Of Oenophilic Scribblings
by Mel Parsons
Those of you who know me also know my oenophily. No, that is not an obscene word. It is “the love of wine”. But you knew that, anyway.
So, when our travel agent, through whom we book our Music At Sea (Brooks Aehron, pianist/entertainer) cruises, John and Rosemary Roberts (www.galaxsea.com), offered us a pre-cruise tour of a Chilean winery, we grabbed at the opportunity. You might say, well, haven’t you seen enough wineries? And you would be wrong. There is something about seeing the wine process from grape harvest, through crushing, fermentation in those large oak or steel tanks, to introducing the finished product to the bottles, which fascinates me. And there is one more thing at the end of a winery tour which also fascinates me – yes, you are ahead of me - the tastings.
But this winery was so different from all others to which My Beloved and I have been, that it merits a Scribblings all to itself.
The day started off as most days do, with breakfast at this Marriott hotel in Santiago, Chile, with Sally and Sue viewing the buffet table and Jack obviously supervising.
And then, we were off.
As we drove in our very comfortable bus out into the Chilean countryside, we came across acres and acres (or, more appropriately, hectares and hectares) of vines as far as the eye could see, some old and nearing the ends of their days (I felt for them), some virile and full of life, while others were full of the joys of youth and just being trained on their wires to be good providers of grapes.
Let me jump ahead here to share with you something we learnt later at the winery. I cannot tell one vine from another (indeed, My Beloved says that I cannot tell a daisy from a rose), but the rows and rows of vines are not necessarily all the same: in fact, most growers will grow a variety of grapes, so there could be a thousand rows of Cabernet and the next five hundred could be Carmenere, pronounced Car-men-‘air-eh in Spanish. This was a totally new grape to us. It had, prior to the 19th century, been a very popular grape in France, but it was, along with most other varieties, wiped out by phylloxera. Because it is more difficult to grow than some other Bordeaux varieties, and, also, because they could not find any live vines, most French never grew it again. However, some immigrants to Chile had taken vines there, where they grew in abundance, along with the Merlot, with which it became mixed. (I guess, those growers were like me and could not tell one leaf from another.) However, in 1994, a Professor Boursiquot from the Montpellier school of Oenology, detected a different flavour in the Merlot and, through DNA testing, proved that the growers were growing two distinct kinds of vines. Four years later, the Chilean government recognised the Carmenere as a distinct grape.
The winery to which we were driven, quite willingly, I must say, was a small one with only a few thousand hectares!
The Estancia el Cuadro is a family-owned winery and does not produce enough wine to export, so there is no hope of us getting any from this estate in Nova Scotia. However, My Beloved did discover some Chilean Carmenere in the Provincial Liquor Commission, which we have found quite palatable. Within Chile, however, the winery is regarded as an estate of high repute and its wines are valued.
On arrival, we were immediately conducted into the Tasting Room, where I was under the total misapprehension that I thought it was all for me. I was quite quickly disabused of that and we all enjoyed some whites….
….and then reds, including, a Carmenere blended with a small amount of Cabernet.
Delcious! Both of them!
Ensuring that we had all, for the moment, sufficed, we were taken, many still with glass in hand, to the Estate’s Wine Museum. Here the entire wine-making process, from the time of arrival in the pressing room through to bottling was portrayed . (No, El Cuadro Winery does not, today, use people to press the grapes!)
The detail on the faces and clothes of the models is outstanding. And they are all life-sized wood carvings.
After the tasting and the tour of the museum, we thought we were going to have lunch. Not yet. We were led on a ten-minute walk through beautiful gardens and past rows of grapes to the Estate’s corral.
A corral, you ask? At a winery? Yes, indeed.
It came as a total surprise, this rodeo show, at a winery, but we became absorbed by the relationship between two riders and their horses, as they demonstrated how horses are trained for the rodeo. We witnessed a rider showing off the ability of himself and the horse to trot, canter and gallop, along with full passes and passage. Two other riders entered the ring: they controlled a bull with one horse at a shoulder and the other horse on the other side of the bull, towards the rear of the flank. By gently easing the horse at the shoulder and the other towards the rear, they were able to move the bull along the wall of the corral. They then changed positions and worked the bull back in the other direction and, finally out of the gate. You may see two short videos of this and the dancing taken with a small digital camera at
https://picasaweb.google.com/melanber/ElCuadroWiineryCorral20110313?authkey=Gv1sRgCI_bsZTrnqalxQE&feat=directlink (You may have to press Control at the same time as clicking on the link if you are using a Windows-based computer or Microsoft WORD. Failing that, just copy and paste into your web browser.)
Following this interesting entertainment, we all were taken toward the main building again, only to discover that our rumblies in our tummies were not yet to be satisfied. Well, for some of us, more exercise would permit us to eat and imbibe more! But, other than the walk back, there was to be no exercise, but a sort of stage coach tour of the vineyard. The first wagon took most of us, but the second one, seen here, took the balance of our group. During this tour, the guide told us that the Estate’s restaurant grew its own herbs and some of the vegetables, which we were shown.
We were very fortunate in that we were the only tour group visiting that morning, so, when the three dozen of us were eventually deposited at the front of the Estate’s restaurant, we found the restaurant empty. And, finally, lunch. Ah, but the wait had been well worthwhile.
In my case, it was a luscious ceviche, comprising scallops, crab meat, shrimp and fish pieces with chopped red onion all in a delicious lemony acidic marinade.
But My Beloved chose a salad composed of fresh green lettuce with cheese and olives and a touch of oil and vinegar……
……as did others.
When it came to the main course, of several offered, My Beloved and I both chose the fish dish – sea bass, if memory serves me, which it frequently does not – with garlic sautéed shrimp and a medley of julienned vegetables. A very mild white sauce added a touch of flavour to the course.
Of course, there was ample wine flowing, as much as we desired. What a restaurant! But, alas, it seems I did not need all my lovely Chilean Carmenere, for, as I rose to take some photos of other tables of friends, I knocked my glass all over my trousers, which certainly made for a good conversation point as I travelled from table to table.
(Your author, Mel, and His Beloved Beryl Parsons)
And then, scrumptious desserts of very low cal creams and chocolates. Or so the servers assured us.
Ah, what a winery! Where else can you find a winery with great tastings of whites and reds, a rodeo exhibition, a horse-drawn wagon tour of the premises and a five-star restaurant with all-you-can-drink wine?
What a group of Music at Sea cruisers! We love cruising, we love music, we love Brooks Aehron, we love good food and vino, we love John and Rosemary and we love the camaraderie which has developed over a series of cruises.
But, I’m getting melodramatic. Eventually, we, with some regrets, but fully sufficed, left the restaurant and wended our way to the bus for the continuance of our trip to the port of Valparaiso and our cruise ship, the Celebrity Infinity.
Memories to last a lifetime – however long that is!
Love and cheers,
Dad/Daddy/Mel/Cyberpal/Grampa/Uncle (fit yourself into the category which suits you)
June 16, 2011