Wandering in America del Sur

Travel time: July 2005 - March 2006  |  by Allison Webb

La ruta del Vino

When you think of Chile what do you think of --- glaciers, Patagonia wind swept lands, and wine made famous by vineyards such as Concha y Toro and their mass marketing all over the world. So what trip through Chile would be complete without a trip through the wine valley and a sip of vino blanco and tinto here, there and everywhere? And who better to have as partners to partake in this viticulture experience than my parents, Wayne and Elizabeth and my boyfriend Kurt, all well seasoned in South America travel after a few weeks on its terra firma.

Now Chile has several wine growing areas and its easy to see why. Warm, temperature climate, and dry landscapes all make for premium wines, known the world over. The wine country is centred in middle Chile, primarily north and south of Santiago. For our taste of the country´s best we decided to head due south to Talca and the Maule Valley, the area with the highest production of grapes and responsible for half the country´s exports. But despite being so inclined, not well designed for tourists or particularly interested in developing tourism which made for an interestng experience.

After negotiating all the long, steep staircases (no escalators!)in the subway and train station in Santiago with my parents suitcases, boarded our train for the start of the ruta del vino. Almost immediately the scenery turned from the urban hustle and bustle to the tranquility of green leaves on vines with the Andes mountains as the backdrop. For kilometres and kilometres of a 2 hour trip, all we could see was fields and fields of green.

Arriving in Talca, a little known city of 200,000, we got to our hotel and later found ourselves wandering the main street with all the locals and no tourists until we build up an appetite and headed to a wonderful local restaurant, La Casa de Equina in an old house, charming with its full list of local wines, where we indulged in food and wine as a great start to soaking up the local atmosphere.

The next day we started our foray into the wine country in earnest. With our own minibus, driver and guides, we headed out to see what the wine tour, Chilean style was all about. The first interesting thing we were told was that the Maule Valley wasn´t interested in changing things for tourists unlike another area in Chile, the Colchagua Valley, and as a result, only two vineyards were even open on Saturday and none on Sunday - a little different from home!

Fortunately for us, the first wineyard that was open, Vina Balduzzi, was a family run winery that had been in operation for over 200 years so with that much history had an ambience unlike anything in BC or California. With its historic buildings where the adobe construction kept everything to a perfectly cool temperature without any artificial means of air condititioning, it was like walking back in time especially as we glimpsed the private reserve casks of the owners sealed behind iron gates. But not only did they have a gate, but it was protected by a devil who would invoke a hex on anyone caught stealing!

The winery was still using hand cut and glued labels and everything seemed to have been constructed with care and attention to detail including their tasting room where we got to indulge in 5 different types of wine.

The second vineyard was a contrast, having recently been purchased by a foreign owner. The original buildings were alive with history including a small musuem of ancient tools and machines used in the process, and the centrepiece of the cask room, an iron chandelier, originally used with candles and now with lightbulbs. But outside these buildings was a different reality, the new owner was trying to create a multifunctional environment with a hotel, wine bar, mini golf, animal farm with parrots and emus, and horseback riding on his bodega. Very different from the other vineyard and interesting to see the different directions and aspirations. And at $200 US/night for accommodation, this was one upscale place to stay!

Our second day on tour was similar, contrasting the old with the new, but this time, American investment in the form of Kendall Jackson in Calina, a new winery without history, gorgeous new buildings with panoramic views of the countryside, all wood, exposed beams, high ceilings and glass with light filtering in everywhere. And stainless steel, tanks, highest of high tech, everything being mechanized, far less employment and a feeling of coldness radiating from the shiny stainless.

Saving the best for last, we ended at Casanova, an antique winery, still clinging to tradition with its hacienda and historic bodega where for the first time, we felt truly welcome and enjoyed our wanderings through the grounds and plants. The guesthouse on site was truly magnificent, aimed at pure relaxation in the countryside with huge chairs on a porch to wile away the days in an atmosphere of calmness.

But for all the touring, but the first vineyard, you could only taste one wine in each winery, a far cry from home! And on tour, things were incredibly expensive and there was not a feeling of welcome for tourists. Instead the guides seemed to walk bored, with rehearsed speeches, dragged down by their work instead of enjoying it. And after it all I was left wondering why they bother to participate in the ruta del vino (the wine route) which is voluntary if they don´t want visitors or to make them feel at home. And the prices of $1 / tasting at home and the no reservations necessary policy at home seem incredibly wonderful now.

But it was amazing to see the whole area poised for growth and once again, the Chileans are taking the world by storm, maybe not good at marketing their product for tourism, but fabulous at marketing internationally and giving Canada a run for their money and with everything that we saw and tasted, will continue to compete head to head as major players in the world of wine.

And as a side benefit of being in the non-touristy city of Talca, on Sunday got treated to an inpromptu parade and celebration of traditional dancing in the southern style by the schoolkids in the Plaza des Armas to our delight. Their enthusiasm and smiles were contagious as they danced with pride and elegance. Finished off our day with a wander through the musuem which was an old hacienda with quite a history. Build in 1762, it was the site of the signing of Chile´s independence in 1818.

And so ended our foray into wine country, and my parents visit to America del Sur. Saw them off to the train station for their ride back to Santiago and then home to Canada with lots of good memories and bellies full of wine! And for us, got ready to start to head south, really south and for our vacation to begin in earnest.

Kurt, Mom and Dad (Wayne and Elizabeth) bound for Talca (Train station Santiago)

Kurt, Mom and Dad (Wayne and Elizabeth) bound for Talca (Train station Santiago)

Soaking up the Chilean lifestyle

In our fave restaurant Casa de la Esquina

In our fave restaurant Casa de la Esquina

Traditional dancing

© Allison Webb, 2005
You are here : Overview The Americas Chile La ruta del Vino
The trip
My trip through Peru before heading to Chile to work for 6 months and then travels afterward in South America
Start of journey: Jul 05, 2005
Duration: 8 months
End of journey: Mar 02, 2006
Travelled countries: Peru
The Author
Allison Webb is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 19 years.