In last week’s blog I covered the first part of the Marketors’ trip to Chile, the country where I met and married my wife Carmen when I was living and working there in the early 1980s. This week I will cover the second part of the trip when we travelled to stay in Viña del Mar on the Pacific Coast.
Friday 26th November
The journey from Santiago to Viña del Mar takes you through the Casablanca valley, famous for its wine growing, particularly the Sauvignon Blanc grape. The morning often brings a cool mist from the ocean which the grapes appreciate. We stopped first at Viña indomita[i]. I chose it for two reasons; it has the most beautiful view across the valley as the winery is perched high on the side of a hill. Second, unlike the wineries which we visited in the first part of our trip which were all founded in the nineteenth century, this one was only established in 2001 but has already made remarkable progress. It has 900 hectares under vine and also has locations in the Maipo and Bio Bio regions. Obviously the facilities are all modern with the latest in wine making technique. Chile has always had good wine growing conditions but in the past few decades its winemakers have learnt the latest in oenology. It has not been afraid to import the best techniques from France, Spain the USA and Australia. Indeed many of these countries’ best winemakers have come to Chile to take advantage of the exceptional growing conditions.
These include the advantage of lying between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean with its Humboldt Current bringing cold waters from the Antarctic. Thus the cold air from the second highest mountain range in the world and from the ocean cools the grapes and allows them to be grown at latitudes that would be impossible in Europe. Indeed the whole of Europe is further north than Chile’s wine regions are south and so the Chilean grapes get far more sunshine. The soil is intensely rich in minerals because there are nearly 3,000 volcanoes in Chile and over time they have spread their riches widely. 100 are still active.
We next went to Casas del Bosque, the last vineyard in the Casablanca valley. [ii] It was established in 1993 to be a family boutique winery exclusively oriented to the production of high quality wines. It has just 232 productive hectares growing Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc in white wines, and Syrah and Pinot Noir in red wines. It also produces Carménère and Cabernet Sauvignon in the Rapel and Maipo valleys. It limits its production to just 90,000 cases per year focusing on producing the best quality of wines. Over 80% of its production is exported.
It’s also a very nice place to have lunch and so we had a leisurely lunch there and then managed to summon the energy for another tour capped by a delightful wine tasting. We then resumed our journey to Viña del Mar via Valparaiso.
Saturday 27th November
Carmen’s brother Sidney is an Admiral in the Chilean Navy and he kindly organised this day for us, focusing on showing us the World Heritage site of Valparaiso where Carmen was born. We began by visiting Villa Victoria, a beautifully recreated historic house restored faithfully by the owners Kenneth and Victoria Pugh. Kenneth was also an admiral in the Chilean Navy but on retirement he and his wife dedicated themselves to this project of showing how life was in Valparaiso during its golden age as the premier port on the Pacific coast of South Americas. They pitch it as a key step in the process of globalisation.
Next we explored the British area of Valparaiso to which we had to climb up the steep slopes of the city by one of the ascensores. These funicular railways were mostly built in the late part of the 19th century and seem almost perpendicular in their construction. We have at home a wonderful cartoon showing a couple frightened out of their lives going up one of these while an observer asks “You are from Santiago?”
The British played a key role in the development of Chile as an independent nation. Firstly they helped to found the Chilean Navy in the person of the great Lord Cochrane, a Nelsonian captain who founded the navies of Chile, Brazil and Greece helping each nation win independence. Then in Canning’s extraordinary vision their merchants and engineers helped develop Chile’s economy without any colonial or military presence. But rather financing and engineering the mining and other economic developments.
As we wandered around the British section noting street names like Paseo Atkinson and then seeing the Anglican cathedral it made us proud of our contribution to this country’s development.
Sidney had arranged a fine lunch at the Naval Club in Valparaiso where he is a director, for all the world a replica of a Pall Mall Club. We then visited the Naval Museum and saw fine exhibits of Chile’s proud naval history right up to the present day. It was the Chilean Navy that designed and built the Fenix capsules used to rescue the 33 Chilean miners in 2010. I was pleased that I could squeeze my bulk into the capsule.
In the evening we continued to enjoy Naval hospitality, this time at their Country Club in Viña del Mar. We were joined by Iain Hardy, the Honorary British Consul who has spent 18 years in that role.
Sunday 28th November
For our last day I had planned a relaxing drive along the coast going north to the elegant resort of Zapallar.
The weather was superb and we stopped a couple of times for photos and coffee, the second time photographing a group of pelicans.In Zapallar we were entertained by Carmen Gloria Dominguez, a friend of Carmen’s from childhood who lives in a magnificent house with a spectacular position by the ocean. We had no other purpose than to chill out and enjoy the scenery, the fine food and wine, and each other’s company.
We signed off the trip with a final dinner at Chez Gerard, a fashionable restaurant by the sea in Viña del Mar. I think everyone was agreed we had enjoyed a marvellous week together getting to know Chile as well as each other.