Our Wine Tour of Chile – Machalí, Santa Cruz, Maule and Itata Valleys

A young winemaker encouraged my very first visit to South America. I met Jose Gonzales of Tringario Wines at a wine tasting event last year. I loved his wines and after hearing his story, my intuition already knew these wines would align with our company’s mission and soul. But as a rule that I stand by, we must visit the vineyard of every wine we import.

I want to try to capture my gratitude and the beauty of my visit to Chile in a way that will make you feel like you were there with me. Jose planned our entire agenda from the time we landed in Santiago until we departed, and I would highly recommend an experience like ours.

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Day One: We arrived at his parents’ vineyard – now in its second generation. They sell vineyard grapes in bulk to China. The wine tanks are outdoors and looked as big as a 10-story apartment building in NYC. They were big!

Now, this is an important part of the story. As some background, Jose is the first in his family to take a chance at producing the wines of his dreams. His parents may not understand why he’d want to risk starting something new instead of sticking with the already established family business, but they gave him part of the winery that hadn’t been used in years.

Jose and his wife worked hard to turn a former storage area into a beautiful cellar that reflects so much history. He gave us a tour and we tasted some of his wines right out of the barrels before heading to his parents’ house just a few yards away to have dinner. I met his wife and beautiful three daughters. The name “Tringario” comes from stringing together a portion of each of their girls’ names.

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Dinner was local potatoes and grilled vegetables, quinoa mixed with avocado and tomatoes, and some delicious mushrooms. It was a beautiful presentation and we felt like we were having dinner with old friends. I mentioned the lovely cellar, but that’s not where Jose gets his grapes from. That begins tomorrow…

Where we stayed: Hotel Piedra in Machalí

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Day Two: First we visited Santa Magdalena, the vineyard where he gets his Carignan and Cabernet Franc grapes. We met the vineyard master and the vineyard owner. The vineyard master shared his work with such pride. He explained his challenges with the hot weather of the area and how they have to keep a close eye on the grapes to determine the best time to harvest. He told us about the good and the bad of the last four years:

2016 was a very dry year, followed by sudden rain and intense heat in late March. The grapes suffered and they had fewer grapes to work with. Still, they were grateful that the ones that made it through created a good vintage. In 2017, there were fires and while they didn’t reach the grapes, the smoke did, so they lost a good portion of the crop. In 2018, they had less than usual rainfall, but the season went well and the harvest was a good one.

The vines and soil are designed to breathe, which prevents mildew – something that’s very unlikely in such a dry climate. The vineyards here are not picture perfect and that’s the part I love the most. The vines are left to grow more freely with nature. The mountains in the background make them even more picturesque.

Afterward, we went to vineyard of Sr. Andres Guzman, located in the Maule Valley. He grows Cinsault, Carignan, and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes for Moretta Wines. Sr. Andres was so happy to receive us that not only did he share the story of the grapes, but he gave us so many grapes that I didn’t need to eat lunch!

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Sr. Andres’s face lit up as he told us how his father planted these grapes. He explained so much about the soil – how some parts have quartz and why his father planted the vineyard like a maze: The soil changes within the lots, so a perfect vineyard with perfect rows of vines is not possible. His vines were planted according to the soil. His beautiful black dog joined us and then we all went up to the house to meet his wife.

After that, we visited the last vineyard of the day, Santa Ines in the Itata Valley. We met Enzo Pandolfi, the family member responsible for selling grapes to other vineyards and wineries. This is where Jose gets his grapes. Enzo gave us a special tour by car. They literally have an untouched forest that’s part of their viniculture system. He took us to a place where we could can see and feel earth’s timeline from years and years ago until today.

Enzo makes wine from a small batch of grapes that comes from the vineyard, so we did a tasting. I loved them! My favorites were the Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir. They also harvest hazelnuts which paired perfectly with the wine tasting. His two little adorable boys were shy and his four dogs were so friendly and playful.

We checked into the hotel to get some rest for the next day’s adventures. 

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Day 3: Our trips to Santa Cruz and Pichilemu were amazing! We visited a female-owned artisan wine store called La Vinogarage. The owner  Jeanette only carries local artisan wines and, of course, Jose’s wines are sold there. We stayed at a beautiful hotel in a surfing town en route to the next day’s vineyard visits.

The sand at the beach was black and so soft. There were many seashells but they were thin and delicate beneath my feet. The waves and the sun were such a beautiful sight and the sounds of waves crashing created the perfect backdrop for meditation.

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That night, Jose arranged a wine tasting of all his wines. We spent so many hours tasting and talking that we almost didn’t make it to dinner! I love getting to know the winery owners and listening to their stories, visions, and future plans. Jose’s stories revealed what this young generation in Chile has planned for the wine industry.

When we realized how late it had gotten, we rushed out to find any place that was still open for dinner. We lucked out – the only thing left open was a pizza place with amazing vegan pizza.

Where we stayed: Lodge del Mar in Pichilemu

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Day 4: We visited Los Cactus Vineyard where Jose gets his Petit Verdot and Marselan grapes for wineries like Vastardo and Ludopata. The vineyard gets its name from all the cacti they have growing around the vineyard. (The oldest cactus is 60 years old.)

This was the biggest vineyard we visited. When I asked why it was so large, the third-generation owner Sr. Adams explained that the land where the vineyard grows was previously used for pine trees. About 25 years ago, Chileans discovered a method for bringing water to vines in the desert and so they decided to start planting grapes on all that land instead.

Sr. Adams was shocked yet delighted that I’d chosen to visit his vineyard. He says that it is practically unheard of for wine importers to visit the vineyards where the grapes come from – they just want to visit the wineries to taste the wines. But as a business owner, I believe it is our duty to get to know exactly where the grapes come from, not just the winemaking techniques.

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The soil in the vineyards growing Marselan has round stones that were brought in long ago by the waters on the other side of the mountains. The soil for the Petite Verdot the is more dry and with hay mixed in – it almost looks like weeds. Once again, these methods play an important role in the soil. They don’t interrupt or damage the vines but instead help them maintain balance.

Walking among the Petit Verdot rows, the view was breathtaking with a picture perfect mountain far away in the distance. We drove up the steep sides of the mountain to take in the paranomic view of the entire vineyard from the top.

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March 25 at Cactus Vineyards

After that, we visited Nerkihue to have a traditional lunch and wine tasting with the two owners, the vineyard master, and the winemaker at their family vineyard. The owners of Nerkihue are a brother and sister who use a percentage of their fathers’ grapes to make their own wines. Their father is known for his highly acclaimed blends and use of traditional one-use French oak barrels.

The siblings’ dream was to make wines the way they like them and the way that many millennials want prefer their wines. I am seeing more and more demand for single variety wines made in neutral five- to six-use barrels. They say they want to taste the character of the grapes in the wines without it being masked by the influence of new oak barrels.

The vineyard is located on steep hills so hand-picking is very challenging during the harvest. We were lucky enough to visit during the first day of the winemaking! We saw women sorting which grapes were good enough to go into the machines that separate the clutter from the grapes. They also had two great dogs that loved to have their tummies rubbed!

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Later that evening, we visited the winery of OWM near Santa Cruz where we fell in love with their Contao Tempranillo. The winery owner is the 35-year-old son of a vineyard family who is also going down the different path of switching from blends to lighter, single variety wines. We tasted some wines out of the barrels and they even let Eric push some grapes down as part of the fermentation process. These wines are still new but the winemaker is experimenting by putting the same grapes in new and old barrels to see which ones give the best character to each vintage.

I liked that all of the winemakers we met blend their wines after the grapes are done aging. They do not blend then age wine in barrels.

We headed to our hotel in Santiago and it was time to say goodbye to Jose. I am still so grateful for all the time he took out to put together the perfect wine research tour.

Where we stayed: Hotel Capital Bellet in Santiago

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Day 5: Eric and I walked around Santiago and found a great vegan restaurant – Saju. Apparently, the food is so good that there’s a line out the door every day for lunch. We then prepared to meet the two women behind Moretta Wines. Natalia and Maria have been friends since attending university – they’ve studied agriculture and wine for five years. Their wines are amazing, young single varieties, with the exception of one blend.

Maria picked us up at the hotel and drove us to the restaurant – Quinoa – where we met Natalia. (Omg, these ladies are KICKASS awesome.) Their Ceniciento wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon, was born through collaboration with an independent vineyard master. They took their chances but wow, how it payed off! It’s refreshing with character – a beautiful wine indeed! I love that this is a 100% women-owned winery and hope to share more about them in the future!

We talked about veganism and I shared my views on the subject – Natalia said I gave her a new insight on the world of veganism! I love hearing those words because it proves again that we must share our way of life through love and education. While we care about our animals, education is the only thing that will give our activism a chance of succeeding. 

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Once we begin importing and distributing all of our new Italian and Chilean wines, we also plan to host wine tasting events in NYC! I want people to personally meet these winemakers and learn more about their wines. I want you to know the story and meet the people behind your favorites. As I always say, “A glass of wine is more than just a glass of wine.”

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