Buying birthday/Christmas presents for loved ones is a highly stressful challenge for me. It torments me for weeks and even when I’ve eventually worked out what to get, I’m then fearful they might not like it. Unfortunately for me, it was my girlfriend Holly’s birthday just before our trip started, and she already had everything she needed, so I was drawing a blank. It was going to have to be an “experience” but then I started sweating over that – should it be something nice, something fun or something chilled? With Chile being our first stop, something wine-related seemed like the best idea. After hours of secretive research I came across Emiliana, an organic vineyard. As well as their award-winning wine, their methodology is unique in the area and sounded like a perfect day out.
Emiliana is only around an hour outside of Chile, with frequent buses heading in that direction. While there’s not an official bus stop, they’d informed me that if I let the bus driver know where we were going he’d be able to pull over and let us jump off. The woman at the bus station ticket office and the driver both confirmed this, so we set off without a care in the world. What my Google Maps sleuthing had taught me was that the vineyard was in the middle of nowhere, so it was just a case of looking out for familiar landscapes I’d seen so I could let the driver know when to stop. All was going to plan when I recognised the trail leading up to the vineyard and gave the bus driver a shout.
Despite him telling me it was all good, we sailed on down the motorway, with the vineyard fading further away behind us, and Holly’s levels of panic rising. A few minutes later he eventually pulled over…unfortunately, when you’re doing 60mph down the motorway it only takes a few minutes to be a long way away from where we wanted. We hopped off regardless because the other alternative was to stay on the bus to it’s final destination, at which point my carefully made plan would have been a write-off. There wasn’t much to see around us, just crop fields as far as the eye could see, with the last village we passed, Casablanca, about a 30 minute walk away along the side of the motorway in 32 degree heat. There were however, two policeman parked up a little bit further down the road, and surely they couldn’t have had any less of a clue what to do then we did.
Their opening remarks were along the lines of, “what the fuck are you doing here?”, before laughing at our predicament and feeling sorry for us. It turned out that they had a few minutes to spare and kindly offered to give us a lift back to the town we’d passed, where hopefully we’d be able to get a taxi. My nervous and panicking girlfriend and I climb in (being in the back of a police car in Chile is just as uncomfortable as any other police cars, and I would not recommend getting arrested), and we head off back down the motorway.
Not only were they extremely helpful, but they were also taking great joy in just how wrong my plan had gone. After sharing a few more stories, they then decided they had time to take us all the way to the vineyard, which led to a few slightly concerned looks from the staff at Emiliana when a police car rolled down their pathway. Following a very grateful hug goodbye, our saviours left us with a local expression: “where you have a Chilean, you have a friend“.
After waving our new friends off, we were given a tour of the vineyards. I personally have never been a fan of wine (it’s just grapes innit) but from the limited information available online, it seemed that Emiliana did things differently. Their ways of working are completely organic, meaning no chemicals are used to help the grapes grow, and there’s basically a small farm on the grounds. Chickens roam freely helping produce healthy soil and Emiliana’s beehive serves to pollinate the plants which form a natural protective wall for the grapes. Oh, and they also have other animals, which to be honest was one of the other reasons I opted to bring Holly to this place: alpacas!
Even for a non-wine drinker such as myself, it was fascinating to hear about the process. Emiliana is the largest organic vineyard in the world, aided by it’s unique microclimate and location (the mountains to the north and east, the ocean to the west, and Patagonia to the south), and sustainable methodology. The founders were also keen to ensure that those who ultimately built Emiliana’s success, the local farmers and labourers, share in the rewards and further understand the farming process. Each member of staff has designated land where they can freely grow their own crops to take home for their families or sell at local markets.
After the end of the tour it was time for the part I’d been dreading: the wine tasting. I’d never previously liked wine, much to the dismay of friends and family (one friend in particular was disgusted when I didn’t enjoy a very expensive glass of New Zealand wine during a tremendously boozy brunch). On the other hand, I’d arranged for the wine to be paired with cheese and chocolate, so I’d told myself that if it came to it, my love of cheese would be able to overpower my dislike of wine. To my surprise, I liked the wine. Even halfway through the first glass I was struggling to believe it and kept expecting the bitterness to hit me, like it had every time before. Four glasses and copious amounts of cheese later, I was enjoying myself, and very much looking forward to a nice picnic with more wine in Emiliana’s beautiful grounds.
Following a perfect afternoon of wine and food, we sauntered back down the side of the motorway to try and flag down a bus back to Santiago. The thing which took me most by surprise about Chile is that wherever you go there’s a view to admire, and even as we were making our way down the hard shoulder it’s impossible not to stop and admire the landscape.
After five buses zoomed past, the sixth pulled over for us, sparking elated scenes for Holly and I (the wine may have helped with that). The day had been a resounding success: she was happy, we’d ended up with some memorable stories, and I could finally relax again, birthday duties done for the year. I’ve still not drank wine since then though. I’m ending my wine-drinking career on that high!