Saturday, December 14, 2013

A 24-Hour Drought in Chile? Plus, My Own Personal Wine Lodge

Chile, like California, often experiences drought – it’s a wet-winter, dry-summer Mediterranean climate and, at the moment, summer is fast approaching. Right now, on the outskirts of Talca, it’s 86° F with 27 percent humidity, the kind of weather that often calls for a cold beer (though I’m not much of beer drinker).
Still, just a few minutes ago, at 8 pm Santiago time, Chile officially became a dry country. On election day – the country chooses tomorrow between former president Michelle Bachelet and the weak conservative candidate Evelyn Matthei – there is a de jure 24-hour period of prohibition during which you cannot sell or purchase alcohol (though that doesn’t mean you can’t stock up before 8 pm).

I think I understand the reasoning behind this – in principle, a sober electorate should make a better choice, but that’s open to question. Having witnessed the results of last November’s US congressional elections, I'm tempted to suggest that alcohol consumption should perhaps be obligatory, especially in so-called “red states” (which, however, may not have been sober anyway). Meanwhile, as zero-hour approached, I was enjoying a pisco sour (like the one above) at Casa Chueca.
Last night, though, prohibition was not a problem. For the first and probably only night in my life, I had a 13-bedroom winery guesthouse all to myself, at the Maule valley headquarters of Viñedos Julio Bouchon. At Mingre, about 30 km inland from the coastal city of Constitucion, it's a sprawling colonial casona with Francophile furnishings, two internal patios, citrus trees, olive trees, and even a rustically styled hot tub outside.
I was working, of course, and got a tour of the modern winery facilities, whose maceration and storage tanks stand in the open air, rather than in a building, but shaded by tarps. It produces the usual Chilean varietals, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc in several different lines. It didn’t surprise me to hear that 90 percent of their production goes for export – that’s not unusual in Chilean wineries – but I was rather shocked to learn that 70 percent of those exports go to Russia. It’s only now breaking into the US market, through Sausalito-based Vine Connections.

On a warm afternoon, before falling asleep in a comfortable room to nearly total silence, I indulged myself in several glasses of an excellent Sauvignon Blanc from their Mercedes line – not their top, apparently, but still outstanding – to accompany a dinner of gnocchi and pesto. I also took away a bottle of Carmenere that I’m looking forward to. The Mingre line (pictured below) is another step up, but I can't imagine it's that much better.

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