In November 2015 I ran two wine tours to Chile (and one to Argentina – read that tour report here).
I had last visited Chile in 1998 when the infrastructure (particularly roads) was in urgent need of improvement and the cuisine left a lot to be desired – having lived on what felt like a diet of meat we finally found a vegetarian restaurant in Santiago on our final night. We saw plenty of vineyards – hundreds of hectares stretching out on the flat lands of the Central Valley, reflecting Chile’s reputation for producing good, if not exciting, varietal wines. Very few wineries were set up to accept visitors, and wine tourism was years away. That said we were welcomed by a number of wineries and were shown with pride the investments they were making in stainless steel fermentation tanks, oak barrels (and staves for volume production), and I’m proud to have tasted one of the first vintages of Valdevieso’s Caballo Loco blend from barrel.
Fast forward to 2015 and Chile was a revelation. We found shiny new roads, electronic toll systems to pay for them and wonderful cuisine from all over the world, using the fresh produce that is also a major source or export revenue for Chile. Santiago is a fine city with great places to stay and eat and drink, lovely outdoor spaces and of course the backdrop of the Andes – it’s just a two hour drive from Santiago to the border with Argentina.
And then of course the wine.
Chilean wine has gained its reputation through reliability and consistency and the next major breakthrough it needs to make is communicating its amazing diversity from region to region and valley to valley. I was particularly keen to explore in depth Chilean terroir. In a country that is 2,700 miles long with a wine growing area 800 miles from North to South, you could be forgiven for thinking the biggest variations would be longitudinally. However there is massive variation in climate from East to West: the fresh breezes of the Andes mountains, the heat of the Central valley floor and the maritime influence on the coastal mountains. On this tour we kept our wine adventures fairly close to Santiago, exploring different parts of the Maipo Valley to the south and south east, San Antonio, Leyda and Casablanca towards the coast and Aconcagua to the north. The most fascinating discovery on our Chile Wine Tour was the diversity within any particular valley. A relatively short distance can make a significant difference to the microclimate, choice of grape planted and overall style of wine produced. It is very difficult, for example with regards to the well-known Maipo Valley, to attribute an overall style as there is a stark contrast between the cooler styles of coastal Maipo and the warmer ones of Alto Maipo in the foothills of the Andes.
And we also learnt, from almost everyone we visited, about the impact that soil has on wine character. It may be simplistic, but elegant approachable wines come from alluvial soils in the valleys where large stones, smoothed by the erosion of water have created free draining soils, while on the hillsides made from the last retreat of glaciers with their flinty, compact soils, are producing wine of great structure and complexity that may require more years’ ageing than most new world wines are given.
Wine tourism has also come on leaps and bounds since 1998 as well. Many wineries now have good visitor centres, and we were constantly struck by the welcome we were given by everyone we encountered on our adventures. I hope these videos give an idea of the personalities we met, their passion for what they do – and listen out for the birdsong!
Horacio Vincente of San Esteban explains about terroir in his vineyard
A tasting of Vinedo Chadwick (and other Icon Wines) in the Icon Cellar at Errazuriz
How Casa Marin started
And for anyone who is particularly interested in organic or biodynamic agriculture, three videos (which are a few minutes long) that go into some detail about the largest organic vineyard in the world!
Emiliana’s approach to organic viticulture
Emiliana’s approach to biodynamic viticulture
Emiliana’s employees’ garden
During our tours we visited the following wineries – see the blog for more information on each:
San Antonio and Leyda
“Different valleys not so far apart in distance produced very different -and excellent -wines -far superior to the Chilean wine we have known before. Santiago was a really charming city – more Mediterranean in style than South American -and the experience of a (thankfully minor) earthquake added some unexpected excitement to the trip” – Sally and Steve, Chesham
“Chile is a beautiful country and Tim chose a lovely hotel and wonderful itinerary to show off the wine production there. Our highlights were the trip to San Esteban where we enjoyed some delicious wines among the vines and the petroglyphs all before 11am!
We thought the day could not get better until we arrived at Errazuris. We strolled among the vines and the organic garden which was resplendent with bees and butterflies. We admired the new winery and then we went down to the old cellar which is now a tasting room. It is not just any old tasting room but the one where all the wine writers are entertained. We felt so privileged to be there. We had a tutored tasting with the wine maker who had interrupted his busy afternoon blending the 2014 Icon wine to tutor our tasting. We ate a delicious lunch in the garden with some equally delicious wines. What a memorable day!” – Ann and Richard Disney, Aldworth
“Thank you for an amazing tour – fantastic variety of vineyards from one with Incan hieroglyphics, to mosaic artwork, to chairs made from oak barrels to llamas – all overlooking the spectacular Andes and all allowing us to taste some very high quality wines and some delicious ceviches. A particularly memorable holiday!” – Jacqueline Seymour, London
“Tim’s wine tours never disappoint. Tim’s jovial good humour keeps us all in good spirits. We know that we are going to visit a fascinating variety of wineries. We know that we will have the company of friends met on earlier tours. And Chile lived up to all that we expected. We had some outstanding presentations – German at Perez Cruz and Marcello at de Martino stick in our memory. We now know that there is not just one Maipo valley but several according to local climate and proximity to the Andes or the Pacific. The wines were excellent and demonstrated that there is much more to Chilean wine than Carmenère. We were impressed by the scale of the investment going into Chilean wineries, sometimes with quite astonishing architecture as at Haras de Pirque. All in all a hugely enjoyable experience!” – David and Jacqueline Wilkins, Goring on Thames