Last month I had the privilege of being invited to a wedding of some friends in Mendoza, Argentina, who actually reside in Santiago, Chile. The group of North Americans with whom we traveled for the occasion found it best to fly in and out of Santiago, affording us some time in Chile on each end. My partner and I decided to capitalize on the proximity to the many wine regions in Chile and opted in for a luxurious day-trip to the stunning Casablanca Valley. Best. Decision. Ever. After researching and considering our own wants and needs, Uncorked Wine Tours was the company we went with, and we thoroughly enjoyed it! As I began to write the blog about this day, it became quite lengthy so I am posting about it in 3 installments. This is Part 1: Kingston.
The day begins, as promised, with being collected from your hotel. We were with a quiet group of 4 couples, including us, from North America and Canada. The drive out to the Valley is picturesque, especially once getting out of the city. We had only arrived in Santiago, a mere 36 hours prior and thus counted the drive as a valued component of our sightseeing: the roads, the homes and the natural environment. It was morning also, so the sun cast a particular light. Our tour guide was eager to answer questions and gave an overview of winemaking in Chile as we rolled out.
Once we begin to get close to the general vicinity of wine country, the bus pulled off to the side of the road so we could take some photos while José, our knowledgeable and affable guide explained more about the region. Casablanca Valley is considered one of the cooler coastal regions, though we could not tell on that scorching March day, the end of their season, and essentially what we might feel in the U.S. in September or October. This climate is conducive to some specific varietals: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. A teaser, if you will. I was getting so pumped for our first stop: Kingston Family Vineyards!
Kingston Family Vineyards is considered a boutique winery, boasting a small but high quality production. Founded by Americans who had re-located to Chile in the early 1900's, including the male patriarch who was originally from Michigan, this winery has a rich history. We arrived to a special treat that day. One of the owners, the husband of the granddaughter of the afore-mentioned patriarch, was there to serve as our host. This was special because he and his wife split their time between Chile and California and are often not in town when tours come through. I always appreciate that personal connection to the business. And I certainly appreciated being given a glass Chardonnay at 10:30 a.m. Yes, dear.
As mentioned, we were given a glass to sip on as the tour commenced. That reflects a true understanding of the needs of your clientele. Nice touch Kingston. We learned about their history as a winery, their current structure, what they produce, how and where. With their ties to California, where winemaking rules, they are able to import some innovative practices which in my opinion are yielding a top quality product. Their wine is superb: dignified and approachable. We saw the room where the magic happens, where grapes become vino. They have the requisite stainless steel tanks and French oak barrels, but they have another technique which was new to me, but I am told, an ancient way of aging wine. And it works!
So what is this technique?! Concrete eggs. Yes, that is what they are called. Apparently the shape allows for optimal circulation of the juice. I had never seen the like and we saw this method being employed at the next two wineries on the tour that day. And the wine at all places was tremendous, so there must be something to it. A friend inquired, "Don't you mean clay?" No, dear. Clay would be too porous, allowing the wine to seep into it. Concrete creates a mostly impenetrable shell and the lack of corners in the egg, an ideal cavity for consistent composition and temperature. Kingston is experimenting with batches in the eggs and in the barrels to find the right balance. I loved learning about this!
After the indoor portion, we headed to the vineyards. Let's be honest, this is where the actual magic happens. Casablanca Valley is gorgeous. The vista of the miles and miles of grapevines with the mountains in the background is perfection. Their terroir bodes very well for winemaking. All of the wineries we visited encouraged us to pluck a grape from the vines and give it a taste (something unheard of and potentially a prosecutable act in the U.S.). So I did! The grapes, as was appropriate for the season, were succulent, sweet and juicy. I was in heaven. It was warm as the sun was starting to heat up the land, still morning but edging into midday. I feel so happy when standing in the actual vineyard. It is enchanting!
Casablanca Valley is considered a cool Mediterranean climate, averaging 20 inches of rain each year. The whites reflect a "crispness", no doubt a result of the proximity to the Pacific Ocean. It is also one of the newer wine regions in Chile, with most vines having been panted in the '80's. The 1980's to be clear.
After heading back inside, we were shown to a room for the piece de résistance: the tasting. The benefit of a semi-private wine tour is that you are treated to a luxurious seated and private tasting, in which you are a prioritized as a guest. This is quite a departure from elbowing your way up to the "bar" at a tasting room on a high season Saturday anywhere in California. I mean, don't misunderstand me, that experience has it's value and you will still see me partaking, but this was care and treatment truly enhanced the experience. To be able to sit, anxiety free, and savor the wine, ask questions, discuss and bask in the moment is what I live for. It is the way to go.
Now for a bit of truth telling: I don't exactly remember what we tasted. Some whites, some reds? I know! What kind of blog is this??!! I am trying to share the overall experience and assure the readers that the wine at Kingston is world-class. I did opt in to the purchase and shipping of a few bottles of the 2009 Alazan Pinot Noir. All of their wines are named after horses. Their wine-club is called "The Old Corral Club" to keep the theme threaded throughout. The club and sales are promoted at the wines tasting portion, which is an appropriate time as any. It is a business after all, and they are a boutique winery who need to cultivate their patronage. The shipping should be convenient enough, so one need not travel with the wine, and risk consuming. Wine is abundant in Chile and these are worth saving, aging and sharing. If you do make it to Chile, consider giving Kingston a visit. You will not be sorry that you did. You're welcome!