Finding a favourite carmenère and staying on the coast in one of Chile's oldest houses
Spending time with Cristóbal Undurraga of Viña Koyle is always a great experience, not just because he is a talented winemaker who is always experimenting, but because he is also that rare thing in Chile – a winemaker who lives with his family on the vineyard. He doesn't just make the wines, but also tends the vines, meaning he has an intimate knowledge of his land, more in the tradition of a European winemaker. And for visitors, you are welcomed into the family home, which is always a pleasure when you have been staying in hotels for weeks.
Chickens in the vineyards of Viña Koyle
One of the best Chilean carmenères I have tasted
Koyle is a native flower which grows in the mountains near the property
On the day I arrived, we spent the morning tasting at Cristobal's winery, Koyle (pronounced 'koy-leh' and named after the beautiful native flower that grows on the hillsides here). There was a superb batch of carmenère which I thought was so good it should be bottled separately. It comes from a low-yielding block named G2, high up the slope where the vineyards are situated. Here there is very little soil but the bedrock is a friable basalt which the roots can easily penetrate looking for water reserves in the fissures of the rock.
This vineyard is coolish for carmenère and makes a firm, fresh style which is beautifully balanced. Many carmenères for me are too jammy and difficult to drink, but this shows off its Bordeaux heritage and is cedary scented and fine flavoured. It has the catchy name Koyle Cerro Basalto Cuartel G2 2015 and is one of the best carmenères from Chile I have tasted, and I'm delighted to say it's exclusive to us.
Cristóbal's exciting new project on the coast
I then headed off with Cristóbal to see a new project he is working on as a consultant at Bucalemu, which is on the coast of the Rapel region. It is owned by Renato Peñafiel, a high-flying financier. He was one of the so-called 'Chicago Boys' who, after studying for MBAs in Chicago taught by eminent economist Milton Friedman, came back to Chile to help reform the country, transforming it into a low-tariff, free-market, free-trade economy. 'Fancy a job in the UK?' I remarked as we discussed the Brexit referendum results.
Renato Peñafiel's house in Bucalemu is one of Chile's oldest in Chile. Cristobal Undurraga (2nd from left) is making wine here for Renato (in the brimmed hat)
Renato Peñafiel lives in a 300-year-old house, one of the oldest in Chile. It is made of adobe, built in the colonial style, formed of a series of square courtyards, some with tinkling fountains. Verandas shade the walls from the heat. There are family photos with him and past presidents of Chile and a family chapel. The grounds have some ancient Chilean palms and herds of deer.
We visit the vineyards and return in the late afternoon to taste the wines. The vineyards are a work in progress. The cool climate is ideal for the varieties planted here – sauvignon blanc, riesling and pinot noir. The wines were good but I thought not quite good enough. Some fine tuning of the vineyard is required to even up the ripening of the vineyard and the irrigation system needs improving. However, the wines are promising and Cristóbal is on the case. It will be fascinating to chart his progress.
From wine to rodeos
After a tranquil night's sleep, on Saturday morning we were given an insight into Renato and his son's passion for Chilean rodeo. We had a viewing of his stable of 20 or so horses, a Chilean breed with a particularly strong neck, and a demonstration of one of the disciplines of Chilean rodeo. This is where two horsemen place themselves each side of a galloping cow and guide it to a halt along the rails in a circular arena. It is done without ropes. The horse places its head on the cow to steer it to a standstill - I think that's why it needs a strong neck! At some stages the horses are almost galloping sideways, and many years are needed to train them to be able to manoeuvre in this way.
Rodeo Chilean-style, whereby the horses lay their heads on either side of the cow to steer it to a standstill
Some R & R Chilean style
After lunch we headed north up the coast to Cachagua, near Zapallar, for some rest and recreation. It's a stylish resort on the coast - about two hours from the capital Santiago - where the well-off have weekend houses. Chile is a highly centralised country with some 6 million of the 18 million population living in Santiago. Many people's families are based in the capital, as this is where there are the best schools and hospitals, and nearly all companies are headquartered here. It's quite a noisy city with skyscrapers and traffic jams, but Chile is such a narrow country that it's easy to escape the capital. Go east and you can be in ski resorts in an hour and a bit, or head west to the coast and you can be surfing in a couple of hours.
Parts of the coast resemble California's Big Sur, with gnarled cypresses buffeted by the sea breezes on the rocky coastline. The Pacific produces massive pounding waves and one soon succumbs to its comforting rhythm. Some houses have infinity pools with amazing views of the rocks and surf below and wonderful gardens. The sun is shining, there is no wind, the sea is a deep azure colour, the manicured gardens are full of flowers, it's 18°C - and this is mid-winter! Pelicans fish and then relax on the rocks in the sun.
Near the coast at Cachagua
Pelicans relaxing on the coast
Winemakers tend to be good chefs. Cristobal spent about four years in Argentina and is a master of the asado or barbecue, both fish and meat (read more about the art of the barbecue next). As he lights the wood fire and we wait for the embers to glow white we have a couple of beers on the veranda of the house overlooking the sea. Lobster tails and entraña, which is gooseneck skirt or onglet in French, are on the menu, with the odd glass of wine of course! It's the perfect end to a fascinating couple of days, quite a departure from my usual buying trips, before returning the next day to Santiago, and reality!
How the other half lives!
Where to go next?
> A sentimental journey
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