Working on a Chilean vineyard via the Workaway scheme

Workaway Chile Diary – Week 1.

Imagine being able to find an awesome vineyard in one of the world’s best best wine regions and stay there for free. Workaway is a worldwide scheme enabling you volunteer with a business or organisation in return for free accommodation and food. As Chile is seriously expensive we decided to try and spend a few weeks working in the famous Colchagua wine region. Finding a good Workaway host is crucial as this can make or break the experience. Using their AirBnB/eBay style review system we researched the site and found a farm that got consistently great feedback from previous volunteers. Beso Negro (Black Kiss), an organic vineyard situated in the middle of the valley seemed like it could be the perfect spot.

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Lovely Buncha Grapes.

Friday.

Our bus south from Santiago dropped us off in the small dusty village of Poblacion, where our host Sharif was waiting in his red pick up truck to drive us to the farm. Immediately amiable, with an infectious laugh he drove fast telling funny stories along the way. His lovely wife Pie greeted us at the main house with an open bottle of their own label red wine. A great start. We also met another of the workawayers Jakob, a 21 year old student from Aarhus in Denmark.

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The Big House, Beso Negro.

After initial introductions Pie gave us a tour of the property showing us their expansive plantation. We’d be working there most of the time, pruning, mending and maintaining the vines.

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Liz in the vines

The workers cottage where we’d be staying exceeded expectations. Generously sized with big kitchen and living room area complete with corner sofa and flat screen TV, it had a warm and cosy vibe. Our bedroom had a double bed with proper sheets and duvet covers. Compared to some of the hostels we’d been staying in recently this was a palace.

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Workers Cottage

We arrived on Friday and as we didn’t have work until the Monday decided we should make the most of the weekend.

Sunday.

We visited Pichilemu, a laid back surf town about an hour west on the local bus. The water was freezing but the three of us (Me, Liz and Jakob), found a spot on the crowded beach and sank into the sand to read our books and eat ice creams.

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Pichilemu Beach

Monday.

We began work at 9am. The deal with Workaway is you work 5 hours a day on your assigned task, Monday to Friday. Our job was to find new shoots that were forming at the bottom of the vines and lop them off with secateurs. It was tough work, but it was good to get out and do something physical.

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First day at work in the fields

By midday the sun was blazing and we were feeling the burn with another two hours to go. We decided to start at 7am the next day so we’d be finished before it got ridiculously hot.

Tuesday.

The next morning we ate breakfast at 6.30am and were out in the cool morning air soon after. We all agreed it made a lot more sense to do it this way. We’d loaded up with podcasts (Thank you Joe Rogan)  which made time in the fields pass quickly. Another couple arrived, Jevin and Kelsey from Vermont on a three month whistle stop tour around the world. They got stuck in and we blitzed through the main vineyard in no time.

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Lake on the Grounds at Beso Negro vineyard.

Wednesday.

There’s no point staying in one of the world’s best wine regions if you’re not going to sample the local produce. A visit to the Los Vascos winery broke the week up on Wednesday. Owned by the billionaire Rothschild family, it’s one of the biggest and most fancy vineyards in Chile. We took a tour of the grounds before tasting their best five wines.

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Jevin and Kelsy at Los Vascos

All very tasty with the Carmenere speciality (produced only in this region) standing out above the others. Handily were were given a discount on account of our hosts being local wine makers.

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Our host Pie and Liz at Los Vascos vineyard.

Thursday.

Very kindly cooked a birthday dinner as I turned another year older. Amazing curry was served and a most decadent chocolate cake was baked. Pie and Sharif invited local friends over for an enjoyable evening sinking many bottles of wine around their huge dining table.

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Birthday dinner.

Friday.

Hangover.. Getting out of bed for work wasn’t easy after all the wine consumed the previous evening. By the afternoon we were knackered so elected to spend a night on the sofa watching movies. Standard.

Saturday.

We jumped on the bus to Santa Cruz to visit another famous vineyard, Viu Manent. Upon arrival we were picked up in a vintage horse & cart and driven to the production facility.

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Horse & Carriage at Viu Manent

Immediately we were given a glass to fill with crisp white Chardonnay from the giant tanks. This set the tone for the day. After a quick tour of the grounds and a brief history of the vineyard we settled in for our tasting in an impressively decadent room. One by one each of the five glasses in front of us were filled and we set about knocking them back.

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Tasting Room at Viu Manent

For some reason they insist on providing a spittoon, but I’ve yet to see one person that uses it. The Malbec was by far the best wine on offer but as is often the case it was also the most expensive at nearly $80 USD per bottle. Not for the likes of us.

Afterwards we wobbled over to the restaurant for lunch. Set within the vines it’s a magnificent location to enjoy the afternoon. We ordered a bottle of the Malbec (not the expensive one) and chose rib eye steak and tuna ceviche for Liz.  Both were great with the rib eye cooked to perfection.

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Lunch at Viu Manent

Subsequently we found hammocks nearby in a shady spot under some oak trees and had a sneaky ten minute snooze. I could have dozed for longer but a horse and carriage appeared to whisk us off for another tour around the vines.workaway chile

After all the excitement a local bus took us back to our farm where we tucked into a few of the reds bought at our various winery excursions that week.

Sunday.

It’s Sunday afternoon on the farm as we sit by our cottage with birds singing in the afternoon sunshine. Even though the work here is demanding we’re both looking forward to next week and seeing what it brings. Our hosts have been amazing so far and I’m pretty sure we may have landed on the best Chile Workaway, if not in all of South America. Here’s raising a (wine) glass to week two..

You can find out more about Workaway opportunities at their website here.

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View out over the vines.