So this is an article that I published about a year ago. I hope you enjoy reading it. The trip was pretty eye opening, since it was in a wine growing country that has so often been overlooked.
Chile….A True Nation of One
Surprisingly, whether it was while sitting among great company and talking all things wine in the Unduraga tasting room or enjoying warm hospitality and a mountain side lunch at Montes, I found it hard to believe that Chile was going through one of its hardest years in recent memory. They captivated me not with their stories of disaster, but with their sense of connection to one another; in other words, with the clear impression that the people of Chile fall together, and they are rising together. Currently, the Chilean wine industry is back in full charge. New vintages are being released, new projects unveiled, and new wineries built. All through Chile, wine is being made and its possibilities explored. This trip was truly an experience of a lifetime. The Chilean people were some of the most welcoming and hospitable I have ever experienced and I am thankful to have had such a wonderful opportunity.
Terroir: A Sense of Place, Including its People
When talking to the vintners about wine, I was curious to hear them speak of a place’s unique “terroir” and how it defines the wine. For those of you who have never heard the word “terroir”, Google (the source of the world’s knowledge these days) defines it as “a French term…used to denote special characteristics that geography bestowed upon particular varieties”. So in wine terms (wine geek alert!), I understand terroir as referring to the sense of place that is unique to each wine.
Aspects of terroir can include the weather and soil conditions of an exact location, the town around the vineyards, the conditions of that particular year, and, as I learned from Chilean vintners, terroir can extend to the people of the areas, who they are, how they work together and support one another. When they talk about winemaking practices or their products as being sustainable, Chileans are including their people, believing in an inseparable connection between their quality of life and the quality of their wine.
In the world of wine making, it is common to see immigrants in the field doing the manual labor. California employs people from all over the world; Italy, where I worked for three months, employs many people from Senegal. But, in Chile, the vast majority of the field workers are Chileans who are from the towns nestled throughout the wine country. Aurelio Montes, wine maker for Montes Winery, says “Sustainability is about the wine, the earth, the land around you, the people, the town they live in, the schools their children attend, and the list goes on. When we make wine, we realize that everything can define it. If we have happy people, we will have well made wine”.
“Happy” seems to be an understatement for the workers at Montes and many other wineries in Chile. As an example of what they care about and their priorities, Aurelio told me that the morning after last year’s quake, workers first checked on their family, then they came immediately to the winery to check on their wine. After they saw that it was okay, they returned home and began to rebuild. There is a kind of seamlessness between their work and their lives. Dedicated, proud, and happy workers!
My trip opened my eyes to the wonderful spirit of the Chilean people—something I think about each time I drink a glass of Montes or Tamaya. They are smart people and while they may be anxious that their wine could soon have its turn in the world’s spotlight (thanks to the press around Clo Apalta), the quality of their wine is certainly on the rise and they are learning from Australia and Argentina not to rely on just one wine. Above all, Chileans love their wines, love their land, and love the fact that they can call it all theirs. Let’s hear it for terroir!
I traveled to 15 vineyards in 9 days.
I tasted 300 wines.
I traveled over 400 miles around a country where each mile can make a world of difference in the wine.
I slept under more stars than I had ever seen, making it seem like an even more perfect place to learn about a people, a culture, and even about yourself.
I will never forget my time in Chile and hope to go back soon.
This is the link to a fantastic group for Chilean wines. Check them out and next time you are in a store, try a Chilean wine! Wines of Chile