A Visit to Chile - Part Three - Wine Country



The final segment of our 15 day trip to Chile brought all the pieces together. To understand why Chilean wine is what it is, my previous two article help to figure it out. The first segment of our trip took us to the south of Chile, into the Lake and Patagonia regions. The south has heavy forest, glaciers, fjords and thousands of islands. The second segment of our trip was to the far north, into the Atacama desert…one of the driest places on earth. As we flew from Atacama to Santiago (in the center of the country) we followed along the backbone of the Andes in the east, bordering Argentina. We passed the highest mountain outside of Asia, Aconcagua (22,837ft). On the west is the Pacific Ocean.

Mt Aconcagua
The wine growing regions of Chile are located in the numerous valleys located between the desert, Andes, ocean, and cold of the south. These barriers, in every direction, have prevented diseases found in other parts of the world, from reaching the vineyards of Chile. Most of the grape vines in Chile are ungrafted, since Phylloxera is not present.

Grapes arrived in Chile with the Spaniards, in the middle of the 16th Century. But it wasn’t until the 1850’s that French vine cuttings made their way to Chile, including the grape that has become Chile’s signature grape: Carmenere.
Cabernet Franc

The last five days in Chile had us visiting four of the fourteen wine growing valleys, three of the oldest wineries in Chile, a bicycle tour of Santiago, beach communities, great meals, and lots of discussions of history, politics and wishing we could extend our stay.

Santiago, Chile
Santiago is a metropolitan city. The highway system rivals any large city in the United States. Metro lines connect the city. The financial district has the tallest building in South America. Our stay at the Marriott Renaissance hotel, was the first place we had internet in the room. Across the highway from the hotel was a modern mall with all the high end retail stores, as well as numerous American restaurants.

The day we arrived the temperature was in the mid 90’s. Chile has been suffering through a drought similar to California, and the addition of heat made the air hazy.

One of our finest meals was actually at the Catae Restaurant in the hotel. The grilled lamb with mint risotto paired with Morande Cabernet Franc, was something to remember. 

Casablanca Valley
On Tuesday we grabbed a quick breakfast at the hotel. The buffet was similar to other breakfasts throughout the trip. Those same runny eggs keep showing up. The selection of fruits included “tuna”, which is actually prickly pear cactus. The taste is something like a sweet cucumber with a lot of seeds. We met our guide and driver and headed northwest towards Casablanca Valley. The valley is a small bowl shaped valley with a highway running down the middle. There are currently 13 wineries in Casablanca Valley. The vineyards look similar to vineyards in other growing regions, except the rows and rows of pergola trained grape vines, which are actually only used for table grapes. All the vineyards are on the lower parts of the valley floor, and occasionally part way of the sides of the valley. The upper sides of the valley hills are planted with avocado trees. The vineyards receive their water through channels feeding from the streams and rivers that run out of the Andes. Many of these water channels were built by the Incas, and later by new transplants in the 1800’s.

Matetic Winery, Rosario Valley District
Our first stop brought us back down south a bit, to the northern end of the San Antonio Valley. The Matetic Winery is a biodynamic winery in the small district of Rosario Valley. Harvest had started on the Sauvignon Blanc, and pickers were in the vineyard in the middle of the day. A corral of Alpaca was located next to the vineyard. The Alpaca are used during the dormant season for weed maintenance. Once the fruit ripens, the Alpaca are corralled and chickens are released into the vineyard for insect control. Typically birds are one of the largest pests during harvest time, but there are so many hawks and eagles in the area, birds are not a worry here.

Valparaiso
After a long lunch (lunches in Chile always seem to go 1 to 1/1/2 hours) at the Matetic Vineyard, we headed to the coastal town of Vina del Mar, then over to the World Heritage section of Valparaiso. We walked from Merry to Concepcion Hill, admiring the street art, small cafes and hostels. This Bohemian section of town reminded me of San Francisco in the 60’s.

Wednesday was spent touring downtown Santiago by bicycle. Isabel was the daughter of the owner at www.biketours.cl. For 4 ½ hours we visited monuments, buildings, and unique communities around the capitol. One of stops was the original location of Concha y Toro, which is now a freedom of the press square. After the ride, we visited the Pueblito Los Dominicos, a commune of local artisans, where we found jewelry, paintings, textiles, and bird shops. We found some great prices on Lapis and Chilean silver. After massages at the hotel, we finished the day at the top of the hotel with ceviche in the outdoor bar, and comparing Chilean Pisco with Peruvian Pisco.

Tasting with Mauro von Siebenthal
Thursday morning, we left the hotel just in time to hit the morning traffic, and headed to the Aconcagua Valley. Aconcagua Valley is a small wine growing region about 1 ½ hours north of Santiago. There are only six wineries in the valley, which is fed by the Acongagua river. Our first stop was at the Von Siebenthal Winery. We were the only people at the winery, and met with the owner, Mauro von Siebenthal. The vines are cultivated using organic farming principles and the yield is drastically reduced to intensify the aroma of the grapes. We barrel tasted his Petite Verdot and Carmenere. All his wines take two years in oak and two years in bottle, before release….and it is worth the wait. I was fortunate enough to be able to purchase some wine from the owner’s personal wine library. The wines are seductive, and are a fine example of what a niche winemaker can do. If you see Von Siebenthal wines, buy them!

Errázuriz "icon" building
Our next stop was at the historic Viña Errázuriz winery. Where Von Siebenthal was small, Errazuriz (which is just down the road) is huge. We toured the original winery, built in 1870 by Don Maximiano, then toured the new modern facility used exclusively for their “icon” wines. One of the things we noticed about wineries in Chile, they haven’t figured out the gift shop opportunities like those in the United States. Their tastings usually include only three or four wines, and prices are lower if you buy at the winery versus a wine shop (now that is something I’d like to see in the United States). Lunch was at the Caja Los Andes, where we had Churrasco Italiano (a grilled, seasoned beef sandwich with tomatoes, avocados and mayo).

Bocanariz wine pairing dinner
Dinner was at one the top rated restaurants in Santiago: Bocanariz. The wine list contains over 400 Chilean wines. The servers are all sommeliers. The restaurant is not fancy, but is very trendy. The wine pairing menu was the recommendation of our server. He paired each course with wines from their list. We arrived at 9:00 on a Thursday night, and left at 11:00, and the place was still packed.

Cousiño Macul underground cellar
Our final day in Chile was spent in the Maipo Valley, just outside of Santiago. This is a flatland area, that is irrigated by the Maipo River. The first stop was Cousiño Macul. They claim to be the oldest operating winery in Chile, established in 1856, and still run by the original family. The walled vineyard estate is now surrounded by homes, and is one tenth the size it used to be. Located at the foot of the Andes, this historic winery is being surrounded by the expansion of the Santiago suburbs. The winery is a museum of wine history. The original underground cellars are still intact, even after some of the large earthquakes that this area is prone to.

Tesoros de Chile
Lunch was at Tesoros de Chile, where we were the only people in the restaurant. Here we tried a multiple course lunch of traditional Chilean foods. Across the street is the most popular winery in Chile, and most people go there for lunch, and miss this small gem.

Casillero del Diablo cellar
The Concha y Toro Vineyard was founded by Don Melchor de Santiago Concha y Toro in 1883. Conch y Toro is the largest wine producer in Chile, and they operate differently than the other wineries we visited. They have guided tours that leave the central meeting point, every 15 minutes. Tours of the “summer house” were not allowed this day, as there was a shareholders dinner being set up. The guided tour included a tour of the Casillero del Diablo cellar, which included an almost Walt Disney type show including stories about the devil in the cellar. Concha y Toro also had a huge gift shop, which matched the number of people touring the facility.

Vina del Mar
Unfortunately, every trip has to come to an end, and so did ours (but not before a 13 hour flight back to the United States). Luckily, I was able to bring back some great bottles of wine, that are just waiting for the opportune time to open, and plenty of great memories. I hope this series of three blogs has inspired you to visit the country of Chile. I know this won’t be our only trip there!

3 comments:

  1. I've enjoyed reading about your trip around Chile and thanks for posting some amazing photos. I didn't know that Chile had so many old, established wineries. The underground cellar you visited is very impressive. It looks like you have had a fantastic trip. I'm not jealous really...just inspired! I hope to be able to travel, too, someday.

    Faith Thomas @ The Berry Farm

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    1. Thanks for the comments. Chile is a great place to visit. The wine country is spread over many regions. Unfortunately, during this trip, we only were able to get to four regions. There is so much more to explore. The people are friendly, and in most places they spoke some English, so no issues there.

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  2. You make me want to book my air ticket immediately!! Your blog is a wonderful and inspiring thing. Love it!

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