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Realising a dream
One of these days I am finally going to take the plunge and realise an ambition of mine to ride horseback across the Andes.
It was the journey taken by Commanders Bernado O'Higgins and Jose de San Martin during the fight to liberate Chile from the Spanish in the early 1800s.
Even today the trip is considered to be a test of horsemanship.
Chilean independence was hard won; you've got to wonder how they celebrated their victory - perhaps with a glass of wine or two.
If they did they had the Spaniards to thank, for it was they who introduced the vitis vinifera vine from which wines are produced to Chile on the 1500s.
However, liberation from Spanish rule did give the Chileans the freedom to travel and see what was happening in the global world of wine.
Exposure to the wines of Europe opened new avenues and in the mid nineteenth century, Silvestre Ochagav a Echazaretta imported from France a host of international grape varieties that were to form the basis of the Chilean wine industry that we know today.
It is not uncommon to find Chile referred to as the 'Bordeaux of the southern hemisphere'.
Chilean winemakers don't have much to grumble about. Their near-perfect grape-growing climate is well-documented and the fact that the vicious phylloxera pest has been kept at bay by the Andes to the east, the Pacific to the west, desert to the north and the Antarctic to the south is an added boon.
Nature is kind too. The Pacific winds moderate the long, hot summers and the river valleys are kept generously topped up with melted snow from the Andes.
So, with a band of international grape varieties behind them, an invigorated and well-travelled winemaking force in place and brilliant growing conditions you can't be that surprised with Chile's success in recent years.
At the International Wine Challenge this year the country picked up an impressive 13 gold medals, more than double the previous years haul.
I tend not to read too much into medal-winning wines but not even I can ignore the year on year consistency that Chilean winemakers are delivering.
The foundations are in great shape and the future is certainly looking bright but those caught dosing in the wine trade will find themselves quickly overtaken.
Not that there is anything to suggest that the Chileans are dosing. They are already grasping the idea of terroir and the need to associate certain areas with particular vines and wine styles.
Towards the end of last year, Chilean winemaker Marcelo Retamal visited the UK on a show and tell mission, demonstrating the huge diversity of soils and climates that are to be found in Chile and the implications for the wines being made there.
And, just in case we thought that life was all too rosy at home, he did give an insight into a rather unexpected pest problem for the winemakers back home: witchcraft.
It seems that visitors to the Choapa valley have had to deal with stone-throwing women and the possibility of being placed in a witch-cast coma.
The latter was apparently reversed by a Santiago witch-doctor. If that's the price you have to pay for having escaped phylloxera it may be that winemakers the world over are grateful for having to graft their vines onto rootstocks.
Silliness apart, certain regions are already gaining a solid reputation for their wines. The cooler, ocean-hugging Casablanca Valley is producing top-class pinot noir and sauvignon blanc, Colchagua to the south is home to some of Chile's finest red wines and as a region epitomises what's behind Chile's success.
Where once there were high-yielding vineyards on the flatter lands, there are now supremely well-managed estates with plantings of the very best clones on steeper, better-situated hillside sites.
Aconcagua is the most northerly of Chile's vineyards and it is dominated by Mount Aconcagua; the highest mountain in the Americas.
Parts of this area can be ferociously hot and those vineyards that offer the grapes reprieve from the heat do best.
The Vina San Esteban vineyards have an excellent location based alongside the Aconcagua river and on the foothills of the Andes where the grapes can mature gently, acquiring lovely flavours during the ripening period.
It's all very good news for both winemaker and wine drinker where Chile is concerned. I'll settle for a glass or two now but I'm hoping it will not be too long before I'm following in the hoof prints of Bernado and his trusty steed.