Chile, day 1: Santa Rita, Concha y Toro, and Cousiño-Macul

After leaving Undurraga, we made our way to Viña Santa Rita; as they hadn’t replied to E-mail asking for a tour, I had to talk my way in at the gate. Thankfully, the gate guard decided that we must be there to go to the restaurant, which sounded just fine to me – I was very hungry and looking forward to the gourmet restaurant that I’d heard was on their property. We pulled in to the parking lot and… well, were confused. When you arrive at Santa Rita, there isn’t an obvious interest: there’s a striking modern museum just up the way, what looks like an old bakehouse with a few tables and chairs outside, and a big building that I suppose could be mistaken for a tasting room of sorts. However, once you enter that building, nothing is obvious. I couldn’t figure out where the tours would leave from, so I just walked through oand over to what I assumed was the restaurant.

Although the café did have food – mostly prepackaged sandwiches that looked exactly the same as the ones you’d find at a Copec gas station down the road – it was obviously not the much-touted gourmet restaurant that you see in their brochures. Hm. Well, the sandwiches were deftly augmented by freshly sliced avocado, which was lovely, and we did get to eat outside with a lovely view, so it wasn’t at all bad, just not what we were expecting. Afterwards, we wandered into the obviously newly constructed Andes Museum and had a look around; it’s a fabulous collection of artifacts from both indigenous peoples as well as early Spanish colonization. I felt like I shouldn’t have been in there at all – I mean, surely you should pay, right? – but at the same time I was very happy to see the collection.

Afterwards, I thought I’d wander into the big building and try to taste some wines. This time, they had left a door slightly ajar, leaving a view into what looked something like a tasting room – and it was obviously closed. However, on the other side of the hallway was a dimly lit stairwell – and a shop! Surely this would lead to success? Alas, no: it led to a room filled with winery-related gift shop items… and a couple from Brazil (older man, younger woman) who were deeply involved in buying a hat (an Akubra sort of thing). The two shop employees – an older man and a younger woman – were very, very involved in selling them that hat… so much so that my timid inquiries into whether or not they did any wine tastings were met with a fairly curt “we’re busy now, can you come back later?” Damn. I guess the profit margin on that had was astronomical. Oh well! At least we got to see the museum for free.

Given that I’d booked a tour at Cousiño-Macul at 4pm, we had another hour or two to kill, so I figured we’d just stop in at Concha y Toro, the humongous winery conveniently located between Santa Rita and C-M. Once again, the standard procedure was familiar: arrive at fancy gates with security guards, stumble through a bunch of bad Spanish (my fault entirely), and be admitted to parking lot. From there, it wasn’t clear what you were supposed to do next, so we just decided to walk towards the winery itself, essentially following the other tourists. We stumbled across a multimedia presentation/movie-viewing room of sorts, where a CyT employee asked us what we were doing there, so I asked to taste some wine… and he pointed out a restaurant bar to us where you could presumably by some wine. After seeing what was on offer – I think it was $30 or $50 for a flight of three of their wines, none of which were recognizably “the good stuff” – I declined and decided to go for a walk around the lavish grounds instead. That was fun enough, but I kept expecting to be kicked out of the park; thankfully, this didn’t happen, so we walked back out the front of the property only to find that the gate guard building had a small window in the back of it where you could purchase a guided tour. D’oh! Anyhow, given the large numbers of tourists here, I’d expect that it would be nothing more than a standard package-tourist sort of affair, so I figured we’d lucked out by not doing it.

With an hour left to kill before the much-anticipated Cousiño-Macul tour, we detoured to a gigantic Chilean shopping mall en route, which was awesome in that we got some amazing ice cream, but also completely insane as it was two days before Christmas. Thankfully, we found parking and made it out just in time to arrive on time, as scheduled, at Cousiño-Macul, where… the gate guard insisted that we were not allowed to enter the winery as it was entirely closed due to inventory. What? But I have a reservation, you see? I showed a printout of the E-mail from the winery to the gate guard who just shrugged and said “no.” Luckily, another car had pulled up behind us and the driver offered us use of his cell phone, so I called the woman who had confirmed the tour; she put me on hold and when she came back online explained that she’d just called another of their wineries nearby, Viña Aquitania, and confirmed a visit to that winery instead. In the meantime, we had some excitement as the better part of a London plane tree had fallen to the ground a few feet away from the car, smashing into an impressive array of future toothpicks and narrowly missing the two of us stuck at the guard shack. Wow! Somewhat irritated but relieved that they’d come up with an alternative, we then turned the car around and left for Viña Aquitania, which was at least nearby.

However, our excitement was short-lived: Viña Aquitania might have been close by, but it was most definitely closed. We pulled up to the iron gates, waited a few minutes in vain for a guard to arrive, and… nothing. Grrrr. So we called it a day and drove back into town to park the car and chill out in the hotel room before dinner.

As Billy Bob Thornton once said in Bad Santa, “They can’t all be winners.” As a wine drinkin’, tourist kind of guy, I have to say that I was thoroughly disappointed by the time I got back to the hotel – until I remembered the wonderful guide at Undurraga and the amazing luck at seeing the Andean museum at Santa Rita, which more than made up for the ineptitude of the Cousiño-Macul staff.

Bonus: We ate the night before at Miguel Torres restaurant in Santiago; I don’t have much to say about it that it was a moderately awesome experience. Even though they were out of all of the wines I had wanted to try (e.g. Carignane blends) and out of every entrée and main I tried to order (I ended up with camarones al pil pil and a nearly inedible salty-as-hell octopus dish), the waitstaff were incredibly friendly and our bottle of reserve Carménère was delicious and a wonderful accompaniment to sitting outside and watching traffic flow by. It just goes to show you that service can make up for not having the wine you want or the food you want to eat in stock; if people are friendly enough, you can shrug it off and just go with the flow.

Next up: we drive south for a day to visit Altaïr, Montes, and Lapostolle.

2 thoughts on “Chile, day 1: Santa Rita, Concha y Toro, and Cousiño-Macul

  1. Hi Chris, I’m very disappointed about what happens to you with our winery Aquitania. If you had a reservation confirmed you should have came in or call us. The gate is always closed but not locked. You can open it from outside. We keep it like that for security purposes. Next Time please give us a call +56 2 7914500. If you still in Santiago We will love to receive you, we are just 20 minutes drive from the hotel area,just call us and make an appointment.

    • Hola Eduardo, glad to hear from you! The reservation was made absolutely last minute by Daniela from Cousiño-Macul – we may not have waited long enough at Aquitania and for that I do humbly apologize; she didn’t explain how to open the gate and I was frankly distracted by the tree falling down at Cousiño-Macul and the person behind me waiting to enter the winery. I would absolutely love to visit the next time I am in Santiago, but that may be many years – in the meantime, however, I noticed that you have vineyards down towards Angol (where I visited last week), so I am very much looking forward to trying SOLdeSOL and your other wines as time and opportunity permits.

      Thanks very much, and I hope you have a happy and prosperous New Year!



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