Friday, 26 February 2010

First Vendimia In Santa Cruz

My house has 16 grape vines. They produce a lot of grapes. So we had our first harvest a couple of days ago. With my commercial juicer- a purchase made when I was going to open a juice bar in Buenos Aires- we made juice from the more than 60kg of grapes we picked. It was all very exciting at first. Then it quickly became clear that juicing 60kg of fruit is not actually all that much fun. So we ended up composting at least 20kg of them. Still, we've got enough grape juice to last us a few weeks...

Bella's a former street dog and will eat almost anything. She particularly loves fruit and will frequently steal apples from the fruit basket. She had a great time hoovering up fallen grapes.

Yep- that's about 60kg of grapes...

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Where To Stay and What To Eat In Santa Cruz, Chile

I've posted about where to stay in Santa Cruz before, but since then another hotel more than worth recommending has opened.

Hotel TerraVina, just a minute or two from the Plaza de Armas is run by a Danish-Chilean couple who have done a beautiful job of building from scratch a 20-odd room hotel in traditional Colonial style. Nestled amongst 2 hectares of vines which go to produce Laura Hartwig wines, the hotel is also walking distance to the two best restaurants in Santa Cruz.

First up, is La Casita de Barreales, which is actually the best Peruvian restaurant I've been to in Chile. I went to La Mar in Vitacura a couple of weeks ago and had the same dishes I usually have in La Casita and was not all that impressed- it was really good but not as great as I was expecting...The ceviche at La Casita is incredible and the lomo saltado is pretty good too. The Pisco Sours are amazing. Highly recommended.

And then we come to the newly opened Vino Bello, almost directly opposite La Casita. The restaurant is in a converted barn and stable and the owners, Chilean-American couple Jaime and Janine, did an absolutely amazing job with the renovations, genuinely one of the best jobs I've seen in Chile (there are photos on their website).

And not only is the place really very pretty, but the Italian food is also excellent, with home-made pasta and pizzas being the order of the day. Also highly recommended.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

French Wine Fraud

Today's 'papers are full of articles about a recent scam perpetrated by a supplier of Pinot Noir to Gallo in the US (the English 'papers at least, where we particularly revel in any example of a Frenchman doing something wrong).

For a profit of about us$5 million, Gallo was supplied with whatever grapes 8 members of a co-op had lying around their backyards. Instead of supplying the more expensive Pinot Noir, they threw in Merlot and Syrah...and then Gallo sold the plonk under the Red Bicyclette brand in the US.

No one at Gallo spotted the scam and no US consumers did either. It was during a run of the mill audit of the region's vineyard that someone noticed that they were selling twice as much Pinot Noir as the region produced...

At a time when the French wine industry is really struggling in the face of competition from New World wines (such as Chilean), this is a scandal that will seriously damage the French wine brand.

Mind you, wine making is full of little scams...for example, although it's completely illegal, wineries all over the world water down their grape juice before fermentation- otherwise the wine produced would be too alchoholic and too sweet...

And to be quite honest, many wine 'experts' can't tell the difference between good and bad wines...and sometimes even red and white, relying instead on preconceived ideas based on branding and snobbery.

For example, in 2001 a French professor from the University of Bordeaux conducted two, slightly wily, tests.

He assembled 57 French wine experts and served them 2 glasses of wine, one red and one white. The experts described the red wine with the typical red wine language of 'jamminess' and 'crushed red fruit' and described the white in the usual gushing white wine language. So far so good.

Except they were exactly the same wine- the red was simply the white wine dyed with a tasteless red food dye.

His second test was to fill an expensive Gran Cru bottle with middle of the road red wine. He also filled a Vin de Table bottle with the same wine.

Upon serving the wine to the assembled experts, they gave the same wine completely opposite ratings. 40 out of 57 experts said the gran-cru was worth drinking and only 12 ouf of 57 said the vin de table was worth drinking. Same wine, people.

My view of wine drinking...if you like it, drink it. Listen to suggestions but don't take so-called expert opinion as read. If you enjoy red wine with fish or chicken, go for it. 99% of those people sneering at you have no idea what they're talking about and are basing their judgement on what they've been told, not what they know.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

SAG- Taking No Prisoners

Anyone who has recently entered Chile via Santiago airport will have noticed a major crackdown by the Chilean agriculture and livestock service (SAG). If you don't declare animal or plant products you will get fined, even if it's just an apple you were given on the 'plane and forgot to throw away. On the spot fines average around us$200.

If you're not sure, declare it; otherwise you're going to get a pretty unpleasant welcome to the country. Chile isn't alone in trying to protect it's multi-billion dollar agricultural trade. Australia has similar draconian measures in place.

I'm all for it-although they seem over the top, the rules are clear and simple and easy to follow. They really do help protect Chile's agriculture- one mistake could cost this country millions of dollars.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Cats and Freedom

My cats grew up in a flat in Buenos Aires. Then they moved to a house in Buenos Aires that didn't have any outdoor space. From there they moved to a flat in Santiago, a flat in Valpo, a flat in Renaca, went on holiday to Elqui, then settled into my house in Valpo (without outdoor space again) for two and half years before moving into a rental house in Santa Cruz next to a main road (not a hope of going out).

Now we've all moved into the new house and the cats couldn't be happier. They finally have access to the great outdoors and are loving the freedom. Although they have been wonderful indoor cats with barely a scratch to any furniture after five years (they did eat several plants, though) it's nice I can finally let them out to play.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Expats in Chile

If you're looking for information about moving to Chile and interested in meeting fellow expats then you should take a look at the Expats in Chile networking group.
Ariell and Viviana run a great website that is full of information about living in Chile. They organise expat meet-ups and other events and connect foreigners living in towns and cities all over the country. The group already has over 800 members.
Theirs is a friendly and inclusive group- unlike a certain other chile forum, whose owner believes that slandering potential competition (and also potential business partners) and spreading absurd and baseless lies is an ethical and appropriate way to do business. I continue to shake my head in disbelief at his practices.
Anyway, enough of that: Go make some friends!

Sunday, 7 February 2010

New House Finished...Finally (ish)!

I know- I've been really terrible at posting on this blog. I seem to have lost all my blogging motivation. I think it's partly because the renovations were pretty much a full time job almost from the moment we arrived to live in Santa Cruz. Then I went to England for Christmas and as soon as I got back had to arrange a move and finish off all the little details in the house and the garden. All this and seeking out new business for my day job- real estate in Chile!

There are still one or two details for finish in the house, not least the studio flat which is awaiting its last coat of floor varnish. But that will be done on Tuesday, the sofa will arrive later in the week and then I'll be done. Although the garden is a never ending job...

Anyway, here are some photos of before, during and after. Apologies for the poor quality of most of the photos. I am a man of many talents- of which photography is not one.

Front of the house

Entry hall

Office (a little messy)

Living/dining room, kitchen. We combined two rooms here, knocking out a wall and adding a skylight to brighten up the space.

Main bedroom. We also knocked out a wall here, added a skylight and made the bathroom en-suite. The bedroom was originally the kitchen and the only bathroom was accessible only by going outside. We added a new bathroom inside and now the bedroom has direct access to the main bathroom.

We changed the floor tiles in the bathroom and painted. The tiles around the bath need to be properly cleaned to make them look all shiny again...I'll get around to that some day. Maybe.

The garden was a really big job. We did so much...first job was to make it private as the dividing wall between the neighbouring houses was about a metre high. We raised this to a little over 2 metres and put roof tiles on top salvaged from an old house that was demolished. These tiles are called tejas musleras as they were originally made by sturdy ladies using their thighs as moulds.

The actual garden was completely overgrown. We pulled out a couple of trees and loads of plants that were just taking up space. We also took out about 10 vines- there were just too many. We still have 14 and will probably end up with about 40 kilos or more of grapes in the next 2-6 weeks.

Once we had the space cleared, it was easier to see what to do. I really like brickwork so we decided to delineate the garden with brick walls. The centre is the grass area- there are two lemon trees and a persimmon as well (caqui in Spanish). Around the walls on the outside we put in flower beds and have planted lavender and roses. In a year they'll have grown to fill the space and will look awesome.

We also kept a bit separately walled off for a vegetable plot. We've already planted beans, peas, rocket, basil, peppers, chiles, garlic and potatoes. Some have sprouted so we're looking forward to our first harvest in a few weeks.

Finally, I really like brick floors so we laid a basket-weave pattern under the grape parron and around one side of the garden leading to the massive barbeque I had built (and which has seen seen some serious use already).

We've also planted 3 olive trees, two orange trees, 2 cherry trees, 2 apple trees, 2 loquat trees and 2 pomegranate bushes. They're not going to produce much for a couple of years but I can't wait to make my first home-grown fruit crumble...

And we also planted an araucaria, which will be taller than me in about 200 years.

Vegetable patch- look closely on the left hand side. There's rocket and spinach growing...

Orange, olive and snail-paced growing araucaria.


I love this house. There's plenty of space, I like the style...the cats can finally go outside after 5 years of indoor living and having a garden that's just an extension of the living room is truly awesome.