Casablanca Valley + Valparaiso = ♥ perfect Chile wine and food experience

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This post by Britt Karlson of BK Wine Tours (http://www.bkwinetours.com participated in the 2013 Guest Bloggers Program.

All pictures copyright BKWine Tours

As long as I can remember I have wanted to go to Valparaiso. To start with it had nothing to do with wine. There is a song about Valparaiso, written by my favourite Swedish poet. He travelled a lot in South America as a young sailor in the 1920s. I have known this song all my life. For me it incarnated the adventure of South America.

I managed to go to Chile on wine tours twice without visiting Valparaiso… The first time I was there the Casablanca Valley was not really known as a wine region. The second time I went to wineries in the Casablanca Valley but never made it to Valparaiso.

But third time lucky. Earlier this year we organized ourselves a wine tour to Chile and Valparaiso was of course included in the program. Third time lucky!

Don't miss Valparaiso!

The urban landscape in Valparaiso

Having looked forward to it for so long, was I disappointed? No!

I loved every minute of Valparaiso. The incredibly steep hills on which the city is built is not like anything else I have seen. If you go on a wine tour to Chile, do go to Valparaiso also. It is easy. It is close to Santiago and you can go there for a day tour.

And what could be a better introduction to the Casablanca Valley than to start by the Ocean, the very thing that influence the wines of the Valley?

Even by New World standards Casablanca Valley is a new wine region. 25 years ago there was nothing here. Nothing was cultivated because there was no river and no water for irrigation. But in the 1980s some entrepreneurs started drilling for water underground and the first vineyards were planted.

Cool ocean and slow ripening

Landscape with vineyards in Casablanca Valley

So what was so attractive about Casablanca Valley for the wine producers? The temperature, to start with. It is cooler here compared with for instance Maule and Maipo. The cold Pacific Ocean is only 20-30 kilometres away. The coolness and the breezes from the sea give the grapes a long ripening period.

“We pick our chardonnay in April, says Gonzalo Latorre at Viña Indomita. “Sometimes we harvest one and a half month later than in Maule. The grapes gain in aromas and in concentration.”

In the vineyards at Emiliana in Casablanca Valley

The summers in Casablanca are warm but not hot, which is perfect for white wines. And to start with the wines in Casablanca were mainly white. But pinot noir is also doing very well here. And even syrah. The red wines are balanced without any sweet marmalade aromas. “We want to avoid over-ripe grapes”, says Vicente, winemaker at Viña Quintay. He shows me the thick canopy in the vineyard. “The leaves protect the grapes from the hot sun”, he says.

Clouds even in paradise

Casablanca has its own special climate. It is always foggy and cool in the morning, until around 11. Then the sun appears and gives the whole valley an intense, clear light. “This is paradise on earth for a wine grower”, says Vicente.

There are problems however, even in paradise. Spring frost is one of them. About 20 growers in Casablanca share a weather station and are warned on their cell phones when the temperature gets critical in the early morning. To avoid the frost they spray water on the vines. It works very well, according to Vicente.

Quintay produces some great reds but their real speciality is sauvignon blanc. The first vintage was 2005 for this young winery. As the vines are still young, the wines, very good already, will improve even more with time as the vines grow older. Vicente and his colleagues love to receive wine lovers and to introduce them to their wines. They are eager to develop wine tourism.

Geese in the vineyards at Emiliana in Casablanca Valley

You have no excuse to miss it:  wine and food is waiting

Already wine lovers have plenty of possibilities to taste the wines of Casablanca on location. One way is to have lunch at Viña Indomita, in their high class restaurant. Among several delicious dishes we had I especially remember the codorniz (quail) and the lamb from Patagonia.

The tender lamb was matched with the Indomita Pinot Noir Duette. This is an elegant, fruity red with balanced oak flavours. The wine is made, I was told, with “minimalistic” vinification. “Pinot is a grape that doesn’t forgive”, says Gonzalo, “you have to get it right the first time”.

Visitor-friendly and eco-friendly

Chile is a healthy place for growing vines with fewer diseases than in many other wine countries. So organic and sustainable wine growing is gaining ground. A front runner is Viña Emiliana. This winery belongs to the big Concha y Toro group but is following its own path.

Emiliana is famous not only for its wines but also for being what is probably the world’s biggest biodynamic winery. They have their headquarters here in Casablanca and also over 200 hectares of vineyards, making it one of the biggest estates in Casablanca.

“We have our own cows for the compost”, says Nicolás Pollman Loosli, export manager and our guide at Emiliana. “We want to make sure that they graze organic grass!” Nobody believed in organics when we started in 1998”, he continues. “Our biggest challenge was to get our employees to accept it.”

And now they do. In a beautiful garden on the estate the employees even grow their own biodynamic vegetables.

We ended our Chilean tour in February with a farewell asado here at Emiliana. Asado is the typical Chilean (and Argentinean) barbecue where just about everything is put on the grill: different kinds of meat, chicken, sausages and vegetables. It would have tasted good anywhere but it tasted even better under the blue sky of Casablanca.

It was hard to leave but finally we had to and after a quick good bye to the cute alpacas we were off to Santiago and a few hours later to Europe.