We almost came to this city about 10 years ago when Tony was invited to speak at a conference but circumstances changed and he had to turn them down. I was glad to have a second chance. Unfortunately, however, we had so little time and it was tough to choose between touring the city of “Valpo” (it’s nickname) or the capital city, Santiago (just 100km away) or the wine area of Casablanca Valley. Those of you who know us well will probably guess – we chose the valley!
This is one of the downfalls of cruising – you really just get a glimpse of the region, there’s not nearly enough time to immerse yourself in the culture, get lost in the backstreets, or hike in the hills to get beyond the tourist locales. It does, however, give you a taste and a feeling for areas to which you would like to return. Central Chile is one for me.
As our group of seven neared the Casablanca Valley, the vegetation began to look familiar and even more so as the slopes became covered in vineyards. If there had been a lake along the valley it could have been the Chilean “Okanagan”. Our tour guide provided comprehensive background on the region, the wine industry, and it’s short history (the area was deemed too chilly for viticulture until the late 20th century).
Indomita Winery, a white “castle” on top of a hill, was the first stop. A massive estate that bottles a number of brands with grapes from their vineyards in the Casablanca Valley (primarily Sauvignon Blanc) as well as warmer regions of Chile (Carmenere, Pinot Noir, and various blends). We were given a tasting of three and enjoyed them all, purchasing two bottles to take back to the ship. This winery exports all over the world but, unfortunately, the only brand that they ship to Canada is Saint Alicia. It was later explained to us that any Chilean wine with “Saint” in its name is their lowest quality brand. Sad, but a good rule of thumb when choosing wines from this region.
Our next stop was a small boutique winery called House. I loved the architecture of the low, modern building, quite a contrast to Indomita. We had a lovely lunch, not quite spoiled by a waiter who got the wrong orders for two of our party and they were offered their meal as we were about to leave the restaurant. We agreed that “we all make mistakes” but their suggestion that it was somehow their fault and lack of apology was disappointing.
We then had an exceptional tour of the winery by a fellow who was obviously going “above and beyond”. He took us into the vineyards, explained the corporate history and philosophy, then showed us the pressing and fermentation rooms and into the area where they keep the finished product. The winery was the first in the valley, started by a fellow determined to prove the naysayers wrong. He not only showed them that you can grow grapes in that climate, his winery (now owned by a conglomerate) is still a testing ground for new and different varieties as well as creative technologies.
Adapting an old technique with new technology, they use egg-shaped reinforced concrete “barrels” to ferment the wine. The shape ensures that there are no dead corners, providing uniformity of composition and the temperature difference of around 1°C between the top and bottom of the eggs is said to enhance the slow, continuous flow of the liquid. Unfortunately, I neglected to get a photo of these eggs, but I did take a shot of their display board. Just outside this area were some large clay pots similar to those that would have been used by very early vintners.
Ending up in the wine cellar, we learned that this particular winery is too small to do its own bottling, so they send all of their product to a sister company in the Maipo Valley to be bottled and returned. Their production is so small that they do not export, in fact all of the wine they make is sold out of this location (in addition to wines from others in the company). Their own “Mancura Gran Reserva”, a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Franc, & Merlot, was delightful and, given the small quantity produced, we were amazed that it was less than $10/bottle. Two more for our cabin!
As we left House we were surprised to learn that our guide through the winery was actually the husband of our tour guide. Having learned of our lunch disappointment, he was determined that we would be pleased with the rest of our time there.
We also received another treat – a short operatic performance from our guide before heading back in the van. Our tour guide moonlighted as an opera singer!
Although sad that we missed seeing the highlights of both cities, we were pleased to have had the opportunity to get a glimpse into (and taste of) the Chilean wine industry.