A lesson on producing wine....

Trip Start Dec 28, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Chile  ,
Monday, March 7, 2011

Today I got up at 7:15 am had breakfast and then was picked up by a shuttle van with TurisTour who dropped me and a few other tourists off at a central drop off point.  I went on the Portillo y Vinedo tour.  

The group was small and included me and two women from Brazil as well as Carla (a guide in training), Louis (the driver) and Diego (the tour guide). 

Here are some tid bits shared by the guide:
  • There are 240 wineries in Chile.
  • According to our guide, Chile  produces the best Carmenere wine (Argentina produces the best Malbec)
  • Chile is the only country that produces a 100% pure Carmenere wine.  Other countries produce a blend.  Take note of this Gringos from Saskatoon!!
  • There are 2,000 volcanos in Chile with 120 currently active.
  • The Chile climate and soil conditions are ideal for making wine - there are lots of minerals in the ground; the climate is hot during the day and cool at night; there is no rain in the central part of the country for 7 months of the year; there are glaciers and they don't have insect problems, such as the filloxera.
  • Some people buy cheap wines and mix them.  Cheap red wine is mixed with coke and cheap white wine is mixed with sugar and fruit. What a shame!!
  • Pisco Sour is a traditional drink.  There is also piscola (mixed with coke).  The good stuff is about 70% proof and costs between $8 and $9 for a bottle.
  • The green stuff I drank yesterday is in fact a mint drink and is typically served after lunch.  It is only 17% proof.
  • Chile has about 60 tremors per day and an earthquake every 25 years.  The guide said that the 'earthquake' yesterday was considered a tremor as it was only 6.2.  That makes me feel so much better now:-)
About an hour outside of Santiago we stopped at a gas station for a bathroom break and to buy water.  We were told not to buy the water 'con gas' as it would explode once we hit Portillo due to the high altitude.  I was dying for a real cup of coffee.  My choice was instant coffee with milk or cappochino. I thought, what the heck, I will go for the cappochino, thinking it would be real coffee with frothy milk.  Not so.  It was coffee with a big scoop of whipped cream.  I laughed.  I guess I should have ordered the instant cafe corte (coffee with milk)!    
We drove through Los Andes City, which is one of the oldest cities in Chile.  It is on the way to Mendoza, Argentina.  In the summer the temperature is around 36-38 C and in the winter it is around -5 C.

Soon after we visited a vineyard called San Esteban Vineyard.  It is located in the Aconcagua Valley, and is more than 800 meters above sea level (high altitude) and also has the influence of the Andes.  The Aconcagua mountain is the highest mountain in Chile at 12,000 ft.  

The vineyard is considered a medium size winery with over 250 acres and produces about 1M bottles of wine per year.  The vineyard is divided into two estates. The vineyard exports 98% of the wine.  They also produce a organic Syrah.

There were rows and rows and rows of grape vines.  At the end of of a few rows there were rose and lavender bushes.  These protect the vines from insects and are a good visual cue to warn the producers if there are insect problems.

We had a tour of the vineyard and learned about all of the steps involved in producing the wine. Man, I thought making homemade wine had a lot of steps!!  

The wine is stored in french and american oak barrels for 6 to 14 months (depending on the quality of the wine).  The wine gets its flavours from the wood.  The vineyard uses the barrels 4 times in total.  The 1st and 2nd time are used for whites and good quality products.  After the barrels are used 4 times they are sold to the public for planters, etc.  There must be a lot of oak planters out there given the vineyard produces 1M bottles of wine per year!!

The wine cellar temperature is naturally controlled because of the thick walls.  The windows are opened at night.  

We had an opportunity to sample 4 wines after the tour - a white Chardonnay that was lovely; a red organic; a Carmenere and a blend. I was thinking, why are we drinking so early without eating lunch (about noonish) but then I realized after that we needed it to calm our nerves.  You see, we left the vineyard and headed to the oldest winter resort in South America, Portillo, which dates back to 1949.  The roads were narrow and winding all the way up the mountain range.  Think of the Kockahawla (sp) in British Columbia.  Now, think of it without any guard rails, about a 1/4 in width and with single lane traffic.  It was a bit of a nail biter at times but we had a very good driver.

We arrived at the Portillo after 2PM and were famished so we went for lunch.  My Lay potato chips bag had puffed out due to the high altitude.  

The Brazilian women asked me to join them for lunch, so I did.  First we had to beg the waiters to let us sit a table near the window which had a spectacular view of the mountains and Languna del Inca, located at 2,800 meters.  The table wasn't set.  

We were enjoying a lovely lunch, with a bottle of wine, of course, when a group of 6 came in and sat next to us.  They were very loud and the the younger Brazilian woman said the group was also from Brazil.  She asked them politely to please lower their voices.  The next thing I know is there was some bantering back and forth going on between the woman at my table and another woman at the other table.  It was in Portuguese so I didn't understand what they were saying.  Then the Brazilian women mentioned that they were talking about her.  We continued eating our salads when one of the men from the table came over and starting yipping at the Brazilian woman.  She told me later that he said to her that she was aggressive, rude and disrespectful.  That she had no right to ask them to be quiet, etc. etc. She apparently said to him that she was not going to continue the conversation.

So, the next thing I know is the Brazilian woman asked the waiter if we could move to another table.  We got up and went to another table at the other end of the restaurant and the waiters brought our drinks and salad over to us.  It was quite the experience, I must say.

We enjoyed our lunch.  I ordered a green salad with avocados since I haven't had any real ones yet:-)  I must say the salad was quite bland.  But, for the main course I had a seafood risotto that was amazing.  It was made with squid, shrimp and I think oysters.  I was so full.  Lunch cost about $34 but it was very yummy.  

Our guide said that it costs about $3,000 to stay at the hotel for 5 nights, including 4 meals (they include the 5PM snack).  This does not include your transportation to get to the hotel or wine, obviously.  I am not sure about whether it includes the ski lift. It is usually packed in the winter for skiing.  Right now, just the odd tourists come by.  The staff work 12 days straight and then have 4 days off.

Anyways, we had some time to admire the Laguna and then we got into the van and headed home.  I got home at about 7PM.  

I did get an opportunity to experience the Chilean rush hour today.  My first impression is that more people drive their own vehicles here and they look newer than in Argentina.  Hence, it looks like there are fewer taxi drivers.  The streets were filled with people and traffic was a bit tricky, but it still didn't appear to be as congested as BA.  But, that is just my opinion.

Tomorrow I have another early start as I am going on a another tour.  This time I will be heading to the coast and will be visiting Vina del Mar and Valparaiso.


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Shirley B on

You are "living-the-life"! Your photos of the wine tour are fantastic - and I would have loved the tasting part. About the lunch, ahem, you have led a sheltered life if you've never been caught in the middle of anything like that before...boy, have I got some stories for you! And a hint, just drink the wine and lighten your luggage - Buy more in Venenzuela!

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