Saturday, January 9, 2010

Chile, Day 13

The colorful, charming beach at Quintay.

Today I headed out on a half-day tour that felt more like a full-day tour to me. But no complaints here. It was nice to drive through the Valparaiso region to see more of what it offers. A tour guide was supposed to pick me up at my hostel at around 10:30; luckily I was ready to go much earlier, as they arrived to collect me at 9:50. From there we picked up five other people: two from Ireland, one from France, one from Germany, and one from New Zealand. The guide was German but lived in Chile and spoke English fluently. We were quite the international van-load.

Before leaving, the hostel owner’s dog, Poopy, who had visited my room the night before to have her tummy scratched for ten minutes, left me a going-away present outside my door that seemed to explain her name. I sidestepped it, then continued on my merry way.

Does this look like the face of a dog that would poop outside my door?

The first place we visited was the William Coles winery, located in a town called Casablanca. Twenty years ago Casablanca was nothing more than dusty midpoint between Santiago and Valparaiso, and if it was known for anything more than that it was probably for having cattle farms. Now, however, every inch of cultivable land is devoted to vineyards, the vast majority of which are owned by foreign wine growers.

Near the entrance to William Cole Vineyards.

William Coles is originally from Denver, where I understand that he made quite a bundle as a dot-commer in the early 90s. He has vineyards in California and Chile, and in 2009 his Chilean-produced Sauvignon Blanc was voted the best in South America.

We started off our tour by stepping into the vineyard and learning about the grapes that are cultivated there. For me, the most interesting thing I learned was how two different types of grape vines can be grafted together to grow not hybrids but rather separate types of grapes. Apparently this protects the grapes from certain types of disease and also promotes vigor in growth if done properly.

Part of the vineyard itself.

Sauvignon Blanc grapes.

From the vineyard we proceeded into the “laboratory,” which is where the steel-vat science is carried out.

Modern and traditional: French oak barrels lined up in front of giant, steel wine vats.

After learning about how the grape stems are removed, the grapes are crushed and juiced, the 18- to 25-day wine-making process occurs, and then seeing the wooden casks in which the product is aged, followed by a glance at where the bottling is carried out, we went on to taste three bottles of wine.

A little wine at the end of our tour.

Call me unsophisticated if you like, but William Cole’s award-winning Sauvignon Blanc didn’t exactly move me. I found its aromas far more interesting than its taste, which was crisp and fruity but otherwise not that distinctive to my palate. The red wines, which included a chardonnay and a carmenere – which can be grown nowhere else but in Chile – were nice, but to be honest I preferred other South American wines that I’ve had on my trip thus far. Don’t get wrong: they were quite nice, but nothing I’d go out of my way for when so many other wineries offer such excellent products.

The tour was quite informative, and I enjoyed visiting the winery a lot. I was amazed at how cheap the wine could be purchased at the winery’s gift shop: prices ranged from 1200 pesos (~$2.40) to 2500 pesos (~$5).

William Cole Vineyards is located at Camino Tapihue, Km 4.5 in Casablanca, Chile. Reservations are highly recommended. Tel: 56-32-215-7777. Email: Web: Hours: Monday – Friday, 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.

From the winery we continued on to El Quisco, which is the location of Isla Negra, Pabla Neruda’s third house, and the one in which he lived until four days before his death in 1973 – shortly after the dictator Pinochet came into power.

The back of Isla Negra.

The side of Isla Negra, from the bottom of a hill.

Our guide here, who was not very good, told us that Isla Negra was his favorite house – something I heard from my guides at Neruda’s other two houses – and she herded us through the place in all of ten minutes. The tour, and the house itself, was disappointing. The entire place has been commercialized, and the feeling one gets passing through it is that Neruda’s foundation has made it all very tacky. Many people don’t wish to pay the 3500 peso (~$7) entrance fee and instead press up against the windows of the house to look inside, which is an odd thing to observe during a tour. Our tour guide said that every room except one, which contained Neruda’s seashell collection, looked exactly as it did when Neruda lived there. But I don’t believe this for a minute. I don’t believe he lived in a place set up to look like such a tacky museum, for example with a fake, gaudily painted train sitting in front of the entrance. Neruda and his third wife, Matilde, are buried in back of the house.

View of the ocean from the back of Isla Negra.

The grave of Pablo and Matilde.

Isla Negra is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day and costs 3500 pesos (~$7) for a guided tour in English. (Guides are mandatory if you wish to enter the house.) Reservations are required and can be made by calling 35-461-2844.

By this time it was nearly 3 p.m. and we hadn’t had lunch. All of us were famished and were hoping to grab a bite to eat at one of the restaurants in El Quisco. But the tour guide had other plans, and over the next 90 minutes, after seeing probably 100 restaurants along the side of the road, we arrived in the small fishing village of Quintay.

Quintay as seen from the restaurant where we had lunch.

Quintay from higher up a hill.

I recognized it immediately from Andrew Zimmern’s visit in an episode of Bizarre Foods, but rather than go out on a fishing boat for conger eel, as he did, we plopped ourselves down at Restaurant El Gato, which gave us a nice view of Quintay’s rocky, aquamarine cove. I ordered a plate of locos (“false abalones”) with assorted sides (7000 pesos, or ~$14), a dish I’d never heard of before.

Locos aren't the most appetizing-looking seafood in the world.

The locos were gray and almost intestinal-looking, and I was a little scared of them at first. They were topped with a kind of hollandaise-mayonnaise, and surrounded by cooked potatoes, a creamy yellow rice that somewhat resembled paella, and fresh salad. The locos turned out to be very dense, and one of the Irish women who ordered the same didn’t like the texture at all, but I had no problem with. In fact, I thought they were very good. The flavor was mild, and they reminded me of calamari, only less chewy. Because I was full after my meal I didn’t go for dessert, though two other people ordered mote con huesillo, which is a sweet drink made from boiled wheat, apricot juice, and two or three sun-dried apricots. I took a little taste and liked it. It was quite sweet, but also light.

A glass of mote con huesillo.

After lunch we had an hour to walk around the fishing village. There wasn’t a great deal to see other than a lighthouse and a small museum with black and white photos of whales that had been caught back when Quintay was a whaling port (whaling was banned here in 1967).

I got back to my hostel at a little past 8 p.m. I was so full I didn’t need dinner…

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1 comment:

  1. The William Coles vineyars sounds a s a good place to visit & the other views in your pictures are lovely!!

    A lovely day to enjoy,...except the pooh on your doorstep!