A couple of months ago we got a visit from one of the girlf's school friends, Pamela. They hadn't seen each other for over 10 years but got back in touch randomly. Even after all this time, they got on really well and we were invited to go stay with her and her husband any time. We decided to take them up on the offer over the weekend.
Now the best thing about this couple is that he is an oenologist, otherwise known as a wine maker. Hans works for Viña La Estampa, a small vineyard in the Colchagua Valley that produces 'mix' wines i.e. 2 or more varietals mixed together. The vineyard has only be up and running for 5 or 6 years so it's a really new operation but they produce some pretty decent wines. Nothing really pricey (most expensive around us$40, average around us$16) but as the company grows the quality of the wine will improve.
The Colchagua Valley is world famous and was recently voted the best place in the world for winemaking. Its climate and soil are perfect for red wine grapes and Chile's natural borders (the Pacific and the Andes) coupled with some seriously strict agricultural customs agents mean that Chile is the only wine producing country free of phylloxera.
The Valley itself is beautiful, even in winter when there's no foliage on the vines. Santa Cruz is the centre of the Valley and is quite a nice little town. It has a stunning hotel that serves as the base for anyone with cash to explore the local vineyards. The hotel is owned by one Carlos Cardoen, a Chilean arms dealer who sold weapons to various different countries not-friendly to the US. As such, he can't travel outside of Chile for fear of reprisals and has invested heavily in various tourist ventures and vineyards in the Colchagua Valley. Probably not a very nice man but he's done a hell of a job promoting tourism in the area, so at least he's done one thing right...
We obviously visited Hans' vineyard and also scored an invite to have a peak around Casa Lapostolle, a vineyard that produces seriously good wines. We visited the new vineyard that produces exclusively the premium Clos Apalta. They've invested heavily in the new bodega and the result is pretty amazing. There are also 3 or 4 beautifully designed mini-houses that serve as a small hotel. They all have views over the valley and of the Andes in the background. At us$500 a night it's pricey but...possibly worth it...
Later that day we had lunch at the Club Social in Santa Cruz-hearty country fare, cheap and tasty. The girlf had a big bowl of brains (at least that's what i think raw sea-urchins look like). Revolting, but she loves them.
Later that night we went for dinner at PanPan VinoVino, a pretty nice restaurant in a huge converted bakery. The food was good and if you're in the area, it's worth a visit.
We were really lucky with the weather-we had 2 clear, sunny days and only today, when we were driving back, did we see any rain. We're definitely going to go back and visit in summer when the vines have leaves and everything looks greener. A visit to the Valley is highly recommended for anyone visiting Chile. It's a 2 and a half hour drive south of Santiago, 3 and half from Valpo. You can do organised tours through the Ruta del Vino or you can hire a car and simply visit the vineyards on your own. If you want to try the wines, i'd suggest doing a package tour with hotel included and getting very, very drunk.
Viña La Estampa
That's us with Hans and a porkily pregnant Pamela
That's a big bowl of brains...or sea-urchins.