The tasting room is a circular bar with magnificent Guatemalan hardwood counters and the walls are decorated with reproductions of French country scenes. There was no guest book to sign nor any indications that visitors are a frequent event. Jose brought out a platter of small yellow and white bland cheese cubes, artfully decorated with plain toothpicks. There were two baskets of thinly sliced bread plus two bowls of unknown sauces, plus a small array of wines on the counter.
The first flight was a Santa Maria Blanc of 2009 vintage. The label described it as ‘medium bodied,hints of guava, grapefruit, vanilla and honey.’ The instructions were to ‘serve chilled.’
Things went downhill from there. The 2008 Claret was in the wrong shaped bottle and looked like a pale rose’. Claret is usually defined as a dark-red/purplish wine of Bordeaux origin and I’ll drink any version of Coppola’s Diamond Series that I can find, not an easy task in Guatemala. As with the Santa Maria Blanc and the Family White of ’09, it was suggested to serve it chilled. In other words, a chilling suggestion of the quality within.
Jose A, a retired ‘financial banker’ returned to his native land in 1996 and might have a hand in the acquisition of the property by the DeFays in 2002. The details, as with so many stories in Guatemala, are murky. Almost as cloudy are the interests of Bruno Coppola, nephew of
Francis Ford of the same Sicilian film and wine making family. Per Jose A, Bruno is a consultant but hasn’t come around lately. Maybe it’s the road.
The one bottle almost worth tasting was named as Bruno’s Favorite, also to be served chilled. It was very dense in color, strong and with ‘hints of chocolate.’
The DeFays have gone to a lot of effort and it shows. Whether or not their project takes root and flourishes is another question. Their products aren’t widely accepted nor are they ready for any kind of competition or regional awards. Simply being noted as ‘the best of Guatemala’ is not enough to offset the competition of imported wines from Chile and Argentina, widely available in Guatemala. For the price of one bottle of Jacques Reserve, one can buy four bottles of Chile’s El Gato Negro, named by Wine Spectator as a definite winner and you don’t have to chill it first.
For the full details and history of the winery,go to www.chateaudefay.com. It makes for an interesting story of two people who had a dream and chose to make it into reality. Why they added a large miniature golf course is just another mystery of Guatemala. If it were up to me, I’d consider reversing the concept of charging for the tastings: if nothing else, the few, the thirsty and the curious might find their way to the Chateau DeFay. The six dollars might pay for the gas and the wear and tear on the car.