On our second full day of wine touring, we awoke to a beautiful sunrise view over the vineyards and distant Andes Mountains at our hotel, TerraVina in Santa Cruz, Chile. While yesterday was overcast and rainy all day, today was sunny and beautiful, with the clouds adding color and contrast to the blue skies.
This 17 room hotel, really more of an Inn, is a charming property that sits among the vineyards in Santa Cruz wine country, a couple hour’s drive from Santiago. As well as the vineyards, the property is beautifully adorned with citrus trees, shrubs, flowers, an outdoor pool and wine-barrel planters.
We had breakfast at the hotel, before meeting our guide Jose of Uncorked Wine Tours at 9:30am.
Today would be a busy touring day as we visited four wineries, including a fantastic lunch at the iconic Clos Apalta Winery. He headed out with Jose and had about a half hour drive to our first winery. While Jose had given us an itinerary of stops we would make, he further detailed us on each winery along the drive there.
The first winery we visited had quite a history dating back to the 1800’s, although then it was actually a bordello for the nearby mining workers of its day! Vina Escondida is now a small family owned winery that has been making good wines for several years. (While the above link is in Spanish, you can use Google Translate to ready about the history and winery itself.) We new were getting close to the rustic, small town winery when we passed these men on horses pulling a cart, just up the road from the vineyard. It had a feel to the wild west, and added some local color to the area.
Once at the vineyard we were greeted by the friendly owner and his wife, and a trio of happy dogs.
The friendly owners spoke little English and as we spoke even less Spanish, Jose translated for us. We apologized to them that we couldn’t speak very much Spanish, after all we were in their country of Chile. (I should have paid more attention to my 9th and 10th grade Spanish teacher!)
We first went out to the vineyards, where the owner husband gave us a tour. He explained that the vines were approximately 25 years old, and unfortunately had some disease, which will require the entire vineyard to be cutdown and replanted via healthy vines. How terrible is that – I can’t imagine redoing everything, not to mention the time it will take and lost revenue in the process. Unfortunately, he said, that’s not uncommon with older vines such as what he has. Tomorrow they are starting with the replanting and removal of bad vines, which will take several months.
We then toured their wine production facilities, and he even gave us a couple different samples at different stages of the aging and fermentation process, fresh sample from the barrels.
He told me to put my ear against one of the barrels, and you could hear the bubbles of fermentation at work!
After touring the vineyards and fermentation/barrel aging room, we went inside to their main building, home of the former bordello. As we admired the large two level room with a warm fireplace behind the bar, we used a bit of imagination to what it might have been like in this room back in the mining days with the cast of characters visiting, if only for a ‘while’!.
The owners explained about the posters, and the inspiration (and creativity behind them) which makes up their wine labels. Each poster/label offers a different character in the wineries history: the owner, matron of the house, banker (gambler) and waiter. While all of their wines are the same, they do use the four different labels on their wines, and offer them both in regular 750ml bottles, and half 350ml bottles. They also gave us a set of postcards with these characters as souveniers.
We bought a four wine set of both: four large and four small bottles, one with each character label, perhaps aided in our decision by this cute little ceramic wine holder on display. I could already imagine Steve (DOS) going on Amazon to try to find one of these little guys as they didn’t sell them at the winery!
As we sampled our wines, we had some nice cheeses, jellies, nuts and bread to compliment our tasting. Sampling wine by the fireplace on a cool, but not cold day was wonderful!
After DOS bought the wine and had it boxed up, we thanked the owners, and as it was another half hour drive to the next place, I made a pit stop at El Baño.
Many thanks to the owners at Vina Esconida – we had a wonderful time! Best wishes in your mammoth project of replanting the vineyard as well.
After leaving Vina Escondia, Jose drove us another half hour or so to our next winery. We drove through the of Placilla, and then ultimately stopping at Vina Monte Gras, in the Palmilla /O’higgins region of Chile, north of Santa Cruz.
Vina Mont Gras was more of a modern traditional winery, and the entrance gate reminded me of Silver Oak in Napa Valley in design.
The grounds were meticulously groomed, and the tasting facilities had a Mediterranean villa-like feel to them.
After taking a couple photos, we walked out to the vineyards, were we met our energetic MontGras winery guide. He had just started a tour with three other couples, which we joined in the half Spanish and half English tour (2 couples from Chile, and 1 honeymoon couple from the US.)
After the vineyard tour, we walked back up to the ‘villa’ where the wine production facilities and tasting room were located.
We had a fun tour thru the wine-making facilities, and unlike most wineries where we did a barrel tasting, at this one we actually had a shot or two (actually a dribble) of wine from the huge stainless steel vats!
While really just for a funny photo, we actually did get a small serving of the wine in progress, straight from the spout! He said not to put your mouth on the spout (obviously) and hopefully the wine won’t spill onto your clothes when he opens up the valve. It was quite fun to watch everyone try this, and fortunately I had on a wine-colored shirt as I did miss a couple dribbles, while DOS had on a dark flannel-like shirt. No DOS doesn’t have a runny nose in the second photo below – he just missed a few dribbles!
So fortunately for us, this wasn’t our true wine-tasting or we wouldn’t have gotten to try any wine! We then went inside to the tasting room, and had a nice sit-down tasting with our small group, sampling four different wines, paired with several different food items, such as cheese and olives.
Like some tastings we’ve had on cruises, the idea was to see what pairs best with each wine. Unlike I was always led to believe, our guide told us to swallow the food, and then taste the wine; I always sampled them at the same time – who knew? MontGras makes many different wines under different labels, but we had the premium tasting; i.e. iconic wines. The shelves of the tasting room, however displayed all their many wines.
The wines were served in different sized Riedel glasses, with the most iconic wine from a decanter. We use Riedel glasses at home, and it really does seem to accentuate the wine via the glass shape, allowing for full aromas, and the rimless glasses putting the wine on the correct position on your mouth for maximum tasting. (We had also done a couple Riedel tastings on cruises years ago, which sold us on the Riedel concept; they’ve done years of studies to determine what wine should be on what part of your pallet, as tasted buds differ throughout your mouth.) Hence a smaller glass and nose for whites, while a larger glass for full bodied reds.
After the tasting, DOS and I stopped by the gift shop in search of a cap. (I collect winery caps.) No caps, but of course plenty of bottles of wine for sale, which is really what we came for. DOS purchased a nice 3 wine boxed set with a vertical set of 2010, 2011, and 2012 vintages.
After purchasing the wine, we said bye to our guide and group at Mont Gras Winery, and Jose assisted us with our boxed purchase as we left.
As this is a long post, I will continue it with our next stop, which is a wonderful lunch at iconic Close Apalta Winery. To be continued . . . On the road again . . . Cheers!