Christmas, South American Style
By Dianne Boate and Robert Meyer
A very different wine adventure at
We went to Chile in 1998 as the Iraq invasion was happening and
people were demonstrating on the streets of Santiago about former
leader Pinochet. We had been invited to a special wedding
anniversary in Vina Del Mar, so we used this as a springboard to
visit the country, check out the wine regions of Chile, and see for
ourselves what South America was like. Dianne wants you to know that
all of her life there was some kind of secret fear about South
America. Who knows why, maybe too many newspaper stories, maybe not
knowing very many people from South America; so this boils down to a
dread based on lack of information, but the fear was there.
We started out our trip as artists with a blank canvas and here is
how it was filled in.
About The Countryside
From my journal
.....you could say that going to Chile in December is how to get two
summer vacations in one year. Such a feeling of unreality about
going. I do not have a concept of Chile visually, culturally, or
emotionally but I’ll bet all that changes in three weeks’ time,
maybe by tomorrow. Finally airborne. O World, if you could see us
now, collapsing in our seats, awaiting our first sips of champagne
and orange juice. Old Silver Hair Silver Tongue has done it again.
And the champagne is Grand Dame. Hold the orange juice.
.....been here nine hours and never have felt so
welcome in a strange land. Smiling faces, extreme courtesy and
warmth of welcome amazing. Fear begone!
.....first impression of Santiago: large
boulevards lined with trees following the river that bisects the
city. The surreal silent presence of the Andes, a backdrop framing
the staggered rows of highrise buildings that go in the direction of
the meandering river.
Some Spanish quickly learned: ahora, now;
peligroso, dangerous; claro, understood; correcto, right! feliz
viaje, good trip; no entiendo, don’t understand. A French winemaker
at the first winery stop told us he cannot always remember the
accent marks for Spanish. His solution was to always write Spanish
in capital letters for which the accent marks are not required.
......buses, buses: yellow, green, blue, and now I know why they
have curtains—to hide from the hot sun. The yellow buses are the
most dangerous. First, they are privately owned and drivers are not
paid well. Income depends on amounts of passengers so they are
always racing each other down the boulevards, getting into
accidents.....the only rest I got yesterday in the car lasted about
3 minutes. Big commotion on the road. Buses, lorries, taxis, cars
all took a dive down a 4- degree grade to a Class Z frontage road.
The minute an accident had caused a blockage, everybody bailed out,
including us. Only problem was a yellow bus six times our size who
wanted to be where we were. We won.
Getting to the Wine Country
A lot of arrangements were made ahead to visit wineries. We found
ourselves heading south many times for the Rancagua Valley
(pronounced ron-kow-wa) where major wineries are located, a 3-hour
trip each way! This was hard, but the road was very entertaining.
.....bougainvillea, geraniums, roses, apricot orchards, hay fields.
Weeping willow trees, mountains on mountains in the background.
Donkey and cart; two donkeys pulling car; man pulling cart. Delmonte,
Chiquita, Dole fruit processing plants - enormous! Apple orchards on
one side, vineyards on the other. Fruit stands, many specializing in
sandias - watermelons. Fields of sunflowers, prune orchards, fields
of onions, corn and more weeping willows. Thick clumps of thistles,
“Cheek to Cheek Motel,” “ Toi et Moi Motel.” A dead horse. Another.
Avocado trees, cactus, four o’clocks. Buildings of all sorts and
dimensions, including small haciendas, wedged in, in no order. It
was charming to see even the poorest looking place with its little
garden and veranda.
The wine hospitality in Chile is equal to the
finest anywhere in the wine countries of the world. There were some
private luncheons with wonderful wines, delicious foods (steamed
turkey!), and interesting people. One day we were in a van with a
wine importer from Finland. He was traveling with his three young
adult-aged children, and told me, “When I come home after a hard day
at work in Finland, and don’t feel like cooking, I boil White Rose
type of potato and put good olive oil and parmesan cheese on them.”
Of the wine, Robert Meyer says, “The main reason
for the popularity of Chilean wines is price vs. quality. Many
California and French wineries went to Chile for joint ventures or
to start wineries on their own. Some of these worked and some
didn’t, mostly because of marketing strategy. In the past few years,
many of the older wineries have developed premium wines in the
$50-$60 range. They have been able to get their price due to their
Right in Santiago are some very old wineries (oh
God, not another 3-hour ride!) that started about the time of our
own California Gold Rush. Some of the buildings, brick and colonial
in style, are still in use, but subject to something we know well:
Earthquakes. Douglas Murray, a third-generation Chilean of Scottish
decent, whose wine is the award-winning Montes Alpha M (first
premium $60 wine from 150-year-old vines), told us, “The sad thing
is that the city of Santiago was built on the best vineyard in South
The Chilean National Outdoor Christmas Tree Decoration is enormous
red ribbon bows edged in gold, with clusters of gold balls and gold
beads......downtown Santiago on December 24: Cars rolling along,
people spilling out from sidewalks onto street in great numbers with
no regards to traffic or stoplights, many carrying presents and
Christmas paper, everybody on the move. Eleven days to home.
We headed out that day for the coast - Valpariso
and Vina Del Mar..... our Christmas dinner on December 25 was in the
bright sunshine at a restaurant on the beach with the Pacific Ocean
roaring away. Ordered sea bass and albacore, plates heaped with
French fries. Generously poured on contents of two bottles on table
- fresh lemon juice and chili pepper flavored olive oil. There was a
family of a father and two grown daughters at next table. They saw
us looking at their food and began passing over samples with
friendly smiles and Spanish not entirely understood. Fish soup and a
gratinee of crab. Robert was taken up with the Christmas Spirit and
asked them if some California wine would be to their liking - he
went to the car and got the wine, charming the Chileans, all of this
to the amusement of a whole table of Swedish people who were getting
drunk on their own, talking louder and louder in English,, but not
to us. No wine for you, amigos.
Also on this trip, we drove more north on the
coast to La Serena, east over the Andes on our own, to Mendosa,
Argentina (a major wine region) and south for a 10-hour spin down to
the volcano area where the German farmer families that settled 150
years ago are still thriving. Wearily we arrived back in California
to be picked up by good friend Bill, on his trusty steed, Volvo.
Happy Holidays, Bob and Dianne, very happy to be home this year.