We left for the airport in Chicago early in the afternoon on the 22nd. We landed in Miami a few hours later. We were infuriated by LAN Airlines' check-in system for our flight to Santiago -- which basically involved not checking anyone in for an hour. Our plane left a little late, but our 10-hour LAN flight wasn't too terrible as far as 10-hour flights in coach go. (Not that I've ever experienced a 10-hour flight anywhere but coach.)
Finally we arrived in Chile on the 23rd around 9am... which is 6am Chicago time, I believe. We picked up a rental car and hit the road for Colchagua Valley, one of Chile's wine regions. Just a couple hours later we arrived at Casa Silva. We had a lovely lunch - including our first tastes of Chilean wine in Chile! - while we waited for our room to be ready. We ate in a gorgeous courtyard in perfect weather. It was a fantastic beginning to our vacation!
We grabbed a quick nap after lunch and then raced out the door to Lolol, which we thought was about 30 minutes away but which was in fact 60 minutes away. We were meeting Andres, the man who runs our friend Erica's vineyard. Our miscalculation and some other misadventures (including our inability to find a phone - there is a single public phone in the small town of Lolol - and our inability to figure out how to use that phone) got us to Andres much belatedly. But he took us to Erica's vines and showed us some gorgeous views of one of Chile's many wine valleys. (Picture below.)
We left him around 7pm but still had to kill an hour before anything would be open for dinner. Most Chilean restaurants begin dinner service at 8 or 9pm. We landed at Pan Pan Vino Vino for dinner right as their doors opened at 8pm, where we got our next delicious sips of Chilean wine and laughed at the friendly dog wandering around the restaurant.
On the 24th we visited two fantastic wineries. We started at Montes where we got a private tour of their vineyards and winemaking facilities and then had a wine tasting of some of their best wines. (A picture of us in front of the vineyards is below.)
Then we went a couple doors down the road to Clos Apalta, which is the high end part of the larger Lapostolle. We were joined on our tour by a very friendly American couple who had just come from Patagonia, our next leg in Chile. They gave us the helpful hint of buying ski caps for our hiking in Patagona. I'm so glad we did!
We didn't think wine facilities could top Montes, but Clos Apalta did. We got to see a giant wall of granite across from the barrel room, which is the granite they blasted through to build their facility. They left some of the granite untouched and exposed to serve as a natural, temperature-regulating wall. We also got to feel a wine barrel made from 500-year-old French oak. No word on when the wine cooking in there is coming out.
Our wine tasting at Clos Apalta was on top of a giant stone table in their small barrel room. And, surprise, the table actually opens up and you can descend a staircase into a hidden, gigantic wine cellar - the personal wine cellar of the owner! Alas, the table didn't open for us, we only got to look through the table top into the cellar below us. We left Clos Apalta with a bottle of their Borobo, since it's unavailable in the US. We tasted their 2009 Clos Apalta as well, which we loved. The 2005 Clos Apalta won Wine Spectator's wine of the year award. Not a surprise given how great the wines were that we tasted. We picked up a bottle of their 2007 upon our return to the States! (A picture of the gorgeous Clos Apalta facilities is below.)
As it was Christmas Eve, everything was shutting down after we finished our tour at Clos Apalta. We made our way to our next hotel, Hotel Santa Cruz. We did a quick wander through the town of Santa Cruz, one of the larger towns in Colchagua Valley, but still not very large at all. We found a small restaurant where we had a gigantic pile of grilled meats for lunch. We tried to go to the town museum, but it was already closed for the day. So we relaxed until dinner time at the hotel.
We splurged on the Christmas Eve special dinner and it was excellent! At the end of the meal we ordered tea... and our waitress brought a gigantic vase of herbs to our table. She had to explain to us that we needed to pluck a variety of herbs, throw them into our tea cups, and then pour hot water over them. The tea was delicious! (You can see the herbs and us in our summery Christmas eve attire in a picture below.)
Christmas Day was for sleeping in. The hotel gave us a small stocking full of candy. Awwww. Then we made our way to Vina Santa Cruz - the only place open that day. We were joined by the same American couple we met at Clos Apalta. They were also staying at Hotel Santa Cruz. Small world. The vineyard has a cable car that takes you to the top of their hills where we had gorgeous views of the land. (A picture of the views is below.) Also hilltop were a few model buildings based on different Chilean cultures, so we got a nice history lesson as part of the tour. While the wines we tasted at Clos Apalta were the most exquisite of our trip, the wines at Santa Cruz were the best everyday drinking wines. Sadly, they're not available in the US, but we've already informed our local wine store that they need to make this Chilean connection for us!
We took the long way back to Santiago after our tour. We wound our way up the coast, stopping in a small village for some empanadas and then stopping just outside the beach town of Pichilemu to take in some gorgeous ocean views. (A picture of the windy clifftop near Pichilemu is below.) We loved winding through valleys and catching glimpses of the ocean and small rivers. Eventually we made it to the highway leading into Santiago, where the Andes greeted us from the horizon. We stayed at the airport that night to make it easier to catch our 8am flight to Patagonia. I'll blog the Patagonia leg next!
Pichilemu is in the background behind me and the Pacific waves.
The views from the top of the hills at Vina Santa Cruz -- one of our favorite views in Colchagua Valley.
At the end of our Christmas Eve dinner at Hotel Santa Cruz. Note the vase of tea herbs to my right. And note our summery clothes courtesy of Christmas in South America.
The top of the Clos Apalta winemaking facility peeks out of the hilltop... but it actually extends four stories deeper into the ground. The granite they had to blast through now composes walls, stairs and other features in the building.