It was an uneventful debark in San Antonio, Chile. This cruise was unique in its composition, including so many family groups on holiday, but it was a lot of fun. And we six are glad to be “just us” again.
I had put a lot of research into our Chilean wine tour, as it was the only part of the cruise that was new to me, and you all know I like wine and wine touring. I started working on it, back in September, when I didn’t know who would be coming with me. I sent requests for proposal to 6 or 7 tour suppliers, including A & K, whom I use a lot, HecTours, whom I have used before in Chile, UPSCAPE, whom I got both from the Internet and from Donna and Joe Aita, Napa Oenophile friends, who had done this in 2006, and two or three more tour companies, from the Internet. The one who called me first, sounded very sincere and capable, but he wanted $295, just to propose to me. The others did it for free. More better. And we couldn’t have chosen better.
We picked UPSCAPE for the professionalism of one Gianina Lillo, their interface to me, and the recommendation of the Aitas. Their bid was high, but it was unfailingly professional, and they were happy to adjust to suit our needs. Even after I had signed on the dotted line, expressing doubts that our guide might not know enough about wine for this group, they switched him out. I am sure he was a great guide, but I had not seen one word about wine experience in his background. Gianina got me, and we got Fanor Velasco. It was like having Dick Wallingford and Tony Kilgallin, rolled into one. Fanor was retired after thirty years of representing Chilean wines to the rest of the world. He had dealt with the SAQ in Quebec, and every other Liquor Board in Canada, most of the US importers, multiple countries in Europe and Asia. Pretty much a dream career. He had stories to fill in the long bus rides, and he wasn’t on the clock. We ran over every day. Thank God, our long suffering driver, Marcelo Pottstock, was up for that, too. They both knew how to fill their days with their devices, and, in the case of Marcelo, some good naps.
They met us in the San Antonio Port on Sunday Jan 6, at 9:30 am. God knows how long they had been waiting. Cruise ships disgorge their load of passengers, as best they can. Our first stop wasn’t far away. It was Casa Marin, a family-owned winery in Chile’s San Antonio Valley. It is Chile’s most coastal vineyard, located just four kilometers from the Pacific shoreline. Founded in 2000 by Chile’s first female vineyard owner, Maria Luz Marin, Casa Marin has been described as one of the “most daring and innovative” vineyards in the country. In addition to the more commonly found whites, they also grow Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Sauvignon Gris, in an area with a unique terroir, highly mineral and with very cool nighttime temperatures. Casa Marin’s outstanding wines have received many awards, and for many years it was one of the Top 100 Wineries in the World by Wine & Spirits magazine. It’s a lot like Delia Viader’s story and I can’t wait to bring her the brochure and see if she knows Maria Luz. She must.
We were blown away by the Sauvignon Gris, which none of us had even heard of before. We were also blown away by the view, the art, and the lunch, which was substantial, soignée, and delicious. It sure was starting well. We were already falling behind, and Fanor was patiently waiting:
It was a longer drive to Matetic, in the Casablanca Valley, where we would have a Private Tour & Tasting, dinner, and stay the night at La Casona Matetic . Matetic is a 27-year old winery, and very modern in concept. It’s built into the side of the mountain and they take advantage of gravity to be kind to the grapes, during the process. The vineyards are all biodynamic, too, of course. Our tasting was wonderful, and view full. The views here are truly extraordinary. We have some pretty nice ones in Napa and Sonoma, but Chile is far more spectacular, because of the mountains, which are a lot more so than ours.
Our lodgings were a treat, too. La Casona Matetic, started as a typical Chilean colonial building, with ten suites around a quadrangle, filled with spectacular gardens. Our rooms were old style luxurious. Andrea even had a bath in our claw footed tub. Our dinner was superb, and included, as was breakfast. We could easily have stayed there another couple of days.
On Monday Jan 7, Fanor and Marcelo, picked us, and our luggage, up, after a full breakfast at the Casona. On the way, Fanor asked us if we knew what a “symposium” was, and we gave the usual academic and corporate answers. What it really meant, in the time of the ancient Greeks, was a “meeting to drink wine”. That suited us even better. Our morning “Private Grand Vin Tour & Tasting” was exactly that. The winery was Villard Wines, one of the Casablanca Valley’s premium boutique wineries. It was founded in 1989 by Thierry Villard, and is still run by this French-Chilean family, which prides itself on making traditional, elegant wines. Thierry met his Chilean wife, Paulina, in Australia. We met her, too, she was planting flowers in half-barrels on the terrace. Their story is fun and it’s at http://www.villard.cl/about/ , where you can also see why Thierry knows Fanor, so well. They were in the same business, at the same time.
With mineral rich terroir cooled by Pacific breezes, Villard is known for its whites, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Both of its Pinot Noirs score high, too, including two 95-point scores from James Suckling. This is another very modern winery, gravity fed and bio-dynamic. They planted Carménère because it was not sensitive to phylloxera, and then they had to learn how to vinify it. One of the things they learned is that it needs a much longer hang time to make excellent wine. While we were touring, founder Thierry Villard appeared from his coastal property and he sat down with us.
Thierry was a wealth of information. We learned how they started, how they make wine, and how they deal with the rabbit population, which is their biggest problem. Like the deer in Napa, they often make it to the farmworkers’ dinner tables. Speaking of which, we had a nice table set with bottles and glasses, but Andrea found something even more comfortable:
That mood lasted until she realized she couldn’t take a picture, because she didn’t have her cell phone. She had left it at Casa Matetic. Too many phone calls later, we had to give up on it, and she’s still in Mexico with Elvon’s flip phone.
Even that couldn’t spoil this perfect day. Our next stop was Kingston Family Vineyards, still in the Casablanca Valley and even more spectacular, as to view. We were scheduled for a Premium Tour & Tasting with a 4-course lunch. Our guide was Tommy, a sweet, very preppy, guy, who was probably a family member, or the son of a very close friend. He had just graduated from an Ivy League University, Princeton, I think, and was going to be an engineer. But, meanwhile, he was seeing the world and learning the wine business.
The reason I suspect him of being a relative, is that in the early 1900s, Carl John Kingston left his home in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan looking for gold in Chile. He ended up with this property, a cattle ranch. Tommy grew up in Grosse Pointe, MI, and I know where that is, because my Uncle Joe raised his family there. Tommy knew their address well. The cattle ranch spans 8,000 acres, only 350 of which are planted in grapes. They need the rest for water rights. That is an even bigger problem that Bugs’ relatives.
Since its first vintage in 2003, Kingston has been turning heads with its small production of Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Sauvignon Blanc. While coastal Casablanca is known for its white wines, Kingston is pioneering the production of cool-climate, artisan-style reds. Wines from the 350-acre family ranch are handcrafted and bottled on site. Wine Spectator commended Kingston for “bringing diversity and excitement to Chile” and Wine Enthusiast heralded the vineyard as the “Sommelier’s’ New Chilean Favorite.”
Kingston’s winery and view are even more spectacular than the other three we had visited. Wow. Their story is interesting, too. Check out https://www.kingstonvineyards.com/About/History
Our tasting table again took advantage of the fine view and weather. The view is reflected in the windows behind us, and we’re showing a lot of smiles. There were little nibbles to go with the wines. My favorite was Lafête’s Chocolate Truffle. I vowed to find them in Santiago, and I did. I have four left a month later. I took another note during the tasting that said “Share the Fly” and I have no idea why I took it. To quote a Frog’s Leap bottle “Time’s fun when you’re having flies.” Lunch was fabulous and served at the same table with a view. I took pictures of the food, but there are four in this blog, already, which is quite enough. It was a four course lunch, too.
It must have been after seven when we got to our hotel in Santiago. It was Cumbres Lastarria. Nothing too fancy, but not shabby either, and beautifully situated right smack in the center of downtown. It didn’t make the traffic easy for Marcelo, but the walking was nice for us. There were restaurants everywhere, not that we were hungry, after Kingston’s spectacular lunch. We had a short nap and Rosie, Patrick and I had a few terrible greasy tapas at the hotel bar. Live and learn. It didn’t matter.
Tuesday, Jan 8, breakfast was a much nicer affair, and was even nicer the next day, after we discovered the eggs to order station. Never mind. It was enough and we were meeting Fanor and Marcelo at 9:30 am, again. This time we were having a Full Day in the Maipo Valley. A gentleman(?!) relieving himself on the side of the highway, with five lanes of traffic at a crawl got us going and the next thing you knew, we were all sharing pissing stories. No, I am not going to share. I don’t know all of you as well as I know these people.
It was a much different day than the day before, which was fine with us. – PEREZ CRUZ is the contraction of the names Pablo Perez and Marian Cruz. The couple bought the winery in 1968.
The first thing visitors notice about this family-owned winery in the Maipo Alto valley, is the swooping wooden architecture of the 3-million liter capacity bodega. The structure was designed by the local architect José Cruz Ovalle and uses its openness to promote good air circulation in this breezy part of the valley, so to keep ideal winemaking temperatures. Pérez Cruz has a large estate of 140 hectares of vines, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère, Merlot, Syrah, Malbec and Petit Verdot, and they produce and barrel their award-winning wines onsite.
It started with a tasting in a cramped, crowded tasting room. Maybe that was because we were late. Our guide was Clement Espinoza, son of the famous Chilean winemaker, Alvaro Espinoza, the father of bio-dynamics, as applied to winemaking. He googles well. His son is still young, but, once he got over himself, we got some good information from him, and a nice winery tour. It’s very modern, including its vineyard management. They use drones to monitor the health of the vines. Again, the facility was extraordinary, and the wines were good. We have seen a lot of cement eggs this trip. For many wines, they can effectively replace wooden barrels. The world is running out of barrel oak, now. First it was corks…
Again, we were late for Lunch at Doña Paula Restaurant, at the Santa Rita Winery. Founded in 1880, Santa Rita is one of the Maipo Valley’s oldest wineries and one of the most popular Chilean wineries in the international market. We weren’t here for the wine, though. We were here for the historical building and its restaurant. In this case, the restaurant was right in the colonial mansion, and served in the colonial style. It was excellent and we loved the old-fashioned service. It was just perfect.
Our afternoon tour was to Alvaro Espinoza’s own winery, ANTIYAL. And our guide was Clement, again. This is his family’s winery. One of Chile’s best boutique wineries, Antiyal, which means in the indigenous language “children of the sun,” is the private vineyard of Chile’s most celebrated oenologist and leader in organic viniculture, Álvaro Espinoza. Together with his wife, Mariana Ashton, Espinoza makes two different wines, Antiyal (7,000 bottles) and Kuyen (12,000 bottles). They cultivate the land according to biodynamic principles which they believe imbues the wine with a better sense of place, and with the hopes of leaving the land in better condition than when they started farming it. They use little irrigation, hands-on canopy management, and lots of care to manage their harvests by hand. Espinoza was proclaimed one of the world’s best winemakers in 2015 by Decanter magazine. Their wines are exported to multiple international markets.
This is much more modest winery. Clement shared that the reason Perez Cruz is so spectacular, is because its owners also own Chile’s Energy Company. Alvaro just makes his wine out there in the vineyards. We sat talking about viticulture, on the roof of the winery, on plastic chairs that had seen better days. The sun went down over the mountains, and we were very happy.
We got back to Cumbres Lastarria late again, and the Morneaus retired. Patrick, Rosie, Andrea and I drank the welcome Piso Sour, provided by the hotel, and went out to walk the streets for some simple fare. Once again, we were stuffed from lunch. We found Il Fournil, a block away, and had Onion Soup and salad, and I vaguely remember some nice dessert, like profiteroles. Then it was off to pack and to bed.
By the time Andrea and I got up for breakfast on the 9th, the others were at the airport for an early flight to Toronto, and on to Montreal. Breakfast was better, as we had figured out how to get eggs to order, and they were very nice. I finally got to work out at the gym, while Andrea collected her copious belongings into her ample baggage and got ready for her afternoon flight to Mexico, where she will be until Valentine’s Day.
I spent the afternoon walking the streets. The artisan market was disappointing, as is now the way. I got some Japanese souvenirs and quite a lot of Lafête’s Chocolate Truffles and dark chocolate squares. I stopped at a sidewalk café for an empanada and some people watching. The people are mostly in shape, and simply dressed, except for the ones who work the financial occupations. There are street dogs and purebreds. It’s just another big city, but it felt good.
I flew all night, and I was tired when I started, which is why you’re just getting this diary now. Eric met me at SFO and brought me home at last, where “We’re all here, because we’re not all there”, to quote Nubar Shabazian, Inmate.
NEWS FLASH – This is close to half-price. A DEAL!!
Lookee, lookee – My next cruise just went on sale, today (Saturday, February 9). I have been watching for this. Get away from April! Here’s the itinerary: https://tinyurl.com/ShanghaiTokyoOnSale2019 California residents are looking at $1999ppdo for a verandah. I’m scripting a pretty good land itinerary, too: 3 days in each of Shanghai, Beijing and Tokyo, private tour in Seoul, etc. Steve and Trish Harrold are coming. How about you?
Don’t click and buy at Celebrity’s site, though. You have to buy it from ME, to be in my group and get all of the above, plus the free cocktail party and free shore excursion in one of the ports, still TBD. Call or text me to get my attention. I’ll be out in Napa on Sunday.