Return to Chile, Trip to Santa Cruz

I left Portland, ME, Friday morning on the 8:30 bus for Boston’s Logan Airport. My American flight departed at 1:30 for Miami. I had a six hour layover in Miami…long enough to have my first Mojito…a rum drink from Cuba and a dinner. My flight left at 11:30 PM for Santiago and I arrived right on time at 8:40 AM! I was at the hotel at 9:00 AM where I received a huge hug and kiss from David….ohhhh, it was so wonderful to see him again!!!

By 11:00AM, we were in a car with friends, Alan and Mary, heading south to Santa Cruz, Chile. It was a long holiday weekend…their Independence Day on Tuesday, Sept 18th and on Sept 19th, was a celebration of the military glories. So, the government gave everyone Monday off, as well.

Everyone was getting out of Santiago! What was supposed to be a 2 ½ hour drive, ended up being 5 ½ hours!!! It was bumper to bumper traffic the whole highway. Santa Cruz is a city of about 18,000 people in the Colchagua valley. Carlos Cardoen, the controversial arms merchant, is a resident of Santa Cruz and it is through his efforts, that the town has become a place of interest for tourist.

Once we arrived in Santa Cruz, we had just enough time to visit the Museo de Colchagua. It is the largest nonpublic museum in Chile and most of the displays are from Cardoen’s private collection. It was a beautiful museum full of pre-Columbian art, antique farm machinery and carriages and other historical items.
We stayed in the Hotel Santa Cruz Plaza which is owned by Cardoen. It was a lovely hotel with architecture much like the haciendas in the area. I loved the gold colored adobe walls, the tile on the stairways and the stain glass windows. Out the front door of the hotel, was the Plaza de Armas, the town square with a lovely fountain and clock tower.

Santa Cruz is located in an area rich with wineries. They have organized tours on the “Ruta de Vino”. We took one of these tours on Sunday, the day after we arrived. We visited three of these establishments. Our first stop was Vina Bisquertt. The Bisquertt family has been involved with agriculture and vineyards for the past 100 years. In 1975, Don Oslvado Bisquertt decided to create wine for export. Today, this winery exports to over 30 countries in the world.

The winery is located in a hacienda, with a beautiful open courtyard. Several of the rooms had family photographs and mementos from over the years. There was also a beautiful display of old carriages, one of which belonged to President Federico Echaurren (1896-1901). The most interesting room however was the room that they met buyers in. The room had a beautiful table and chairs, which were constructed from the wood of old wine vats that they no longer use. On the walls in this room were over 300 awards that they had won from throughout the world for their outstanding wine. After tasting a couple of their wines, be purchased their Merlot under the La Joya Reserve label.

The next winery was Vina Montgras. This winery is a new one that was established in 1992. It is known mostly for its red wines of which most are exported. Even though it is known for their red wines, we purchased their Chardonnay under the Montgras Reserva label.

Lunch was at our last winery, Vina Viu Manent. It was a lovely setting under a covered patio. For those who ate meat, there was grilled chicken, beef and pork. I was treated to a wonderful mushroom ravioli pasta dish….that will fondly be remembered as one of the best meals I have ever had!! We also had our choice of vegetables and breads on the buffet table. The wine that we enjoyed with our meal was Malbec.

For this tour, we were taken in a horse drawn carriage, through the vineyards, to the production area. Here on the tour, we were treated to taste of wine right from the vats! Today, they use stainless steel instead of the old wooden models. The stainless steel variety is easier to control the temperature and clean. Some of the vats had hoses hooked up to them that would dose the vats in water to cool them during the hot summer days. Also, some had coolant coils around the vats to also bring the temperature down if the wine got too warm.

All of the wineries were proud of their Carmenere wine. This wine was originally from France and due to a disease was wiped out. Years later, around 1993 or so, it was discovered that Chilean wine being sold as Merlot, was really Carmenere wine. Today, Chile is the only country that produces Carmenere wine.
Throughout the valley, I saw these beautiful large pots all around used as decoration. Some had plants in them, others were empty. I asked one of the tour guides what these were used for. In the past, these “tinajas” were used to transport the wine!

After the tour, we relaxed and then ventured to dinner at the restaurant PanPan VinoVino a couple of towns from Santa Cruz. This restaurant is in the former bakery that made bread for the whole valley. Our table was in the room with the old oven that was used to bake the bread. It was huge and took up one whole wall.

The history of the huaso is very rich in this area. The huaso, is the Chilean cowboy. They had wonderful outfits of short jackets, flat rimmed hats, and straight legged pants. Whenever I saw them on horseback, they had colorful ponchos. It is the huaso who introduced rodeo to Chile, which today, is a popular pastime.

Sunday, we left Santa Cruz. Before leaving, however, we had to stop at the park just on the outskirts of town and take a picture of the cross that was made out of wine barrels! That was a first for all of us!!!

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