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11.28.2009

Off to Chile to Taste Some Wine




I'm an incredibly lucky guy.

If you'd told me six years ago when I started dribbling out my thoughts on wine on some little web site I set up that one day people would want to fly me to foreign countries and pick up the tab just with the hopes that I'd write something about it, I'd have told you that you were nuts.

But here I go, off to Chile for a week of wandering and wine tasting. Hot damn.

Increasingly, I get asked to go on a lot of these kinds of wine trips. Unfortunately, I can't accept most of them. Many are offered by individual wineries or wine companies, and I don't feel comfortable taking such trips for the inherent conflict of interest they pose. My pesky day job and need to pay the bills rule out most of the others.

On occasion, however, the right combination of sponsor and timing coincide, and I get the chance to jet off somewhere in the world and pretend, just for a few days, that I actually write about wine for a living.

The folks at Wines of Chile have been trying to get me down to Chile for almost two years. I was originally scheduled to head down last January to be a judge at the annual Chilean wine competition, but my schedule got fouled up and so my trip today is a bit of a second chance.

I'll be spending 7 days traveling through Chile's central and northern wine regions of Casablanca, San Antonio, Cachapoal, Maipo, Colchagua, and a brief stop in Aconcagua. Sadly I won't make it down to Bio Bio which was high on my list. Barring the lack of connectivity in the Andes, I'll be blogging along the way, so look for updates as I go.

I'll have several nights in Santiago, and plan on checking out the food scene there, so if anyone has suggestions on not-to-be-missed restaurants I'd appreciate them. My shortlist includes: Astrid y Gaston, Puerto Fuy, Akarana, Miraolas, and Rai.

Hasta a la mañana.



Comments (30)

Loren wrote:
11.28.09 at 3:06 PM

What an awesome opportunity. Just out of curiousity, what of the inviter determines whether it is or is not a conflict of interest?

Alder wrote:
11.28.09 at 3:32 PM

Loren,

I'm only comfortable accepting "hospitality" from organizations that represent an entire country or appellation. Individual producers, wine companies, etc. pose a conflict of interest for me, as there could be a perception by the reader of "influence" if I were to review their wines favorably after, say, being flown to South Africa business class and put up in a five star hotel.

Regional boards or marketing associations like Wines of Chile are often funded by the government, and have no financial interest in any specific winery meaning that I have no incentive to give a specific wine a higher rating as a result of their hospitality.

For the record, I don't think my reviews WOULD be influenced by getting a free night at a hotel, but I'm wary enough of my own psychology and the power of appearances to want to steer clear.

That's just my particular ethical line in the sand. Like with samples, I always disclose when I'm off traipsing about on someone else's dime, so readers can make their own judgments about my writing.

Scala wrote:
11.28.09 at 8:16 PM

When in Colchagua, if you're looking for a recommendation of a small family winery that focuses on blends, I suggest you stop by Estampa in Santa Cruz. Their red blends are really amazing. And treat yourself to a meal at the Santa Cruz Hotel, you won't be disappointed. While it's not wine, the hotel makes their own spirits, and by my recollection, they are/were amazing.

Dean Tudor wrote:
11.29.09 at 4:47 PM

It is interesting that it is Chile...In the early 1990s, a wine writer from Alberta Canada accepted such a trip to Chile. When he returned, he wrote some disparaging remarks (rightly so) about SOME Chilean wines. The Chilean Trade Commission in Canada complained to the paper, and the paper printed an apology and tossed him off the wine column. He was banished to a "drinks" column, and then left (for whatever reason or why) the paper after four or five months.

I'm a wine writer, and on general principle, I accept NO trips whatsoever. They can be messy cans of worms.

I know lots of other stories too, but I cannot confirm them in writing as I can the Alberta story.

Best to avoid them all...

Chris wrote:
11.29.09 at 4:53 PM

Hey Alder,
I'm in Chile right now working on our blends.
I used to be the chef for the owner of Akarana. Tell Dell I said Hi if you get there.
Be sure to try a Pisco Sour, Pebre, the butter and Goat Cheese, Locos and an empanada.
The Vega, across from the Mercado Central is impressive and one of a kind.
Have a great trip. When do you arrive?
I'm back to Singapore in a few days. We have mutual friends coming to Santiago in the near future.
All the best!
Chris

Alder wrote:
11.29.09 at 5:40 PM

Good thing is, I can never be fired.

Jason wrote:
11.29.09 at 11:09 PM

Alder,
If you get the chance, stop by the Koyle Winery and meet Cristobal Undurraga. He is a passionate wine maker with some really nice wines. The family wine business dates back to the 1880's. Have a great trip.

Cristian wrote:
11.30.09 at 12:49 AM

Alder,

As for restaurants in Santiago (with good wine lists too), I would add Emilio, Baco, Opera and any of the premium grills (Ox, Tierranoble or Cuerovaca).

Wines not to miss are Domus Aurea, Neyen, anything from De Martino, Lien Maquis, Carmín de Peumo. I'm not fogetting Almaviva, Clos Apalta and Montes but they are well known already. Kingston in Casablanca produces wonderful cold climate syrah, too.

I live in Chile but am traveling this week and next, othwerwise I would have gladly helped.

Enjoy and drink up!

Cristian

11.30.09 at 4:17 AM

Alder
Sounds like a fantastic trip. And I agree with your conflict of interests comments. Sounds as though you are doing the correct thing. At the end of the day you can write what you want and maintain your impartiality.
Francois Lurton is amking some very interesting wines in Chile...worth looking him up.
Cheers
Hamish

Simona wrote:
11.30.09 at 10:34 AM

Lucky you! Have a nice trip and enjoy Chile!
ciao
Simona

tom hyland wrote:
11.30.09 at 10:35 AM

Alder:

I'm sure you'll have a great time in Chile. I've made three trips there, with one of the trips organized by Wines of Chile, which was great.

So many outstanding Cabernet Sauvignons and Bordeaux blends in the Alto Maipo- the Casa Real from Santa Rita and the Gold Label Cabernet Sauvignon from Carmen to name only two.

Also, as you wrote that you are also visiting San Antonio, I would imagine that Casa Marin will be one of the estates you will enjoy. This is one of Chile's - and the wine industry's - great stories. Owner Maria Luz Marin is tireless in her pursuit of perfection. Her Sauvignon Blancs are amazing!

I don't know many restaurants in Santiago, but I think you'll be amazed at how good the winery restaurants are in the Casablanca Valley. My favorites there are at the House of Morandé and Tanino Restaurant at Casas del Bosque.

hectort wrote:
11.30.09 at 1:15 PM

In Santiago go to La Mar, my favorite restaurant in the city, which is a Peruvian ceviohería and ask for ceviche, tiraditos and octopuss,and you must have a pisco sour.

Another one good, noisy and fun, is Liguria in Providencia.
Sushi is great in Santiago too, since the quality of fish and seafood is superb.

Joe Dressner wrote:
11.30.09 at 3:56 PM

The Wines of Chile promotes 76 member wineries who are among the largest players in Chile.

I hope you ask the tour organizers if you can see some of the newer, independent growers who might be doing interesting things. Unfortunately, they are not part of the larger promotional group who is paying for your trip.

But perhaps they can organize some side trips so that you learn more about more "marginal" wineries.

There is a nice web site you might want to check out:

http://www.movi.cl/chilean-independent-wineries/

Some of the pages are in English

Alder wrote:
11.30.09 at 7:20 PM

Joe,

Yes, that is definitely the downside of such trips (as well as these marketing organizations). As you know such organizations get some or all of their funding from membership. For many small wineries, the cost of membership is prohibitively expensive, not to mention the fact that some of them may not subscribe to being part of such an organization.

I'm sure I'm missing some interesting projects, both big and small on this trip, as I do with every initial trip I make to a wine region. Just too many places/people to see and far too little time. Not to mention the fact that Chile is a really damn big place.

Thanks for the link.

Mark wrote:
12.01.09 at 7:05 AM

Have a good trip Alder. As I've found out, this world of wine is a pretty unique place. Chile makes some outstanding wine, much of which we don't have access to here in the USA because they drink their best stuff domestically.

Have a great trip!

Max Morales wrote:
12.01.09 at 2:19 PM

I hope you have a great experience in Chile.

Max Morales

12.01.09 at 3:15 PM

Alder

Are you really trying to feed people this stuff?
"I'm only comfortable accepting "hospitality" from organizations that represent an entire country or appellation. Individual producers, wine companies, etc. pose a conflict of interest for me, as there could be a perception by the reader of "influence" if I were to review their wines favorably after, say, being flown to South Africa business class and put up in a five star hotel."

Seriously, Wines of Chile has paid for your trip. That is fine, disclose and move on. But to try to tell us that it is any different than just one winery paying for your trip is just, well, do I really need to say it?

76 wineries paid for your trip, instead of just 1.

Great.

Alder wrote:
12.01.09 at 8:11 PM

Daniel,

76 wineries and the government of Chile. And I see that as VERY different that one winery. Especially since those 76 represent 95% of all the wine exported from Chile.

And no, I'm not feeding anyone anything. You walked into this restaurant, you can turn around and walk back out if you don't like what's being served.

In case you hadn't noticed, I'm just being clear that I'm on a trip paid for by someone else. That's called disclosure. Feel free to disagree with my rationale for going, but don't give me shit about writing it.

Alder

Joe Dressner wrote:
12.01.09 at 9:27 PM

Alder:

Your figure of 95% of exports is off. According to the Wines of Chile's website:

"Wines of Chile’s 76 member wineries belong to Vinos de Chile and represent 85% of Chile’s bottled wine exports."

I don't know the exact numbers, but 15% of Chile's exports to the USA has to be a sizable number. Have you made any journalist inquiries into why these 15% are not part of the larger trade association.

I'd also be curious to know if there is a group of smaller wineries who do not export at all. There also might be some gems in this group, even though they don't fit into the final export numbers.

As someone participating in this trip and being financed by the sponsors, it would be great for you to give us some more details.

I import French and Italian wines. Optimistically, 85% of French and Italian wines are wines I would find industrial, uninteresting and simply not worth the trouble. Maybe 2 or 3% are something I enjoy drinking and sharing with family and friends. Maybe.

But I certainly hope that your trip to Chile is not limited to what sells well and can be broadened out to the undiscovered and unknown. That would make an interesting journalistic venture.

Have a fun trip,

Joe Dressner

12.02.09 at 6:34 AM

Alder,

I am not "giving you shit" about disclosing your trip. I am glad you are. All bloggers/wine critics should disclose each one of their paid/subsidized trip.

I question your justification of the trip, which, I personally find unnecessary. No matter what kind of paint brush you use for your strokes, the trip is paid for by 76 wineries in Chile. You will not be stepping away from those wineries, just as Jay Miller did not step away from those wineries when Wines of Chile "overfed" him down there.

I am not putting you in the same category as Jay, as he works for the Wine Advocate, and reviews wines in a certain fashion, according to Page 1 of the WA.

You, OTOH, are a blogger, and do not move markets nearly as much asthe WA, yet. Take all of the junkets that you would like. Maybe Joe D. will invite you to his great portfolio of France. Who knows?

But, please do not justify that this trip is any different than a few wineries taking you down to Chile directly. You have an itinerary and Wines of Chile has an agenda.

Say hello to Leslie Sbrocco, as well.

Later.

Alder wrote:
12.02.09 at 4:18 PM

Daniel, Joe,

FYI - 80% of the wineries I am visiting, I specifically requested to visit.

I have also tasted, and will continue to taste throughout the week, wine from several wineries that are not members of Wines of Chile (including, BTW, several of the MOVI group you mentioned Joe).

Alder

12.02.09 at 4:48 PM

Alder,
Prepare to have your mind blown away with what's going on in Chile these days. I did some consulting at a winery in the San Antonio Valley a few years ago and was absolutely gobsmacked by the experience. I look forward to reading about your travels.

Mark wrote:
12.03.09 at 8:01 AM

Alder,
After six long years of honest hard work on your site, I can't believe some of the shit that you're getting for taking a trip that you will undoubtedly share with readers in the same "unbiased" manner as anything else that you've written about over the years. Enjoy the vino, fine food and culture my friend -You've earned it!

12.03.09 at 8:07 AM

Shocking, indeed, Mark!

I suppose the Napa Valley Vintners, Wines of Chile, Wines of Argentina, Wines of Australia, Wines of Spain, Wines of Portugal, etc etc etc have no alterior motives to invite bloggers on these junkets.

I, for one, have no problem with the trip. I do have a problem with this comment...

"I'm only comfortable accepting "hospitality" from organizations that represent an entire country or appellation. Individual producers, wine companies, etc. pose a conflict of interest for me, as there could be a perception by the reader of "influence" if I were to review their wines favorably after, say, being flown to South Africa business class and put up in a five star hotel."

Wines of Chile, is NOT funded by the government, despite Alder's inference that it is. It is funded by wineries in Chile.

In fact, none of the aforementioned groups that I have named, are funded by the governments of those countries, as far as I can tell.

Mark wrote:
12.03.09 at 12:20 PM

C'mon Daniel you're beating this thing like a tired drum. Sure, all of these organizations have an agenda. But they're also well aware that a guy such as Alder is not going to just say "Everything was so great..." just because of the opportunity that has been given to him. He'll express the good, the bad and the ugly based on his own personal experience just like any other post that he's done that was either self-funded or not. Do you honestly think that a free trip is going make him write something that is disingenuous?

Enobytes wrote:
12.03.09 at 5:10 PM

Alder,

I'm so envious! I've always wanted to go to Chile. I'll make it there one of these days. If you have time, (you might already have them on your list) check out Casa Lapostolle, Viña Almaviva, Viña Montes, Viña Quebrada de Macul, Seña, Antiyal, Viñedo Chadwick, Viña Quebrada de Macul (just to name a few!) Have a great trip. ~Pamela

Alder wrote:
12.04.09 at 7:10 PM

Daniel,

In point of fact, Wines of Chile gets 50% of their funding from the government and trips such as the one I am on are split 50/50 with the government as well.

Not sure where you're getting your information from.

Alder

Georgia wrote:
12.07.09 at 2:37 PM

How exciting. Look forward to your Chile posts.

Carlo wrote:
11.02.11 at 4:36 PM

BTW:
The immediate challenge facing Letelier is the need to increase revenue for the organisation. Thus far, the body has survived on funding from its members – 86 Chilean wineries – and in order to raise more cash Letelier is turning his focus to the rest of the supply chain. “We need to discuss how to get all of the value chain – from the grape growers to the dry goods suppliers – involved in WOC. This is a big challenge but necessary if we are to increase finance.”

skzejvnth wrote:
09.27.12 at 3:08 AM

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