As I rode down the Ruta de la Fruta and then turned off towards Santa Cruz, I started to see the vineyards appearing beside the road. Pedalling onwards, and just as I was reaching the outskirts of Santa Cruz, I came upon a sign to a rather fancy boutique hotel that offered tastings of local Carmenère wine – for which Chile is famous. It was a cool place – they’d converted some enormous wine casks into small hotel rooms and had seats sitting round a very nice little pool. It was way out of my budget as a place to stay, but I stuck my head round the door and they told me they had an open bottle of wine and I could have a glass to taste.
I was nearly at my destination and it was still early afternoon, so I took the plunge, all set to see how Chile’s finest wine compared to the Mendozan Malbecs I’d been drinking just a couple of weeks before. I wasn’t disappointed. Ah, it was so nice sitting by the pool in the warm afternoon breeze, sipping the wine – which was slightly less strong and a little fruitier than the big Malbecs – and reading a book for a while.
I trundled on carefully for the last couple of kilometres into Santa Cruz and to my next home share with a lady called Rosa. Santa Cruz is a lovely little sleepy town. The perfect size to have everything anyone could need, but small enough that you can easily walk from end to end. Rosa knew all the local wineries and recommended some for me to visit the next couple of days. She was very keen that I cycle, but knowing that I’d have more than one glass, I opted to ditch my bike and walk/hitch out to them. I studied the map and choose where to go whilst watching the sun set over the local vineyards.
The first winery on my list to visit was Montes. Founded in just 1987, this is an extremely young winery built from scratch with all the latest technology, but is already renowned for having some of the best quality wines in Chile. They produce the Montes ‘Alpha’ Cabernet Sauvignon – the first premium Chilean wine – and now export all over the world. The winery was the first to plant on the hillsides of the Apalta Valley and the first to plant Syrah in the Colchagua Valley.
Unfortunately the huge 8.8 magnitude earthquake of 2010 caused them to lose nearly their entire wine stock, and the winery had to effectively start all over again. The winery itself is built using principles of Feng Shui and apparently they believe in connections with angels (tho I suspect that is more a branding ploy). They believe music has a positive effect on the development of wine so play soothing monk chanting to their wine as it matures in the barrels!
I was planning to go on their wine tasting tour but unfortunately there were no other guests when I arrived so it was going to be a 3 hour wait to the next tour. They suggested I have lunch at their restaurant instead… I was in for yet another treat!
State of the art production facilities at the Montes winery
I loved the architecture of the restaurant that enables guests to enjoy sweeping views across the vineyards whilst they eat
The restaurant itself was superb. You could watch your steak being cooked by the head chef on their huge parilla (bbq) and see the chefs running round preparing everything. They had a sommelier to recommend the best wine parings with each dish. Just superb – this more than made up for missing the tasting.
I walked the couple of kilometres to the next winery to work off some of my wonderful lunch, and to enjoy the scenery. This was another very young winery, founded by the Marnier Lapostolle family (founders of the spirit Grand Marnier). Originally wine growers from the Loire Valley, the family partnered with the Rabat family in Chile to set up this new winery.
When the family bought the vineyard they discovered that the vines had never been grafted and a good number of very old vines were still growing in the vineyards. The original cuttings were brought over from France in the last century and arrived in Chile before the phylloxera louse attacked the original parent stock in Europe, which is why Chile can produce the Carmenère wine that we can’t grow back at home. As a result, they are very proud that their old vines in Chile are healthy and descendant from a long French lineage (source: http://www.colchaguavalley.cl).
The winery is completely bio-dynamic (i.e. no pesticides used whatsoever, all harvesting done in line with the moon and stars, etc etc). It is built with a lot of features reflecting this, the sun and the stars. All the wine is made by hand, and the winery is on six floors. The grapes come in on the top floor where they’re sorted and the whole process uses gravity instead of pumps as the wine progresses through the various maturation stages down to each successive floor below. The highest quality grapes are tipped into large metal casks on the 2nd floor down, where they are mashed by hand using large paddles. From there the juice flows down to the third floor to be stored in oak casks and then after 1-2 years descends to the floors below for bottling and storage.
The winery was drilled deep into the granite rock. The ground was so hard to drill it put their construction project a year behind. However, when the earthquake hit in 2010 it saved them – they lost just one bottle that wobbled out of a display cabinet on the top floor, whereas Montes just next door lost pretty much everything.
Beautiful sweeping views a across the Lapostolle vineyards
Harvested grapes come in on the top floor and are sorted by hand. They are then tipped into these vats from the top, where they’re mashed by hand using a large wooden paddle.
The sun are stars, and aspects of their bio-organic methods, are reflected in the architecture
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The winery is drilled into the rock, which saved it from the devastating effects of the earthquake