It was actually a brochure at the hotel reception that led me to one of Chile’s most famous wineries in the Maipo Valley, Concha y Toro.
I had one day to spend in the capital, Santiago de Chile, but since I was tired of walking around cities while clenching my handbag, an escape to a winery was enticing. So, I took the brochure to the hotel reception and the reception staff told me to wait on the footpath for a minibus. When the minibus arrived, I was greeted by tourists from China and Brazil. This greeting was warm, and I went from being alone in Chile to being surrounded by new friends.
Only one hour away from Santiago, the tiled archway at the entrance of Concha y Toro, which reads the winery’s name, tells you that you have arrived somewhere truly special. And as I walked under the archway of green foliage, I knew there was something magical about this place.
Once the morning had warmed up a little, the smokey summer sky and open spaces reminded me of Australia, of home. And that is something I have since noticed about the wine regions I have travelled to: there is always something new to discover yet there is always something that feels familiar.
The guided tour of the winery passed the old Concha y Toro family summer residence and the Grape Variety Garden where numerous wine grape varieties are planted.
As part of the tour, we tasted cold, crisp Chardonnay on the terrace and then we went down to the cellars, where I learned of the legend of the Casillero del Diablo (Devil’s Cellar). As I understand the legend, many years ago wines were disappearing from the cellar, and so to deter the thieves entering the cellar, a rumour was started that the devil lives there.
It was not only an enjoyable day spent outside the city, but it was the first time I tried Carmenère, which is Chile’s signature wine. Carmenère is actually a Bordeaux grape variety, which disappeared in Europe in the mid 19th century due to the phylloxera (sap-sucking louse) outbreak. It is thought that Carmenère arrived in Chile amongst Merlot vine cuttings, though it wasn’t actually identified until 1994 in what were thought to be Merlot vineyards.
Carmenère is a medium-bodied red wine with gorgeous blueberry, dark plum, chocolate and spice character. And I don’t know if it was the wine alone, or a combination of the wine and the experience there that day, but I became smitten with Carmenère.
Although Concha y Toro is a well-known winery for its size, variety of wines (and especially its Cabernet Sauvignon), and accolades, for me I will always know it as the winery experience that turned me into a wine tourist.
For any city I am in, if there is easy access to a winery, then I take it. Being a wine tourist for the day offers the chance to escape the stressors of day-to-day life, learn about wine, explore beautiful gardens. But above all, I think the most attractive element of taking a wine tour is that you get to meet wonderful people and make new friends from all over the world. Wine connects people, and I think that should be the goal of good wine tourism.
Feature photo: Entrance to Concha y Toro