In Search of Premium Wines, Marcus & Rachel in Chile Days 1-3

Day 1 – Arrived in Chile around lunchtime after a long trip through the night. First impression – CULTURE SHOCK! We step off the plane and into crowds of people coming at us from all directions speaking to us in Spanish. I know for sure there were taxi drivers, car rental agencies and I am not sure what else as I couldn’t understand one word they were saying. Thankfully I already had the rental car booked, and the agent spoke English fairly well which made things easier.

We hopped in our rental car for a 20-minute ride to our hotel in Santiago. 1 ½ hours later we finally pull in to the hotel. Chile is a nightmare to drive in! Crazy drivers, one ways and poor signage make it a challenge to say the least – and we even had a GPS.
We decided to stay in Santiago as was recommended to us. We tried hard to find wine accommodation but it is not easy to find on the web and Santiago is central to the Casablanca and Maipo Valleys. Neither Marcus nor I have been to Chile before, and since he didn’t have first hand knowledge of the area, he decided to focus on a region after some serious wine reconnaissance. We settled into our hotel and headed to bed early for a busy day tomorrow.
Day 2 – Set off on our first day of exploring the Casablanca valley. This region is only 1 hour out of Santiago and was near the top of Marcus’s wine region hit list. Marcus’s goal today was to stop off at a few wineries and get a feel for the area, vineyards and most importantly the wines. Our first stop of the day was Vina Morande. This winery is very modern and nicely done with friendly staff. We tasted through and the wines were decent. We particularly liked the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc. We next tried to go back to Emiliana Vineyards, that we passed on the way and unfortunately missed the exit. However, we tried and tried (even pulling out the GPS) and there was no way for us to get back around since we were on a toll highway and the side road was a one way.  Will have to stop here another day.
Next stop was Vina Del Mar. We pulled into the driveway of this massive estate and could not believe how large the vineyards and winery were.  This, we later learned was the norm in Chile. We were relieved that the shop attendant spoke English – first English speaking Chilean since the car rental at the airport. The wine was good, but already represented in Canada as just about everywhere else.
What we are realizing is that this wine region is not like any others we have visited before. The wineries are so spread out, hard to find and few and far between. We spent 6 hours driving around desperately trying to find wineries to visit – and only found 2! The wineries here are large producers and from what we can see not what we are looking for. Off we go for our drive back through crazy Santiago and back to our hotel for some researching and a much-needed glass of wine.
Day 3 – Marcus decided he wanted to check out Valparaiso (which means paradise valley), which is located on the pacific coast.  This would take us through the San Antonio Valley (another region of interest). We again searched high and low for wineries and only managed to find a few – very large estates, massive production and average to below average wines.  We ventured on to Valparaiso and stopped in for lunch. Luckily we found a good seafood restaurant to satisfy all of our cravings. The area along the coast appears quite run down with low income housing all around. Valparaiso is not quite what I pictured for a coastal town. Maybe it looks a little more beautiful in the summer when the beaches are covered with bathers and children but in the winter it looks pretty bleak.  Feeling overwhelmed and nervous, yet excited and challenged about this wine-sourcing trip we head back to the car to locate some more wineries.
Marcus wanted to try and find Casas Del Bosque in Casablanca. We followed the signs that led us through a very shabby, rundown town and finally found it after an hour searching – with GPS, wine map in hand and all. Again it was a huge winery already represented (a common theme). The wines were very good however, and the service friendly. At this point it was well after 6:00 pm we headed back to Santiago demoralized.