Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Colchagua Valley, Chile

This weekend we drove south on the Pan-American highway to tour Chile’s Ruta del Vino and stay in a small lodge up in the mountains.  We visited vineyards on our way to the lodge and on our way home and while at the lodge we hiked, swam in the river, played with the children of the owners’ of the lodge, and had a great barbeque lunch.

On Sunday as we drove away from Santiago two hours south and west to the Colchagua Valley I prepped the kids with our itinerary for the day.  I told them we were going on a tour at a vineyard first, then we would stop at a restaurant for lunch and last we would go through a museum.  I expected either the kids to ignore my babbling because at that point in the ride they were both immersed in their coloring books, or to hear Cal’s new favorite response, “oh” which he says to just about anything these days.  Instead Harper called out, “When do we get to drink the wine?”  Home schooling at its best!

We toured the Viu Manent vineyard by horse-drawn carriage and the kids were all smiles.  The horses led us around the vineyard while our guide gave us the history of the three generations of the family-owned business.  Harper and Cal earlier had been scheming about how to get to drive the carriage- Harper had plans for the reigns and Cal of course wanted to be “the stander” like he was working his garbage truck route.  The carriage driver however was a grumpy, leathery man who barely gave them a second glance.  Instead we bumped along trying to quiet our kids down in order to actually hear at least some of the details from the guide.  After the carriage we walked through all the processing areas of the winery.  Modern and gleaming it was made up of steel tanks and metal equipment all housed in an airy open metal barn.  We tasted a wine that was only half aged and got to see all their huge steel and concrete drums.  (Viu Manent was very proud of the strength of the concrete tanks that withstood the area’s most recent earthquake without a crack.)  In the barrel room the earthy smells of the oak casks permeated the air.  Harper climbed up onto a stack of barrels and sprawled out as if she was going to take a nap.  This was our first vineyard tour and for reasons such as this we were a little worried about bringing our kids.  Fortunately our guide wasn’t ruffled at all by their antics and the other tourists were laid back, too. 

Next it was back onto the carriage for the ride to the tasting room.  Harper and I nervously asked the driver if she could sit next to him and he agreed with a grunt.  I don’t think he minded her being there, all except once when she was leaning over to the side a bit and he tried to correct her with a couple clicking sounds like he gave to the horses.  Harper tried to enjoy being close to the horses but I think she was a bit too nervous to have much fun.
In the tasting room we nervously sat down around a big wooden table lined with wine glasses.  I had Cal in my lap and Harper climbed upon Danny’s and we both took a deep breath in hopes our kids didn’t break anything.  In front of each person were five wine glasses- four with wine and one with water.  Cal and Harper were very excited to slurp water from the wine glass and luckily a plate of crackers was passed around (for cleansing one’s palate or in our case as a small snack) so that kept them busy.  The wines were all very good- we tasted chardonnay, a malbec blend, a carmenere, and a cabernet.  We all went around at the end to share our favorite.  I said I liked the carmenere and then to perfectly illustrate how little attention we could pay to the tasting (while we instead monitored our kids and the glasses,) Danny announced he liked the merlot the best!  Whoops.

So we weren’t named Food and Wine’s newest up and coming connoisseurs and we didn’t get to learn quite as much as we’d wished about the wine-making process, but we had a good time going on the tour.  We ended up buying some wine to take back to Santiago and the kids said the highlight of their day was the carriage ride. 

Next we went on to the Colchagua History Museum and there was so much to see.  Our friends Nicki and Brett, who had lived in Santiago earlier and who marked up our Lonely Planet book before we left, wrote next to its description, “this place is crazy awesome!” and it definitely lived up to that!  There were dinosaur bones and a saber-toothed cat skeleton.  All sorts of pottery from local ancient peoples.  Model cars, antique farm equipment, fossils, old trolley trains, and a room full of antique carriages.  Shrunken heads, mummies, and all sorts of weaponry from Chile’s past military conflicts.  It was so much to take in and crazy how it was all a private collection (some guy wanted by the FBI for arms dealing.)
Bees in the Andees
After the museum we drove up into the Andes mountains to a little lodge.  While we were there, we hiked around the property on the Rio trail and the Bosque trail which wind around a river valley.  We spent a lot of time playing in the treehouse, swinging on the tire swing and jumping on a trampoline!  The kids were in their version of paradise, especially after living in the city for so many weeks.  Two dogs lived at the lodge and one was a huge St. Bernard, aptly named Bernard, who we all loved to play with.  Bernard liked the tire swing and we all had a good laugh watching him trying to chew on the tire and knock it around with his huge paws.  
Cal actually smiles for a photo. Rare sighting!
Look at how much bigger Bernard's head is than Harper's!

While at the lodge we also discovered a Chilean rose tarantula that lived under the trampoline.  We observed it for a while and though it usually was still we realized that when Danny jumped on the trampoline and made it squeak under its weight the tarantula would wiggle its legs and squirm around.  It was really neat to see a tarantula up this close, but I’ll admit that I double-checked all of our bed sheets really well before going to sleep each night!
Terry, the tarantula

Our big outing at the lodge was a long hike up one side of the valley.  We hiked to a small house that sat overlooking the Tumuñan River.  Directly below the house was a great swimming hole in the river where we could jump off and plunge down into the clear water.  The water’s temperature was so much warmer that mountain streams in Colorado and we all splashed about and climbed around on the rocks.  Harper and I had a slimy moss-throwing war and Danny and Cal climbed way up on the rocks to see the top of a little waterfall leading into our swimming hole.  After playing around in the water for a while we climbed back up to the house to find our guides had prepared a delicious barbeque on the parilla.  Harper and Cal devoured the sausages and grilled meat.  We were definitely feeling spoiled ending a hike with a lunch and a swim like that!  I don’t know how we are going to get the kids hiking again without such a reward afterwards. 
Hiking to the little house overlooking the swimming hole

Danny takes the plunge

On our way back home to Santiago we stopped at another winery and met up again with a nice German couple that stayed at the lodge with us.  This time we toured the vineyard of Casa Silva.  It was a much different experience than the other vineyard from earlier in the week; because Case Silva is committed to continuing time-honored methods of winemaking its facilities are very traditional.  We toured dark rooms filled with wood barrels lit by lights made to look like burning candles.  The floors were all the same flooring from when the operation was built, some hundred plus years ago.  Saying it was beautiful is such an understatement; it was like a movie set.  The kids had fun exploring and galloping around the huge wine cellars and Danny and I enjoyed all the architecture, funky antiques, and of course the wine.

Now we are back in Santiago.  I sit writing this while waiting for Harper to finish up her theater class.  I just heard her teacher call her name and then seconds later the class applauded.  I’m so glad we raced back to get her to class on time.  She was so happy to see her teacher and walked off with the other kids with a hop in her step.  Tomorrow we are headed across the border to Argentina, though just for a long weekend.  I’ll write more about Mendoza later.  

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