City of Life (Maipo Valley, Chile – Day One)

What a difference a day makes! It most certainly is a big change going from North America to South, not just because of the language difficulties, but the difference in setting. Adding on the difference in temperature and hours of daylight and it makes for an interesting transition. On first impressions Santiago seems like a relatively poor city in a developing kind of way, and from a certain perspective it is. Having travelled directly from New York City this is a somewhat unfair comparison. On closer inspection Santiago is a vibrant, bustling and growing city, and is as modern as many in Asia or Europe. Just be careful of anything valuable within easy reach, as it is likely to be snatched away, as I witnessed first hand. I won’t bore you with details about what I got up to in Santiago, because it’s pretty much the same stuff as what everyone does when they get here. If you haven’t already visited I do recommend making the trip, as it is an eye-opening experience.

The Maipo Valley is where the Chilean Wine Industry started, and is the centre of the industry as it is located in and to the South of Santiago. Many of the largest wineries in Chile are located here, including the largest, Concha y Toro. There are often no vineyards on site due to expansion of Santiago, so they source fruit from any or all of the other regions in Chile, to the North and South of Santiago. The further South West you travel from Santiago, the more rural it becomes and you start to see more vineyards. Straight off the bat I need to say I haven’t had much luck in Chile so far. Firstly it is pretty hard to drive around Santiago as there are one way streets everywhere, terrible traffic and the drivers are pretty crazy. Compounding this is the fact that the navigator I have rented from the car hire company is incapable of actually instructing me on what specific roads to drive on, it just gives a general direction to follow and expects you to do the rest yourself.

It’s also been a little harder securing appointments as many wineries haven’t responded to my emails. They also don’t like you just turning up at the winery, even though they are open to the public. Not knowing what to expect I visited what I thought was the tasting room retail store of Concha y Toro, but it turned out to be just the retail store. The store is in a very upmarket shopping precinct which included such luminaries as Louis Vuitton. I got first hand confirmation that Concha y Toro make a lot of different wines, much like Penfolds, with numerous entry-level wines all the way up to iconic wines like Almaviva. It was suggested I call the winery to arrange a visit, so I’ll see how I go with that.

Of the few Chilean wines I had the opportunity to try in Australia in my capacity as a wine buyer, I liked and stocked them all. A couple of note that represented fantastic value were the carmenere wines from Santa Carolina. Having learnt about the variety and its significance to Chile during my studies, I was intrigued to include carmenere wines in the stores range as a unique wine that couldn’t be found in Australia. I was delighted to find that whilst the wines were certainly soft and velvety like merlot, they had a very different structure and nice earthy dusty tannins.

Members of my family had visited Santa Carolina when they were in Chile and told me what a great tour it was, but this was several years ago before the 2010 Earthquakes seriously damaged the winery and they had to indefinitely suspend tours. The winery wasn’t technically open when I visited. There happened to be a group of backpackers with a copy of the Lonely Planet Guide who thought that it was, so were being given an impromptu tour which I joined. Having a brief look around was fantastic, particularly as we went down into the Bordeaux-inspired cellar built back in the 1870s. Amazingly these cellars were left completely intact during the 8.8 level earthquakes, a marvel of engineering and physics. They don’t build them like they used to. A shame that we couldn’t taste any wines, so we bought a bottle from a local Vinoteca to try later. My four new friends joined me on the next goose-chase; trying to get to the one winery I actually had an appointment for.

Before I arrived into Chile I had got in contact with Daniela Penno from Wines of Chile and Argentina (WoCA) who exclusively import Chilean and Argentinian wines into Australia based out of Sydney. Daniela was kind enough to contact most of the agencies they represent on my behalf and put me in touch with each of them to arrange a time to visit. The first on the list in the Maipo Valley was De Martino, which places itself at the forefront of innovation and site-variety selection. Established by Italian migrants and still family-owned, the winery is not large but like most sources fruit from many of the varied regions to get the best growing conditions for each variety and style. The Chilean-born winemaker Marcelo Remetal is well equipped to utilise the best methods of capturing the sun and soil of Chile and expressing them in the wines without intervening. The presentation he made to us was enlightening and helpful to put Chile into perspective from a geographical and viticultural perspective. This was why I was so ashamed to have got a bit lost on the way and arrived so late. It was very generous of our hosts Marcelo and Guy Hooper to include my new friends at such short notice, but they seemed motivated enough to be visiting wineries in Santiago and thought it would be nice to share the experience. The wines themselves reflected the hands-off approach Marcelo has, with very limited oak, lower alcohols from earlier harvests, and a freshness of style. Whilst they are great early drinking wines I can see them improving in the bottle too. Click here to read my tasting notes. Visiting De Martino was a great introduction to Chile, and made me look forward to getting out and visiting many of the regions of the next few weeks.

Click here to see more photos from Day One of the Maipo Valley.

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