Drink Up! A Tour of Chile's Wineries and Vineyards
He says that they were all scared but cannot help laugh when he gets to the part about when a million gallons of wine spilled out into the street, and people, thinking the world might end, drank it by the bucketful.
It was so good for the country he said that "next month another 66 of them are going down there." He decants a bottle of Microterroir de los Lingues Carmenere, 2006. It is a gold medal winner, smooth and deep, the perfect accompaniment to the local beef.
It is a an opportunity to step into into a culture that is civilized, big picture and by nature holistic. To produce great wine is to be aware of ecology, the passage of time, the particulars of the vines and the local environment.
To truly enjoy great wine, pair it with great local food on a 100-year-old estate, on the same earth where it was grown.
Casa Silva has a beautiful boutique hotel with only seven rooms in a restored family home. It offers tours of the winery, tastings and the food is fantastic. They have over 150 horses on the estate to ride and a rodeo by the master horsemen. We watched while munching on Serrano ham and drinking a 2009 Rose, come on, life does not really get a whole lot better.
The country is blessed with perfect conditions for growing grapes. Good soil, warm days and cool nights. Chile was spared from the phylloxera epidemic that destroyed vine root systems around the world and in the late 1970's when restrictions on new plantings were removed.
Chilean wine production increased significantly to where it is now the fifth largest producer in the world. Casa Silva was just the first of six winery's I was to visit in Chile.
Lapostellole Clos Apalta Winery
The futuristic residence, made of hardwood arches reaching to the sky and carved into side of a mountain, is breathtaking, edgy but with a natural feel. Established by the Marnier-Lapostolle family of Grand Marnier fame, their wine is superb.
We were met by the winemaker, Andre Leon, for a tour ending at the bottom floor with a tasting amongst rows of French oak barrels. The ultra modern glass table we gathered around shocked us all when with the flip of a switch on one end opened to reveal a hidden stairway down into a wine vault.
Clos Apalta was opened to the public in 2006. There are three luxurious Casitas that can be rented, all with amazing views. After our ride and tapas by the pool with their Rapel Valley 2009 Savignon Blanc. I am a huge fan of this wine which I regularly get at home, and it's even better here at the source.
At lunch on the veranda overlooking the valley, we were treated to the Clos Apalta, a rich full-bodied blend of Merlot, Carmenere, and Cabernet.
Everything about being at Lapostolle gave me more respect than I already had for them. The organic commitment, the scenery, the residence and winery, the food and simply really nice people makes this one of sweet spots on the planet.
Vina Santa Cruz
He does things on a grand scale. The wines of Santa Cruz are very good, I had their Caramenere Gran Reserve, an impressive wine, but what stands out to a visitor to the town and the vineyards is the Disney-like spectacle of Cardonen's imagination.
Not only does he own the Hotel, and the enormous sprawling Colchagua museum, at his vineyard you can take a cable car to the top of the mountain where a a replica of Mapuche, Rapa Nui, and Aymara tribal dwellings. Further up the hill in the super cool observatory is one of the most powerful privately owned telescopes in Chile.
This is what you would hope a Chilean winery would be. Winemaker Joana Pereira is committed to the concept of micro-terroir environments focusing less on volume and more on producing unique superior wines.
Of the three levels of tastings they offer you can arrange a technical tasting with the winemaker The residence was formally only open for commercial clients.
The main house is like stepping back in time. Meals are taken in the family dining room adorned, as is the rest of the house, with family antiques. In the afternoon on the grounds we had a fire pit barbecue of pork, beef and chorizo sausages serenaded by a local Huaso singers dancing the cueca.
Late night was spent drinking more La Joya reserve playing pool at the slate table and laughing into the night as a small tremor ever so slightly slightly shook the chandelier mysteriously into motion. Bisquert is a classy yet comfortable estate where I wish I could spend more time. They are serious about their wine and it shows.
The name Miguel Torres is synonymous with wine. The Torres Family has been producing wine in Spain for the past 100 years. In 1979 they began their winemaking venture in Chile's central valley and have acquired over 450 hectares of vineyards in various regions around the country. It is run by Miguel Torres Maczassek with whom I had the pleasure of dining at his Curico Vineyard restaurant.
Like so many other vineyards Torres was heavily damaged in the 2010 earthquake, losing 10% of production. He spoke of walking on top of mountains of broken wine bottles. Twelve families who work on the estate lost their homes.
Aid from the government was slow in coming and supplies were scarce, so Miguel gathered materials and they all built them together. Realizing that he had essentially set up a small factory, they went on to raise over $100,000 in donations to help other homeless families in Chile.
He built over 57 homes. Miguel is a man on a mission; last year he moved his family to live full-time in Chile. He was passionate not just about great wine but about the environment from which it is born. He is concerned about climate change and has begun an organic line of wines, along with strong efforts in ecological sustainability and is a champion of fair trade practices.
Changing temperatures have caused many challenges but have also opened up new possibilities to grow in places they never would have thought possible 15 years ago. He was excited about a new project in the Chilean mountains that would mimic the conditions of the steep rocky slopes off the Duro region of Portugal.
From the starter of a tapa of quinoa topped with turkey and a balsamic reduction and basil infused oil was a perfect fusion of Spanish and Chilean cuisine. Of course the wine was amazing. we tried a refreshing Santa Digna Cab rose, an old vine Manso de vasco 2007, and a gorgeous bottle of Pinot Noir Brut.
I only had a short time at Via wines. Just enough for lunch and a quick tour of the vineyards. They are are a large enterprise with over 885 hectares and are seriously pursuing complete sustainability.
They are gearing up to expand wine tourism with tours and tastings, hiking the vineyards along marked paths and a varietal garden.
Daniella Esturillo, the general manager of Gillmore and daughter of its founder Francisco Gillmore told us funny stories at dinner. She is one of those super enthusiastic people with a child-like bright smile and wide open eyes that find a silver lining in even the darkest of times.
When the earthquake hit destroying much of their winery and their home, her favorite part was not about how her family ended up huddling together in fear after she and her husband ran back inside a crumbling house to save their son, it was when she confessed how much she laughed at herself afterwards when she remembered that at first she picked up her television and held on to it for dear life.
The guest rooms are large comfortable with Whirlpool baths and decks overlooking a fish pond. On the magical side is a church on the property that, although damaged in the earthquake, still stands in memoriam to her father's dog that has sat for a year at the altar stuffed and waiting for her master's plans for eternity.
Daniella tells the story with a touch of amusement but neither she nor I find anything strange about her father's wish to buried along with his favorite dog, both sitting in the front seat of a green 1992 Mercedes.
It is the stuff of legends and children's books, the kind of magic that still exists here in Chile and makes a trip through the wine regions about so much more.
As a family Danella and her husband have brought a new and younger sensibility to Gilmore's labele, reaching out to a broader audience, but the wine is still based on her father's uncompromising standards.
They make only reds in small production from old vines in traditional ways. Good conversation, a whole lot of laughter and outstanding wines made this one of my most memorable winery visits in Chile.
Where to stay in Santa Cruz
Where to stay in Santiago
Hotel W Santiago
They have ample different environments to eat and drink, from the sprawling rooftop club to the ground floor bars and restaurant. My first evening there was spent drinking with travelers from all over the world and other media people some just coming back from covering 2009's miners rescue. A very cool hotel.
The Aubrey Santiago
With only 15 rooms, each is an individual statement of artistic interior design. There is a small swimming pool, terraces and what many say is the city's best restaurant, the Pasta E Vino, run by executive chef Veronica Alfageme.
The Aubrey is an oasis located in Bellavista, the center of Santiago's art and night life scene. The night before I left, my friends and I headed out after dinner for a drink. At 2:00 am I found myself on stage at Bar 2, a small blues club, sitting in with the band.
By 4:30 in the the morning, all I had to do was walk one block and I was home at the Aubrey. Location is half of a good hotel, but the Aubrey is just nice enough that sometimes you may just want to stay inside.
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