Henry Yuen (Original Chinese posting: http://taiyangbao.ca/author/henryyuen/?variant=zh-hans )
[caption id="attachment_1412" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Arrived and ready for lunch with the hosts.[/caption]
When I first found out I was to embark on a wine tour hosted by the Wines of Chile Organization, the impression I got from the invitation was that it would be some sort of a “fact finding” mission. Not knowing what to expect, I told my friends exactly that. I quite liked that term – it sounded official, congruous and business-like. It also carried a resounding purpose which made the trip an important one to look forward to. Little did I know the wine tour awaiting was to be so much fun and such an eye-opener; and that I would be meeting some great folks and learning immensely during the entire trip.
Two certified sommeliers and wine experts (Treve Ring & Terry Threlfall), a veteran food & wine writer (Tim Pawsey) and a retail wine expert from Calgary (Kevin McLean) round out our 5-person group. With the same passion for food and wine, everyone has adventurous stories to tell; there’s no inhibition in exploring into something variant or new, we all looked forward to what lied ahead. The first leg of the flight saw us stopping in Toronto for a few hours where we began sharing the excitement anticipated. Followed by a 10-hour overnight flight to allow us to rest and prepare for the journey ahead before greeting Santiago in the morning. Time flew during transit, when stories were exchanged; interesting topics were discussed and few pints were consumed. Once we were picked up at the airport upon arrival, off we went to our first wine tasting session in the country side where a luncheon reception was waiting.
Having the Wines of Chile as the host organization was a definite plus. The entire trip was planned strategically with efficiency and detail-oriented. Each step was taken care of in a first class manner to make sure the stress level was reduced. This is especially important when visiting a foreign country where a different language is spoken. From being picked up at the airport to each winery visit, it was carried out with precision so we were able to relax and enjoy the experience and of course, the wines!
The Central wine regions of Chile were where we spent over a week visiting wineries and vineyards. Since Chile is a relatively big and long country, there was just not enough time to visit all the interesting wine regions stretching from North to South. It made perfect sense to concentrate on the Central wine regions such as Maipo, Colchagua, and Cachapoal. I would rather spend time visiting more wineries than dozing off on the tour bus.
November is spring time in the southern hemisphere. The weather was excellent when we were there, without a drop of rain to douse our enthusiasm and spoil those outdoor fun activities. Chile has the mild Mediterranean climate with the geographic diversity of the Pacific Ocean moisture and the cooling effect of the AndesMountains, forming ideal conditions for vines to flourish. In spite of such a climatic gift from Mother Nature, the wine industry only took off in the 1990s even though the Spanish missionaries first planted grapes in Chile long time ago.
While European vineyards were constantly devastated by pest and mildew, vineyards in Chile seldom experience similar problems. This unique feature did give Chile the advantage which allowed the industry to grow and draw international attention sighting Chile as a favourable grape growing region. None the less, it was not entirely a smooth ride at first as the lack in winemaking technology and vineyard management hindered. Chile was only able to produce wines generally good enough for bulk quality. This volume-producing era saw Chilean wines commanding lower price and garnered few wine awards.
The wakeup call came in the 1990s as the Chilean wine industry as a whole realized the potential could be wasted if nothing was done to improve the overall quality. Consultants and experts were called in with various joint venture activities structured. Improvements on the wine-making skills and revolutionizing the vineyard management techniques were implemented. The efforts were rewarded and results were astounding! Nowadays, universities in Chile are offering Oenology programs to produce home-grown second generation winemakers to continue to enhance and strengthen the industry. They began to embrace the natural advantages and understand their strengths behold, with relative to the other wines regions of the world, and has started to learn, improve, enhance and push forward.
Unlike most Canadian wineries, specifically the Okanagan wineries, Chilean wineries generally are much larger in scale. While the number of wineries might be comparatively lower, they are mostly substantial in size and volume. Currently, the wine industry of Chile employs over 80,000 full-time working on 500,000 acres planted while producing 300 million gallons of wine each year. Evidently, it is an important industry vital to the overall economic health of the entire country. Both the government and private businesses are therefore more than ready and willing to put a lot of emphasis on the growth and well-being of the wine industry. There seems to be a common accord and intuition amongst the general population that supporting the wine industry is essential to their overall economic sustainability. They are not only proud of their wines but regard those in the wine industry with relatively high esteem.
We spent 6 days visiting 12 selected wineries in the central regions and had a glimpse of the latest developments in vineyard management and tasted spectrums of their wines, from the entry level wines to the highest level of what they term “icon” wines. My next two articles on this Chile Wine Tour will report on the tasting of the wines from these 12 wineries, and on intimate and candid conservations with their winemakers.
[caption id="attachment_1417" align="alignleft" width="225"] A bottle of Concha y Toro iconic wine[/caption]