January 16th-27th, 2012
We began our journey in beautiful Santiago, Chile – a city that is a bustling blend of the old world and the new, as well as melting pot of the native and Spanish cultures and, as such, it was a great place to begin to immerse ourselves in the sights and sounds of our South American experience.
Both Chile and Argentina have a long history of wine production rooted in the planting of grapes brought over by the Spanish back in the 16th century. But both countries suffered for years from crippling political instability that limited their ability to expand economically. However, once the struggles settled down and security was established, the countries’ economies could grow. Most recently, new improvements in 1990’s wine industry technology enabled these countries to dramatically increase the quality and production of their wines and help boost their industry onto the world stage.
Chile is a land of great contrasts, from the hot, dry Atacama Desert in the north, to the cool, damp Patagonia Mountains to the south. Bordered by the Pacific Ocean on the west and the Andes on the East, the temperate climate in the middle of these extremes is perfect for growing grapes. Our tour took us to wineries in four regions within this area – the Maipo Valley, Colchaqua Valley, Aconcagua Valley, and Casablanca.
A highlight for me on our winery tours is always the food, and Chile did not disappoint. On the very first day, our visit to Lapostale Winery immediately set the high bar standard for “comida y vino” . Our tour that day culminated in a fantastic three-hour multi-course, multi-wine outdoor lunch in a beautiful setting. A delightful addition was the impromptu entertainment provided by our tour guide who impressed us with his version of Michael Jackson’s moon-walking moves. We left Lapostale thinking our first day was quite special, which it was – but it turned out that these long, delightful lunches would be part of our regular routine.
After spending a week in Chile, we flew over the Andes to Mendoza, Argentina. Though Argentina is a very large country, 75% of their wine production centers around the area of Mendoza. This region has enough variation in elevation and climate to produce a wide variety of wines due to its proximity to the Andes. We spent the next few days visiting a number of wineries where, again, we were treated to wonderful wine and delicious food.
But one unusual cultural experience stood out above the others – we spent a day in the Andes at a dude ranch. Before going on a horse ride, we were all given aprons and taught how to make empanadas and bread. Then, while lunch was being baked and barbequed, we set off for an unforgettable adventure. Wine dudes on horses, we got to see the Andes up close and personal on horseback. While we were out, a rainstorm blew through and we pretty much got soaked, but our spirits were not dampened. On our return we were welcomed by a glowing fire and a scrumptious hot lunch. Our hosts ended the evening by playing traditional music and teaching us how to folk dance, Argentine style. I’m sure many others on the trip will long remember this Andean adventure.
Touring Chile and Argentina, we were treated to so many impressive and elegant wines, and the winemakers were so open and generous with information and food. The cultural experiences and camaraderie shared by the group made this a truly unforgettable trip of education and adventure.