It is impossible to visit Chile without being awestruck by the incredible natural splendour that stretches from the Atacama Desert to the Antarctic wildernesses. As if that wasn’t enough, the country possesses a rich cultural heritage of globally-renowned music, art and literature. A truly wonderful country no doubt about it, but if we’re honest with ourselves, none of this is why people really come to Chile. The truth is darker, guiltier, unashamedly indulgent, and undeniably true.
The vines (photo courtesy of Santa Rita)
The juice of humanity, the fruit of the Andes, the blood of the gods, there is perhaps no other country on the planet which arouses romantic, wine-drenched notions of taste, sensuality and elegance as Chile. The proximity of the Andes to the Pacific Ocean creates climate conditions that perfectly suit the grape harvest, making Chile the proud producer of some of the world’s finest wines.
So the chance to visit a vineyard is something not to be missed. Particularly when that trip costs approximately nothing. The Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral (the GAM), recently began organising and running free tours to the Santa Rita vineyard, a forty-minute bus ride from the city centre to the rural outskirts of the town of Buin. With travel, a packed lunch, a guided tour, live music or poetry and, of course, wine samples all included, it’s a pretty fair deal.
The cellars (photo courtesy of Santa Rita)
The Viña Santa Rita sits between Buin and the cordillera, surrounded by flat countryside, and made up of a series of low-level colonial buildings alongside warehouses, production facilities, and a museum. It resembles a large farm, many of the buildings look like barns from outside, but here the air carries the pungent scent of fermented grape rather than the less-appetising farmyard smells you’re no doubt familiar with.
A guided tour leads visitors around the vineyard and explains how wine is made, the most interesting aspect of which is the spooky cellars, with their stone arches and dark recesses, where hundreds of barrels are stored. There are some very pleasant gardens of fruit trees, ornamental shrubs and stone fountains before the tour inevitably leaves you in the vineyard shop, where you can buy wine for anything from $2000 - $80000, depending on your levels of self-restraint.
Tastings are offered in the shop although I must say that my inner scrounger was slightly disappointed by the lack of diversity to the free samples. A small glass of cabernet sauvignon was on offer, and tasty as it was, I’m much more of a merlot man. Still, not one for pickiness when it comes to free alcohol, I took a second glass when I thought no one was looking.
The main house (photo courtesy of Santa Rita)
Entertainment comes in the form of a museum with lots of indigenous artefacts, jewellery, ceramics and so on, and a room devoted to the last 500 years of maps of Chile and South America. It is remarkable how accurate mapmakers were in the old days considering the relative lack of scientific knowledge and Google Earth back then. The tours also feature live performances of music or poetry, which for us meant some half-baked cabaret of harlots and swing jazz. Perhaps it was the free samples that almost had me dozing off, or perhaps the show was just a bit dull.
But soon enough the harlots left the stage and it was time to go. It seemed like a good moment to leave as I was thinking a fair bit about another drink by this point. It had rained the day before and the mountains were freshly snow-topped and sparkled like bottle tops in the sunset and the clean countryside air. A romantic end then to a pretty enjoyable afternoon, and soon enough we were back in the belly of the beast, or central Santiago as it’s otherwise known, content, thirsty, and a little bit wiser about Chile’s marvellous grape juice.
The Gardens (photo courtesy of Santa Rita)
The GAM is running free tours to the Santa Rita vineyard on the last Saturday of each month until October. Tickets are available from 10am on the Monday prior to each tour from the GAM's information desk, where they tend to get snapped up very quickly. Maximum of two tickets per person.
Buses leave from the GAM at midday and return at 6pm. A small packed lunch is provided, and there is a nice cafe at the vineyard.
Further GAM wine tours will be held on the following dates:
The GAM website has further details (in Spanish) on its wine tours here.
You can learn more about the Santa Rita vineyard on its official website.