Chilean Wine and Mountains

Sunday morning we met after breakfast to all climb into the 20-person van we had chartered for the day. Chile is the fifth-largest wine exporter in the world, and wine is a major cultural element–we couldn’t leave Chile without incorporating some wine-related learning opportunities. We drove to Undurraga, whose wine cellars date back to 1885, and as we were told, is one of the oldest wineries in Chile.

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On our 75-minute tour, we learned that the vines are irrigated to only have about 3-5 liters of water week. The dry, rocky soil (in a much different microclimate from Santiago (an hour drive away) provides little moisture so that the grapes produce a higher level of sugar. One of the highlights of the tour was the tasting garden that you could walk through and pull off grapes from the vine to taste the difference among cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc, camenere, and the other types of grapes. At the end of the tour, we also tasted four of Undurraga’s wines.

As we headed into the Andes, we stopped to pick up homemade, steamy hot empanadas made the clay oven at a house along the way. To break up the drive, we stopped at a sanctuary for Saint Teresa, which seemed to be a fairly major tourist destination surrounded by the Andes mountains. We saw several large tour buses, people cooking out in the parking lot, and many, many families wandering through on a Mother’s Day late afternoon.

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Finally, that evening, as we neared Portillo, the well-known mountain resort, traffic slowed and then stopped completely due to major construction. The road ahead to Portillo wouldn’t open to us till 8:00 p.m. that night, we were told. Our driver, a persuasive Chilean, somehow managed to arrange for a personal police escort for us to follow past the police barricades. We made it a bit closer to Portillo, bumping slowly along mountain gravel roads until the escort pulled aside a mere 10 km from our destination. He told us we could continue along on a side dirt road up the mountain, but that he had to turn back. Due to the current circumstances, we decided the best option would be to return home, alas without our visit to Portillo. First, however, we stopped to enjoy the fresh mountain air and take some photos.

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