The Devil in the Cellar: a winery visit in Chile

dark wine grapes in a winery in Chile

More than 40 cars are parked in lines in the visitor parking area. “Tour parking,“ states the sign at the entrance of the Concha y Toro winery in Chile. These visitors are all here for the wine tasting? With their cars?

The wine vision of Don Melchor Concha y Toro

Our guide Carlos starts with a summary of the company’s history: In 1883, Don Melchor Concha y Toro imported the first vines from Europe. By that time he had already spent 10 years in Chile to prepare the soil and to oversee the building of the 30-room mansion. Today the villa has been restored to its original condition and is used mainly for company events: Concha y Toro has meanwhile grown from a family business to a major enterprise on the stock market. Several visitor groups are circling the premises.

The wine tasting takes place at a long wooden counter in the courtyard of the purpose-built visitor centre. The first wine, a Sauvignon Blanc, has tears running down the side of the glass, and it not only smells but also tastes like grapefruit juice. An elderly American with a pouch and varicose pale legs sticking out of his pale shorts empties his glass into the lawn with an inconspicuous swirl of the wrist.

grapes and roses in a Chile winery

The climate and the soil of the Maipo Valley are perfect for Cabernet Sauvignon, explains Carlos between the neat rows of vine hanging with dark blue grapes. “For most grapes, the soil is a disaster: not enough water and no nutriments. But Cabernet Sauvignon likes stress. Just as street kids get stronger with every fight,“ he elaborates. Since Chile is free of grape phylloxera and mildew, in most cases natural weed control is sufficient. At the end of every row of vines, a rose bush has been planted. Conveniently, roses are susceptible for the same pests as wine. Winegrowers therefore use them as an early indicator for the occasional need to use chemical pesticides.

Advantages of a winery in Chile

Back at the wine tasting counter, Carlos offers us a Carmenere, a grape variety that has vanished from Europe with the phylloxera plague in 1867. The Carmenere has a deep red colour and tastes vaguely like Hanuta hazelnut wafers. “Nutty flavour,“ confirms Carlos and recommends serving it with pasta and red meat. “But it’s not enough just to think about the food accompanying the wine,“ he urges us. “Consider also the people who will drink it!“ Thin or fat? Blonde or brunette? “For every person there is a perfect wine“ he philosophises. “You, for example –“ He points to a slender woman with mahogany bob. “You should drink Merlot!“ “No Carmenere for you,“ rejoices her friend and attempts to seize her glass.

Holding the Carmenere we descend into the 50 year-old wine cellars. Here, the temperature is kept at a constant 11 Celsius, and the humidity is around 95%. Between the rows of wooden barrels, Carlos gets enthusiastic.

The barrels are made either from American or French oak and burned out on the inside to enable the wine to take on the wood’s aroma. After five years of use, they are discarded or sold to pisco distilleries. „Do not get me wrong! I have nothing against American barrels – they are square and solid and they do their job! But the French barrels are a dream, you never know where they move!,“ he raves.

Let’s visit the devil in the wine cellar!

cellars of Concha y Toro winery: image of the devil for visitors

The best wines are kept in the Casillero del Diabolo, in the „Devil’s Cellar.“ The name is intended. Back in the 1880s, Don Melchor had invented the legend about the devil in his wine cellar to protect his exceptionally good wines form theft.

Today nobody believes that the devil hides in the cellar – but perhaps in the details: the label Casillero del Diablo at least sells well. And the devil, of course, still lives on in the cellar. For the winery’s visitors at least.

„Until 6 months ago the last wine of the tasting tour was a glass of Don Melchor, our premium wine,“ Carlos admits while pouring us a Marques Cabernet Sauvignon.

„Now we have more than 500 visitors per day.“

The Marques sits rich on the palate and then rolls off with a velvety finish. While our fellow wine tasters stroll to the car park, we sit in the sunny courtyard and contemplate. Should we conclude the Chile winery visit with a „Don Melchor Wine Tasting“? Without a car we can easily try three different vintages in the Concha y Toro Wine bar.

NB: Our winery visit in Chile was not sponsored in any way. We paid all expenses ourselves.

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