In Search of Premium Wines, Marcus & Rachel in Chile Days 4-7

Day 4 – Decided we really needed a new strategy – days are ticking along with no success so far.  Decided to call the winery marketing arm called “Wines of Chile” first thing to see if they could recommend some small boutique, hard to find, wineries. Marcus attempted to call and email them before we left Canada to arrange a meeting, but after several attempts we didn’t hear back. Marcus again called, emailed and left several messages, emailed the North American contact directly a couple times and again he didn’t hear back. He decided to give it until tomorrow morning and if he didn’t hear back then we will stop in and see if we can get some more information. I am sure after all the messages Marcus left we will hear back from someone today, it’s their job to find importers for Chilean wineries, right?

We decided to venture out to the large and well established Maipo Valley to visit a couple wineries on Marcus’s newly formed list. First stop is Concha Y Toro (a stop out of pure interest), which again we could not find and after driving around, finally stopped and asked. Luckily Marcus learned a bit of Spanish before we left Canada, we thought we might need it in the smaller towns we didn’t know that we would be relying on it completely – that and a Spanish phrase pocket book. The first guy we asked where the winery was had no idea what we were talking about so we flagged down a police officer to ask for directions. Although he didn’t speak a word of English he understood Marcus enough to point us in the right directions and we finally found it.
This is another huge operation; they even have a ticket booth at the front gate where you can arrange tours and tastings all for a fee. We went through and found the tasting room and tasted through the wines. They were very good, but again we know this winery is represented and we are hoping that we will stumble upon a small winery making outstanding wines – this so far has yet to happen.  This winery was like Fort Knox with guards everywhere watching your every move. It was slightly unnerving to say the least. Although most wineries do have security and gates, this one seems extreme to me.
The cellar door employee spoke English so we took the opportunity to get some insider tips on some good wineries to visit in the area. She gave us some very good detailed directions and we luckily did find a few more wineries. I will try and stick to the old adages that if you have nothing nice to say, don’t bother. So I won’t go into full detail of the 3 wineries we visited but I will say that the operations were again huge and the wine was disappointing. After 7:00pm we ran out of wineries to visit that were still open for business so we headed back to Santiago. We turned the GPS on as we neared the city and “Karen” (as we called our GPS voice) led us straight through the city in rush hour. It took us 1 hour to drive 10 km. Arrived back at the hotel around 10:00 and settled in for a much-deserved, and needed glass (or two) of wine. Today Marcus decided that he will not focus on the Maipo Valley due to the heavy pollution being so close to Santiago.  This pollution is particularly bad in winter as there is no breeze to blow the smog out of the bowl-like valley.
Day 5 – Enough of driving around somewhat aimlessly, Marcus spent the day on the phone and computer. He pulled up his short list of “highly recommended” wineries and starting making calls. We assumed we could “tackle” this country the same way we have the others. Usually we have a list of wineries that had good reviews and recommendations, medals won, they must be boutique and not available in Canada. Then from there we go around tasting and Marcus makes a short list of the outstanding wines, he then makes his ultimate decision on the best. We now realize this is impossible here. After not hearing back from “Wines of Chile”, Marcus again attempted to contact them and again he heard nothing back. He did however make some appointments with some very promising wineries to fill up our time over the next couple days. Then he went down to the local wine merchants (El Mondo Vino) and asked them to suggest a couple cases worth of Chile’s best boutique wines. That night Marcus and I sat down for a blind tasting to find the best. Tasted out, we found that most of the best, were big company wines, which Marcus’s is really not interested in. We did find a few smaller ones (most from Casablanca) so Marcus made his short list and will be following up with appointments to taste further.
Day 6 – First thing Thursday Marcus wanted to stop into “Wines of Chile” to see if we could catch the North American rep in the office. We arrived in the reception and were met rather coldly. We said that we were hoping to meet with the North American rep for a few minutes, and the receptionist asked if we had made an appointment (which we of course didn’t because no one would answer the darn telephone or respond to emails).  The North American rep very reluctantly met with us and was quite “stand offish”.  Instead of listening, she tried to push us into attending tastings in Canada and then buying wine. After we explained several times what we did, she finally seemed to understand and agreed to assist us.  She said that the following day she would send an email out to wineries that fit the requirements we gave her and with our contact details. However she didn’t end up sending the email out until a month after we returned to Canada – and by this point we had obviously found our diamonds in the haystacks.  The reality is that this marketing body only represents around 100 larger wineries in Chile and they are not interested in promoting boutique producers who don’t pay their dues.
We left the meeting with “Wines of Chile” steaming and utterly shocked. What a contrast to the other countries’ wine organizations. Every other marketing organization we had dealt with, bent over back wards to assist us and give us the royal treatment. A marketing body’s job is connecting producers to interested buyers and they really failed the wineries of Chile.
We then headed to the Colchagua Valley for appointments. This valley is further south and is protected from the smog by mountain barriers. First stop was Viu Manent Winery. They charged $20 CAD for the tasting – ouch. Like most others the wines were okay but not worth a $20 tasting fee. I am shocked they can get away with that and still manage to sell wine, which by the way they don’t apply the tasting fee towards wine if you buy. Like most of our trip so far, it has been overly expensive to travel, to be honest the most expensive trip by far which is very surprising.  It just rubs me the wrong way to charge that kind of fee and then not redeem it towards a bottle of wine. The most surprising thing we learned at this winery was that they were a boutique winery – with 270 hectares. Chile’s wine industry is somewhat different from other world wine regions if this huge property is considered boutique!
Next was Casa Silva which was a very refreshing contrast. Everyone was extremely friendly and welcoming and most (to our surprise) spoke English, which was a nice break for Marcus. The wines were all solid, but just our luck, they were already sold in Canada. We decided to have lunch in their fantastic restaurant, where we had delicious food, great service and wonderful ambience.  We were full and disappointed as we headed to our next appointment.
Next stop was Las Nina’s winery where we had a lovely tasting in the barrel cellar. The wine that stood out was the Carmenere. We bought a bottle to taste over dinner to talk about and see how it stood up to food. Again we paid a $20 tasting fee. We also did some quick visits to Montes, Cono Sur and Santa Helena, all large impressive well represented producers.  Marcus particularly liked Montes.
Day 7 – We are headed back to Casablanca today – after much tasting and exploring. Marcus really feels this is the place to focus our attention. Although navigating around has not been an easy thing we are better equipped today – appointments, contact phone #s and directions! Our first stop is Catrala Winery (a blind tasting winner), which even with the above was incredibly difficult to find. Finally after several phone calls and many u-turns we arrived at the estate. Felipe Rodriquez met us at the main gate. Felipe’s family owns the large property, vineyards and winery and is also the vineyard manager, production manager and one of the winemakers.
After arriving at the main gate we had another 5 minutes of driving through the property, winding around vineyards, houses and forest before arriving at a quaint little building overlooking the vineyards to taste the wines. Felipe first poured the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, which was incredibly beautiful, complex, balanced and terrific example of Casablanca Sauvignon Blanc…this is what we were looking for. Next we tasted the 2007 Chardonnay and WOW, I was just as happy as a Chardonnay loving girl can be.  This Chardonnay was matured the in the best French Oak barrels but is delicate, fruit driven and complex with only slight hints of the barrel on the nose but on the palate the mouth feel is superb. After all the excitement I was experiencing I glanced over at Marcus who looked just as thrilled as I. Next up, Pinot Noir and yet again WOW! This is a fabulous example of Pinot Noir from the 10th largest wine producing country in the world. It is very apparent that Catrala know what they are doing in the vineyard and winery and are not willing to make any compromises in either.
Felipe walked out of the room and left Marcus and I alone to speak – I asked Marcus what he thought and red faced and excited he said he really wanted to buy all three of the wines – we have tasted, tasted and tasted some more and Marcus really wants to bring the best of each region and so far this is by far the best wines.
After the tasting, Felipe took us for a walk through the perfectly manicured vineyards. We are very excited to be working with Catrala and such a passionate, skilled, lovely team.
After a long day with Catrala winery we were famished having missing lunch completely. On Felipe’s recommendation we went to Marcado restaurant for a late (5:00) lunch. The food, service, wine and ambience were incredible. Best eating experience we have had in Chile by far. All in all today was terrific!