Waking up from a 9-hour flight, feeling a bit stiff and sluggish, my spirits quickly changed as I opened the window shade of the plane and was welcomed by the Andes Mountains while descending into Santiago, Chile. The view was breathtaking and expressed just the beginning of what would be the trip of a lifetime.
I am a cellar rat at heart so when I had the chance to work harvest in an unfamiliar country AND hemisphere, I jumped at the opportunity! During the pandemic, I had the pleasure of connecting with VIK Winery’s Winemaker, Cristian Vallejo. As we were all forced to pivot during those difficult times, Instagram Lives became the big thing. This is where Cristian and I were able to connect through their wines while sharing insight via sips, laughter and stories.
Upon arrival, I was welcomed with a glass of bubbly as I got settled in at the award-winning hotel, VIK Chile, most recently recognized by the prestigious World Travel Awards 2022 in the category “World’s Leading Wine Region Hotel.” The hotel boasts a unique architectural design, perched on a hilltop and offers 360-degree panoramic views of the vineyards with the Andes Mountains painted off in the distance. The Zen Garden is an eye-catching space surrounded by colorful flowers, ready to welcome you as a guest. The hotel has an inviting open space concept with plenty of lounging areas, perfect for relaxing with company and a glass of wine.
The hotel is more than just a place to stay, it’s a true retreat with plenty of activities to keep you busy, relaxed, or full…depending on what you’re looking for. If you are the adventurous type, definitely book the horseback riding through the vineyards. I really enjoyed this experience, especially since I was paired with a horse that was very fond of the vines, he couldn’t stay out of them, my kindred spirit!
If you are a foodie or looking for more of a hands-on activity, I highly recommend the organic garden cooking class. You will have the opportunity to walk the garden with the chef, picking your own fruits and vegetables to use for the culinary experience. If you’d rather savor the food without the effort of making it, the Milla Milla restaurant onsite offers the finest cuisine, using local ingredients, many of which are from their own organic garden.
For those simply seeking relaxation, the infinity pool will quickly bring you serenity as you take in the magnificent views. The hotel spa is also an ideal space to unwind and disconnect from the world. I especially enjoyed relaxing in a wine bath after an hour-long massage. This unique experience soothes sore muscles, detoxifies your skin and improves circulation…not to mention, it includes a glass of their La Piu Belle Rosé.
After a few days of relaxing and taking in the lovely amenities of the VIK hotel, I was rejuvenated and ready to get to work. This was my third time working harvest and to say I was thrilled to be in Chile for the experience, well…that’s an understatement.
Working harvest is exhausting but I love it! I’m always learning something new. Although the overall process of picking grapes, fermenting and aging them is similar as a whole, it is fun to see how each winemaker does things a little differently. At VIK Winery, they have some unique programs and projects they integrate into harvest that I haven’t experienced or heard of anywhere else in the world.
Let’s start with their Barroir program. VIK Winery’s winemaking philosophy is minimal intervention and no filtration or additives. They are truly seeking the purest expression of the Millahue Valley. Taking it a step further, in 2018, they developed the concept of ‘Barroir,’ barrels that are toasted, using oak trees from their property. Staying true to their holistic approach, they only use fallen trees. At the winery there is a dedicated space, the cellar cooperage, where they build and toast the barrels. Currently, they still purchase the staves from France but it is Cristian’s desire to eventually make the staves onsite from their own oak trees. During my visit, I had the chance to make my own wine barrel. It was a highlight from the trip. The barrel will be filled with the 2023 Cabernet Sauvignon. My plan is to get back in a couple of years and taste the wine straight from my barrel!
With an emphasis on intertwining native elements from the Millahue Valley into the wines, VIK Winery also has a ‘Fleuroir’ project where they incorporate native flowers into the wine. The 2022 vintage was the first time this was attempted with varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère and Cabernet Franc. The goal is to integrate native yeasts into the wine and flowers from the property were the best way to bring this to life. The yeasts are different from those found in grapes, and that variance contributes more layers of flavor and secondary aromas as the yeasts pass through the different stages of fermentation.
As with any harvest, I made sure to participate in the dirty work as well. What most people don’t realize is that 80% of your time is devoted to some type of cleaning. Call me crazy, but I love cleaning out tanks, it’s a great workout! Other tasks that contributed to my 12-hour days included pump overs, testing sugar levels, checking temperatures and density in the tanks, sorting grapes on the sorting line and taste testing the fermenting wines. By the end of the day, my feet were achy, I was covered in grape juice and all I wanted at that point was a hot shower and a comfy bed. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Before leaving to come home, I had the opportunity to visit a few wineries in the area. Each winery was special in their own way. My first stop was to Viña Valle Secreto which is a boutique winery located in Cachapoal, near the Andes Mountains. Their focus is estate grown wines. They have a state-of-the-art semicircular shaped production area and they make their own concrete egg tanks using stones from their property. The wines were so good, I’m trying to broker them into the Utah wine market.
Trabun Wines is where wine and music intertwine into one. Music is a big part of this winemaking family; everyone plays an instrument. I enjoyed learning about these wines from winemaker, Sergio Avendano. Located in Requinoa, this area is one of the coldest areas in the valley, close to the Andres, giving the vines moderate temperatures for ripening. The Syrah, Cot Blend and Sauvignon Blanc were absolute favorites.
At Vultur Wines I had the pleasure of meeting Winemaker, Daniel Miranda and his wife Alejandra, who graciously had me over for a traditional Chilian lunch and wine tasting. The Carménère was one of my favorites from the trip! If you are looking for a unique experience, check this winery out. They have a bungalow you can stay at on the property.
To end the day, I had a fantastic tasting at Maturana Winery with brother’s Jose and Sebastian. They focus on natural wines that come from various vineyards in Chile, where the terroir radiates in the quality of the wine. I personally loved the Lucas Cabernet Sauvignon and the Garnacha was my fav! I also enjoyed meeting all the animals on the property; donkeys, horses and winery dogs.
Chile has truly stolen my heart. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to work harvest in such a beautiful country and hope to return one day soon. Until then, my wine is in good hands. Cheers!