growth curve with abundant means of supply in the face of an expanding world market. The next logical step was California and the flagship brand would be La Playa – a straightforward Chilean range of generously flavored, easy-drinking varietals based on Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and something called “Carménère”  a newly discovered red varietal misidentified for years as Merlot. Fast forward to today and La Playa is a 200,000 case brand. Of the 50% sold in the US, a significant portion transacts in California.

Over the years, La Playa has been joined by a stable of additional brands from Chile and more recently Argentina (Don Rodolfo), where once again Søren Axelsen was among the first outside investors, outpacing even Paul Hobbs. La Playa’s inaugural partner brand, established one price point above was Vino Eyzaguirre. Named in honor of an esteemed Spanish family, Eyzaguirre quickly claimed its own identity in the market place as the first “sack wine.” Much smaller in volume than La Playa, Vino Eyzaguirre is intended to showcase some of Colchagua Valley’s finest Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.

Tinga Rio Reserve is the newest Chilean addition to the Cabernet Corporation portfolio. Strategically positioned just above Vino Eyzaguirre, Tinga Rio Reserve offers a selection of modestly priced varietals from both Colchagua and Limari, two vastly different valleys. Colchagua in Chili’s middle is often compared to California’s Napa Valley. It was the first Chilean wine region to establish an international profile and it continues to be the cradle of the country’s wine production. Colchagua’s hospitable Mediterranean climate is highly conducive to quality grape growing particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carménère, while Limari to the far north and elevated favors edgy varietals like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.

Screen Shot 2018-02-20 at 10.44.29 AMAs usual, the folks at Cabernet Corporation have their fingers on the pulse.

They were pioneers in Colchagua 20 years ago and they are pioneers in Limari today. La Playa captures the essence of what Colchagua has to offer – generous red wines made in an easy-drinking style. This foundation is now joined by a small selection of cutting edge extreme elevation wines from Limari. Significantly, La Playa also is an industry leader in Chilean “sustainable” grape growing practices. Their regimen includes organic vineyard standards, soil erosion controls, composting, wastewater recycling, plant and animal diversity practices and lower carbon foot printing.

Don Rodolfo is Cabernet Corportation’s footprint in Argentina. Sourced from extreme elevation vineyards (up to 5,000 feet) in the pre-Andes Lujan de Cuyo Valley, Don Rodolfo wines include Pinot Grigio, Torrontes, Moscato, Malbec, Tannat and Cabernet Sauvignon. All but the last hail from Lujan de Cuyo (the Cabernet is grown in the Uco Valley – a more modest 3,000 feet in elevation).  The Don Rodolfo wine range is the ultimate in traditional Argentine varietals subjected to high altitude growing conditions and processed in ultra-modern facilities. Wines like these are made especially for a discriminating modern consumer. Don Rodolfo’s energetic “art of the Andes” labels emphasize the contemporary vibrancy of this estate and these wines.

The inestimable Søren Axelsen’s time ran out last year after eight and a half decades. His two talented sons Eric and Peter are in charge of Cabernet Corporation these days. Søren’s legacy is a story of exploration and keen insight. Along with hard work it led to him to great success. Take a look (or a second look) at the superb portfolio of South American wines he and his sons have assembled. There’s something good there for everyone. Cheers!

La Playa Estate
Cabernet 2015
91pts James Suckling

A firm and silky red with plum and berry character. Medium to full body, linear and clean. Currant, berry and floral character.

Tinga Rio Reserve
Sauvignon Blanc 2016
90pts James Suckling

Bright and easy white with lemon and cooked apple character. Medium body. Fresh finish.

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