On my sister and brother-in-law's (hereafter to be known as the SIL and BIL) last day with us here in Santiago, my mother-in-law planned a day trip to a local winery, with a tour, and a walk around the estate, and lunch. My father and brother in law are rather into wines. They adore visiting wineries - touring the cellars, looking out over the vines and spending an enjoyable hour or two propping up a bar in a tasting room, engaged in the absorbing ritual of comparing vintage and grape and, eventually, emerging with a bottle or two of the very best.
The place sure looks good. Assembling in the lee of an adobe wall, just inside a pair of enormous iron gates, we were led through a garden and up to the spreading classical frontage of a mansion that had belonged to the 19th Century founders of the winery (Someone knew his Palladio). Our guide spread his arms wide to embrace the luverly parks that stretched off toward the horizon and invited us to take pictures. (But Mr Tabubil was told off for putting one foot into said lovely park to take said picture at a slightly better angle than what was offered up officially.)
Lawn and lake and green forested groves beckoned invitingly, but we were shunted sideways and circled through a pretty little display vineyard. We weren't allowed near the winery's working vineyards, but in this little garden there was every sort of grape and vine that was growing out in the fields, and our guide peppered it with one of those exquisite sort of half-information spiels that lets you know what sort of research you need to do later find out about what was actually going on.
Semi-enlightened, were herded up onto a shaded terrazzo and served a 2011 chardonnay.
We were invited to tilt the glass to examine the "wine's charrrracteristic colorrrrr." (The guide rolled his rr's richly.) Then, at the guide's instruction, we sniffed, and sipped, and rolled the wine about our mouths and thought deeply about the flavors -
I tasted citrus. I tasted apple. I tasted - mustiness?
I looked around and all of us in our little party were looking at our glasses with deep distaste.
I passed around the breath mints.
From the terrazzo we were shepherded into a shed full of barrels and marched down a flight of stairs into a genuine cellar. With real brick arches and proper cold cellar-damp and everything.
This was where the winery's "Internationally Famous Casillero de Diablo label" ™ was aged. "Do You know where the devil in the name comes from?" The guide asked us, and then he scarpered out the door, turned out the lights and turned on a PA system and a rich, fruity disembodied voice in the darkness told us a ghost story so deeply, spectacularly, anemically anticlimactic, that when the lights came back on, we were all goggle eyed and prone to random manic giggles.
And we were marched back out of the cellar, led up another flight of stairs and the whole rigmarole with the wine was repeated with another glass of terrible plonk - but red this time and served out of a bottle that some genius in marketing had had the brass to slap a Gran Reserva label onto.
And that was it.
But this time we were encouraged to keep the glass as an exciting ™ memento of our tour. Golly.
Our entire day-trip experience, which we had been led to believe involved a real wine-tasting and a tour of the wine-producing process - consisted of a forced march through a garden, a quick pass through a cellar, and being fed two of last years failed wines that one imagines they couldn't get away with selling in their shops.But what a shop! It was nothing more nor less than a temple to a brand. Every imaginable object you could imagine slapping the house label onto was being sold, from t-shirts to chefs hats to cigarette lighters to golf balls. And wine, of course. Wine was everywhere. But there was not one teeny little opportunity to try a single one of them before you bought. Which rather removes the point of visiting the winery in the first place.
So we were sort of feeling let down. My mother-in-law especially - she'd wanted something special for the SIL and BIL before they flew home.
It was close enough to lunch time that we decided to play nice at the establishment's little restaurant and wine-bar. We sat down at a nice little table in a sunny courtyard and ordered empanadas.
The waiter was friendly.
"Did you hear the story of the Devil down in the cellar?"
"Why, yes," we emphasized - with feeling. "We certainly did."
"Yeah..." The waiter picked sheepishly at his apron. "They used to have a guy down there dressed up in a devil suit and have him jump out at the visitors when they turned the lights off, but a couple of months ago some guy panicked and had a heart attack... and died. They changed the presentation after that..."
And then we started laughing manically again, because any ghost story that ends (in a big booming voice) "and it was all a big hoax because there was no devil down there after all! But when you leave this place tell all your friends that there is so that nobody stops listening when we tell them!!!" just has to be coming from some place pretty powerful.