There are moments in life where fantasy and reality blend so seamlessly it's hard to distinguish them, and our day at the Lapostolle winery was one such occasion. The winery, tucked into a a western corner of the Colchagua Valley is a structure mostly hidden underground, the visible part resembling a modern stylized birds nest perched above its vineyards as the only hint of the massive architectural gem hidden several stories beneath the earth.
Driving up a dirt road from the imposing gate at the front, we wound our way amongst the vines, all heavy with dark berries and almost ready for harvest. Upon parking, we quickly realized that we were almost an hour early for our appointment. However, we were greeted warmly and told that they could easily accommodate us with just a short wait since our guide Andrea was not yet there. We amused ourselves by wandering around their rooftop herb garden busily burying our noses in mint, sage and lavender while admiring flowers and taking in the breathtaking panorama below us. The valley was a patchwork assortment of hues, from scarlet leaves to turquoise waters. Shades of green filled the spaces in between and completed the fairy tale vista.
Once Andrea arrived, we learned that she was one of the winemakers and had taken some time out of her busy harvest schedule to show us around the twenty year old winery. Not only are the surrounding grounds a feast for the eyes, but the architecture of the building itself is stunning. From the cavernous fermentation room, to the sanctuary like barrel aging rooms, there was a feeling of reverence that increased with every level we descended deeper underground. There's a spiral staircase reminiscent of a slim seashell that connects the levels allowing natural light to filter down, highlighting the curves of the vortex, causing your eyes to follow its path. A Foucault pendulum holds a place of honor in the suns spotlight, it's taut wire descending from the top, evidence of its movement etched in the sand beneath its tip.
The lowest floor of the main building features a wall of rough granite, exposed during the excavation of the winery. Deciding to incorporate the heritage of the site into the structure, they had the excess granite made into tiles which floors multiple areas within. It was a wonderful way to see waste reduced and reintegrated into the site. It is a philosophy of caring we saw repeated in various aspects of the winery, from the organic grapes they grow to the dry land farming practices they uphold. Taking care of the land and respecting it seems to be a top priority here.
The raw granite walls continued in their private two story wine cellar where the Marnier-Lapostolle family keeps samples of all of their past vintages and gifts from other winemakers and friends. If the rest of the winery felt like a sanctuary, this is the inner sanctum. With its entrance camouflaged beneath a glass topped tasting table in the center of the second year barrel room it was quite a surprise when Andrea lifted the glass to reveal the hidden staircase. Below, thousands of bottles were bathed in dim blue light and water trickled down the bare faced rock. The mystical feeling here is palpable and we spoke in whispers while exploring in awe.
There is an eye for detail here that is apparent in everything from the hand laid curved wooden ceilings, to the individual spotlights highlighting each barrel. Everything is precisely arranged just so to maximize the effect of the building and design on you, and it works. We were completely giddy by the end of our in depth tour, and Andrea's wealth of knowledge was a perfect complement for our star dazed selves. By the time she mentioned the tasting portion we were already punch drunk, ready to sit down and begin processing everything we were learning. We were led back outside and past a striking sundial we had noticed earlier, Andrea showed us how as opposed to telling time, it tells the cycles of the vines.
Our tasting occurred in the main lodge, where the hotel guests dine and can relax I front of the massive fireplace on cooler days. Upstairs seated in a sunny room, I as thankful we got to do the tasting here as opposed to underground in the aging room. The room had floor to ceiling windows, I was thrilled to be looking out at the view once again. Once seated we noticed that we each received a folder with personalized tasting sheets, a gorgeous map of Chile's wine regions and information on each wine we were to taste.
As soon as the tasting concluded we were treated to a decadent three course lunch, beginning with canapés on the patio in the sun. We had a Serrano ham wrapped prune, smoked salmon croquet and a cheese and chive empanadita while basking in the warmth, giggling at the fact that we were staying in a budget hostel in Santiago while living it up at this extraordinary Relais and Chateaux property. We have a running joke about our "fancy" outfits. Since we are traveling so light, we really only have one outfit each that looks somewhat presentable for more formal occasions and this was one such opportunity.
Feeling posh and with high spirits, we soon were whisked inside to begin our official menu. We began with a carrot and ginger cream soup adorned with shrimp on a rosemary skewer. The delightful flavors melded together in a perfect expression of falls first embrace. Our next course was an anis and salt crusted Angus loin, my first red meat in over a month and I'm glad that I held out for this. Perfectly tender and served with stewed wheat and various root vegetables from the garden, it was the perfect cheat to my primarily vegetarian focused diet. There is not only an herb garden here, but a full vegetable garden that supplies many of the kitchens ingredients. The intensity of the flavors and brilliant flowers garnishing spoke to this fact. Dessert was a warm, crispy apple and fig tart with Gran Marnier (surprise!) homemade ice cream and blueberry sauce.
Unwilling to begin thinking about driving home yet, we took our last glass of wine and sat on a patio upstairs. Reclining like cats in the sun, we couldn't believe our incredible fortune at being able to visit this little slice of heaven as we sat and reviewed the charming afternoon. There's something truly unique and memorable about being treated to this kind of service. It allows you to relax and not worry about what comes next, since you know that the team taking care of you has every detail covered. This is something we learned to appreciate during our time spent working at Quince Restaurant, and being able to travel and find the same feeling around the world reminds us why we are interested in the service industry in the first place.
A huge thank you to Andrea and everyone at Lapostolle for creating such a lovely experience for us, it was wonderful to feel like family at your winery and we hope to one day come back and say hello.