A couple weeks ago, I traveled to Argentina and Chile with Ryan Zotovich, our Director of Winemaking, to meet with some of our partners and to scope out the region.
It was my first time down there, so I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect — but I was really looking forward to seeing the scenery in Chile. We landed while the sun was rising, and I was immediately struck by the beautiful green landscape across the mountains. We spent our first day in Santiago trying to stay awake while walking around the city, and we met up with Luca Hodgkinson to talk about the itinerary for the next couple days.
Luca is a Chilean winemaker who works with grapes in all the regions surrounding Santiago. He has a huge passion for sustainability and is focused on making incredible wines in this region, where quality has been increasing significantly due to technology and investment in the area.
Chile bears a lot of similarities to California when it comes to climate and grape-growing environments — but the most striking difference is the Andes. They’re surprisingly close to Santiago and have a very large presence when you’re in the city. The white tops of the mountains provide a beautiful backdrop to Santiago and all its new architecture.
On our second day in Chile, we drove west towards the ocean and spent the day in Casablanca. Because of its proximity to the Pacific (which is freezing, thanks to water coming up from Antarctica), Casablanca experiences lots of morning fog, as well as cool air from off the Andes. As a result, this region in particular is best suited for grapes that thrive in cold growing environments. The most notable grapes grown in this region? Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay.
After checking on some Sauvignon Blanc vines, we tasted a variety of wines all made Casablanca. The Sauvignon Blancs here tend to have a distinctive aroma of grapefruit essence that gives them a unique character. Likewise, all reds from Chile carry aromas and flavors of jalapeño pepper.
After lunch, we were generously welcomed at a winery in Casablanca called Catrala. We tasted every wine they had in tank and barrel and were very impressed by all of them! The winemaker Emeric has an impressive dedication to sustainable and minimalist winemaking practices.
On our last day in Chile, we drove down to Colchagua Valley, stopping in Maipo on the way. Our first stop was at some vineyards nestled in the foothills of the Andes. It was pouring rain, so we opted to stay in the car, but we drove all around the vineyard to check out the variety of grapes grown on the property. Afterward, we stopped by the winemaking facility where they make all their wines to taste the reds in tank.
For lunch, we drove a little further south to the lower part of Colchagua and were warmly welcomed into Luca’s friend Luiz’s home. Luiz is originally from Italy, but he’s embraced the culture in Chile and loves entertaining. Between the fireplace, the hearty home-cooked Italian food, and the bold red wines, we had an incredible afternoon.
His home is still being renovated after the huge Chilean earthquake in 2015, but it’s full of charm and animals (he takes in dogs and cats because Chile doesn’t have resources for stray animals). While renovating the house, he found an underground wine cellar that he has now fixed up, and he’s making some precious, natural wines with Luca’s help. The wines we tasted from there are full of character and charm – just like our visit with Luiz.
Early the next morning, we flew over the Andes to Mendoza. The flight was short, but the views of the Andes were stunning. We spent two days driving around Mendoza, checking out all the different regions, the vines, and the soil. We were hanging out with Sebastian San Martin, who is an Argentinean winemaker, as well as Luca’s friend and business partner.
Like Luca, he strives to make high-quality wines with a focus on sourcing great fruit and utilizing natural winemaking techniques. He has been working in Mendoza for a long time, and his knowledge of the different vineyards and the soil in the region was incredible.
Overall, my first trip down to South America did not disappoint! The wines were awesome, and the views were breathtaking, but the people truly made the trip – all passionate, knowledgeable, and beyond hospitable.