One of my favorite things about traveling abroad is getting to leave with far more knowledge than you had before going into the experience. The University of Cincinnati study abroad trip to Santiago and Chile’s wine region truly changed my perspective about wine as an entire business model and I feel much more equipped to pick out a great bottle now anytime I find myself in the wine section of Kroger.
Enjoying one of many glasses of wine in the sunshine
The second day of our trip in Santiago might have been one of my favorites; our group drove nearly an hour to the Casablanca wine region just outside the city. This 30 km. or 19 mi. stretch of land is perfect for wine cultivation thanks to the cooling influence of the Pacific Ocean. As we arrived at the Casa del Bosque vineyard, a breath of fresh air and a beautiful sunny day greeted us as we stepped off the bus. Below our feet wasn’t gravel or mulch, but was instead finely ground walnut shells which alludes to how sustainable Chilean businesses are. Our tour guide took us around the vineyard, we first walked around outside then inside the facilities. We were able to pick grapes right off the vine and taste as many as we chose to. She explained those particular grapes, similar in appearance to blueberries, would eventually be made into Pino Noir. Apparently when they are black, the acidity of the grape is lower and gets higher as they change coloration in February.
I had no idea that red wine uses the skin and more material from the grapes than white wine does. The difference in the tastes is significant due to this filtration process. White wine needs cold water in the vat’s pipes so the skins, seeds, and stems of the grapes settle to the bottom and can be filtered out more easily. The large vats we stood next to had layers of ice on the outside, and you could tell these were the ones being used for their white wine production. Another way you could tell which vat was being used for white or red wine was based on the top lid; to keep from having too much oxygen exposure for white wine, they kept the top closed. Once they filter out the skin and seeds from the white wine, they re-use it by composting it for their soil.
Chile is the sixth largest producer of wine in the world, and the fourth largest exporter. Their production increased exponentially in the 1980’s when oak barrels and stainless steel fermentation tanks were introduced into the process. They have 5 main companies, but they all produce extremely large quantities; there are more cases produced per winery than in any other country! Clearly each of these wineries knows what it takes to become successful in this industry, so it was an incredible chance to get to ask them questions and pick their brains for a while.
We got to the final part of the tour in a room with hundreds of large oak barrels where red wine was aging. I don’t honestly know if it was meant to be a joke or not, but she put music on the speakers in the room and spoke to the group about the importance of using music as the wine ages. “This wine is going to be super happy,” I thought to myself as I heard one of my favorite bands playing (Sound the Alarm by Thievery Corporation, if you were curious). Finally, we were able to taste some of their product. The proper way to taste test is to first swirl it in the wine glass, take a small sip with a bit of air in your mouth, then swish it between your cheeks. I’ll tell you what, it actually does make a difference in taste! My favorite wine from Casa del Bosque was their Sauvignon Blanc.
The day concluded with a delicious lunch at the winery, complete with fresh salmon ceviche, steak and mashed golden potatoes, creme brûlée, and of course….as much wine as we could drink. It was truly a day to remember, and I hope everyone gets a chance to visit a vineyard at some point to gain a deeper appreciation for the wine they consume.