There has been a lot of venting and fussing as we slowly settle in to a new life here in Santiago.
Yesterday, I thought of that old annoying phrase said by unsympathetic listeners: “Would you like a little cheese with that whine?” And then I thought, “Yes, yes I would!” I have been drowning my frustrations in delicious Chilean wine since we landed in this country, and I couldn’t wait to check out the many wineries.
For my first visit to Chilean wine country, I joined in the celebration of fellow newbie Anna’s birthday. We organized a school van and driver for the hour-plus ride to the Emiliana organic winery in the Casablanca Valley on Saturday. (Tony had to attend IB training at school, so he couldn’t go.)
Damp, cold weather has marked the tail end of Santiago’s winter, and this day was no exception. I encountered a little drizzle on my walk to Starbucks, where we were meeting the van, but I had piled on the layers and actually felt too warm during the van ride. (When did you ever know me to feel too warm?)
Stepping out of the van at Emiliana, we stopped to check out the alpacas in a large pen. “Look!” said another guest. “A baby was just born minutes ago!” Sure enough, mama alpaca’s legs were streaked with blood, and next to her sat a wee damp cria (that’s the name for a baby alpaca, google just told me). Kind of nasty, kind of adorable.
At the winery, we were herded inside to prepare for the tour. We had the option of choosing cheese or chocolate to accompany our wine tasting. Hard call since those are two of my favorite food groups. I went with cheese.
We met Ramon, an articulate tour guide who kept the English- and Spanish-speaking guests engaged and interested. He explained that Jose Guilisasti’s family founded the winery in 1986, but Jose had a vision to take the vineyard in a new direction. Of course he wanted the organization to be profitable, said Ramon, but he aimed to do so with sustainable eco-friendly practices and social responsibility. It took five years to convert to growing grapes organically and another five years for the wines to turn a profit, he said.
Jose died in 2014, but his legacy lives on. Ramon described some of the practices that enable Emiliana farmers to produce grapes without herbicides or pesticides: Chickens roam free to control insects. Cow manure and other organic material is used to make compost. Rows of grass and flowering plants between the vines attract ladybugs and other useful critters while serving as snacks for grazing alpacas and sheep, who, in turn, provide the “black gold” that returns nutrients to the soil. The farm takes advantage of modern technology, such as drip irrigation and nutrient management plans that identify acreage in need of compost or other interventions.
Ramon also shared some of Emiliana’s impressive initiatives to provide a better quality of life to its workers. Training in micro-enterprise allows the winery’s 300 workers to grow olives, harvest wool, maintain bees, and otherwise produce the raw materials for products they can sell for their own profit. Workers learn organic farming practices and receive a small garden plot where they can grow their own vegetables. The company also offers assistance with health care, housing, and technical education.
After the tour, we all filed into a nearby building and tromped upstairs to a long table set for the wine tasting. Each placemat held a glass of water, a tray of either cheese or chocolate for the pairings, and four glasses of wine:
* 2015 Adobe Reserva Rosé
* 2015 Novas Gran Reserva Chardonnay
* 2014 Novas Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon
* 2012 Coyam (a blend of six grapes)
I’ve been reading up on Emiliana and its wines a bit, and I keep giggling at some of the reviews. I know it’s a cliché to mock wine-tasting commentaries, but “pencil lead” and “wet dog fur” were two descriptions used in positive reviews of the Coyam. Ick! I most definitely didn’t notice those scents or flavors, and in fact, the Coyam was my favorite of the day.
A few of us purchased wine, olive oil, and honey before boarding our van for the short ride to House – Casa del Vino, a restaurant operated by the neighboring Tiraziš winery.
I ordered fig-and-ricotta red ravioli, which was paired with Mancura Brut Rosé. When the dish arrived, I worried momentarily that it seemed a bit gimmicky: fuchsia ravioli in a cotton-candy-colored cream sauce, dusted with crushed pistachios, and paired with pink bubbly … really? It was straight out of Barbie’s dream house. I meant to snap a photo, but then I took a bite and forgot everything else. My mouth has not been that happy in a long, long time. I sopped up the extra sauce with warm crusty bread and raised a glass to Anna.