when she turned 40, attending prestigious culinary arts institution Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Her restaurant — a light-filled space once used as a weekend home — offers by-appointment cooking classes, and is otherwise open only for lunch on weekends. It’s no surprise Rodriguez thinks first about the wine when crafting a menu.
“The food should dance with the wine, not compete with it,” she says, serving me impossibly tender octopus with lemon, Leccino oil and sea asparagus in a bowl formed of granite from the nearby Tinguiririca River. Course two is an equally pretty plate of pork cheeks atop squid-ink pasta, baby kale, basil and flowers. Rodriguez is passionate about local producers, and lists each one featured on the day’s menu.
When I visit, dishes use olive oil made by Juan Carlos Diaz on his estate up the road, the merquen (smoked chilli pepper) comes from local company Etnia, and the fleur de sel from salt lagoons on Colchagua’s coast.
Local creations of a different kind are on display at Museo de Colchagua, in the valley’s main town, Santa Cruz. The largest private museum in Chile, the space houses the impressive, albeit offbeat, collection of controversial entrepreneur Carlos Cardoen. There are preColumbian anthropomorphic ceramics, automobiles, weapons and World War II relics, Mapuche silver and huasos (cowboy) gear; many come for El Gran Rescate (The Big Rescue) exhibit alone, a shrine to the 2010 rescue of 33 Chilean miners trapped 700m underground for 69 days.
The museum is almost as incongruous here, surrounded by craft stores selling colourful weaving and ceramics, as the Frank Gehry-inspired Vina Vik. But just like Vik, it manages to surprise and delight, and offers an unexpected taste of Chile that will only improve with age.
Natasha Dragun was a guest of Tourism Chile.
Following the Phylloxera plague that wiped out a majority of Europe’s grapes in the late 1800s, carmenere was considered extinct. A few cuttings of the grape variety had been imported to Chile just before the wipeout, but local growers had mistakenly identified them as merlot. The vines flourished in the valleys around Santiago thanks to the region’s infrequent rainfall and hot days, a contrast to the grape’s French home. It wasn’t until 1994 that vintners realised that some of Chile’s “merlot” vines actually showed the same growing qualities as carmenere, and with that, the grape variety was “rediscovered”. Today, Chile is home to about 90 per cent of the world’s carmenere plantations, with the grape producing a distinctive medium-bodied red wine known for its notes of berries and spice.
Cellar at Lapostolle, centre left; pool with a view at Vina Vik, left