6 Where In The World

     Luckily for me, my internship choices were limited to Spanish-speaking countries. I was an international business major with a minor in Spanish, and no clue what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I wanted to have fun, meet people, and travel. So the fact that I had to do an internship abroad was incredibly appealing. Even luckier, I had just experienced my “Ah-Ha!” moment with wines… so the choices for an internship were narrowed to: Argentina, Chile, or Spain – the wine producing countries which spoke Spanish.

     During this time period, Chile and Australia were in an intense battle to win the U.S. wine market’s hearts at the $8-$12 range per bottle. The business side of this competition interested me, so I hit the nail on the head: Chile. And I’d do my theses paper on the two emerging New World wine industries: Chile vs. Australia. With my target in mind, it was time to begin the age-old, and always awkward, first introduction process known as “networking.”

     I started with my old advisor and professor, Dr. Ruben Cardnal. Dr. Cardnal was a wealth of knowledge (if you had five to seven hours to wait around for it to come). I set up an appointment with him, walked up the four flights of stairs (there was no elevator in the 1934 South Texas building), and entered his office. The office was decorated with war medals from Vietnam, Mexican skeletons dressed Day of the Dead garb, and an upside-down map of the world. The upside down map was apparently a message countering American ethnocentrism (i.e. we think the world revolves around us – so flip it over, and the perspective changes.)

     The meeting began as most did, Dr. Cardnal welcomed me, “Hello, Mija!, Please sit and tell me how your doing.” I sat, and engaged in the usual pleasantries: volleyball was going well, grades were up, I was ahead of schedule to graduate. I then listened to him tell me how he and his wife were set to visit the Prime Minister of somewhere and were going to have dinner with the Mexican President at his ranch outside of Guadalajara. Then, he reminded me, as he always did, the secret to a happy marriage, “Mija, do you want to know the secret to a happy marriage?” Not really, I thought, and nodded in apathy. “Every Friday I bring my wife fresh flowers. Its kept our marriage alive for 50 years.” I was thinking to myself, 50 years? I can’t stay in a relationship for longer than five minutes! But that’s beside the point. I cooed at his love for his wife, and then got down to business.

     Doctor, the reason I’m here is because I’ve finally decided on where I’d like to do my internship and what I’d like to write my theses on. He leaned in as if I were divulging top secret material. I continued. I’ve recently found that I am very interested in the wine industry. I also know you have numerous connections in South America, in particular, Chile. I’d like to see if you can help me arrange an internship working in wine near Santiago.

     “Ah!, Mija!” he rejoiced, “I have just the person for you.” His name was Rodrigo Chadwick. (Chileans often had Spanish first-names and anglo last-names as I would come to find out happened after an exodus of Europeans to Chile following World War II.) Rodrigo was the VP of a medium-sized company called Bodegas Corpora, a holding company for many small-to-medium sized Chilean wine labels. The smaller labels had the same problem they do all over the globe: making it to market. Power houses like Concha y Torro and Montes dominated Chilean wine exports, and the little guys were just trying to get their piece of the pie. That’s where my services came in.

    Rodrigo and I talked a number of times via Skype, an instant message / telephone system that was free online. Thank God, he spoke fluent English, or our conversations may have been limited to “Where’s the bathroom?” in Spanish. We discussed my skill set, his needs, and wine in general. The more we talked, the more excited I became about my arrival in Chile. After a few months, some planning, and a 10-hour flight, I arrived in my new city.

     Santiago was beautiful, busy, and polluted all at once. I was impressed by the clean and efficient public transit system, but not-so-impressed by the “Micros,” or death-defying bus experience. In South America, the Mirco is the cheapest way to get around. Meaning, it’s the transportation of the masses. The one thing the Micro has going for it, is, that its always on time. Always. It maintains its tight schedule by never really coming to a complete stop to drop off or pick up its passengers. I learned this the hard way.

     As I made my way off the subway and up to the “corporate” section of town, I had about 15 blocks to go, so I had to catch a Micro to be on time. I found a bus stop, and waited, standing a foot taller, and 80 shades blonder than any of my fellow bus-riders. As the Micro approached, it was if the crowd knew something I didn’t … always a dangerous feeling.

     They pushed one another to the front, in a stampede-like manner. I stood back, watching. As the bus slowed to “pick us up,” the small, tan Chileans began jumping on, one by one, before the bus had reached a halt. This continued pass the bus stop, 5 yards, 10 yards, holy shit, the bus wasn’t going to stop! I took off in a dead sprint to catch it, knowing that if I missed it, I would break the cardinal rule of first day at new job: don’t be late.

     I threw my shoulder bag around my head, and sprinted as fast as I could in high heals, praying I wouldn’t break one. I finally caught the back entrance, shoved my hand into the closing door, and hurled myself on the Micro. Pinche Micros! I thought to myself. Sweat was still pouring down my back as I entered the shiny high-rise building and pressed the button for the fourteenth floor.

     I introduced myself to the receptionist in the worst Spanish accent she’d probably ever heard. I then made myself at home in the waiting room, while flipping through Wine Spectator en Espanol. After a few minutes, the door to the office portion came swinging open, and a tall, dark, and handsome dreamboat appeared. He must have been 6’4, olive skin, and greenish eyes. His raven-black hair hung just above his emerald eyes, as he flashed a kindly and amazing smile. “Buenos Dias, Megan. I am Rodrigo.” Holy cow, I thought. This is my boss? I’m in trouble!

     Rodrigo asked me to follow him back to the office area, so he could show me my cube. I laughed to myself at the idea of South Americans sitting in the same mundane cubes as so many Americans did. It was like Office Space (the movie) en Espanol. Anyway, I enjoyed “following” Rodrigo around the office, making acquaintances, and getting settled in. After a few hours of administrative work, Rodrigo called me back into his office, for what I remember as “Chilean Wine – 101.”

     “What do you knno about Chilean wine?” He asked me. I paused, trying to substitute flirting for actual knowledge, (a tried-and-true trick) I responded, “It taste good.” “Wrong answer!” He snapped back. Dang, this guy was for real! Playing stupid wasn’t going to work with Rodrigo(note to self).

     “Okay, I said, here’s what I know…” I spilled my very limited knowledge of Chilean wine. Their two biggest exports at the time were Chardonnay and Merlot / Carmenere. I say Merlot / Carmenere because much of what Chile was exporting as Merlot was actually an entirely different grape called Carmenere. Carmenere was originally from the Bordeaux region of France. The Bordeaux Region has one of the highest pedigrees in the Wine World, its basically the Royalty of fine wine. The Carmenere vines (or the vines’ grandparents) which were found in Chile had come over from France sometime before 1855.

     How in the heck do we know they came over then? Well, in 1855, a little sap-sucking bug started eating the roots and stumps of all the wine vines in France. Its’ bites caused the vines’ roots to deform and shrivel. Roots are essential to a vine’s health- they provide nutrients, water, and a medium to transport the vine’s necessities. As the roots shriveled, the vines suffocated to death. The scientific name for this sap-sucking asshole is Phylloxera (fil-lox-er-a). Phylloxera devastated almost all of the French vines that didn’t escape the European persecution before 1855. Luckily for Carmenre, he stowed away on some boat, and made it to Chile’s almost island like atmosphere.

     Chile is island-like because it has a vast dessert to the North, Antartica to the South, the Pacific Ocean to the West and the Andes Mountains to the East. These natural barriers protected Chile from Phylloxera and allowed Carmenere to flourish in Chilean vineyards. No one knew that the Carmenere was hiding out in Chile, because everyone thought it was killed off in France. However, over a hundred years later, wine Chile was labeling “Merlot” was genetically tested…and the results? Carmenere!

     Beyond those facts, I knew very little, and according to Rodrigo, I had a ways to go, in both Chilean wine knowledge, and wine smarts in general. The months to follow had me focusing on Worlds, Countries, Appellations, Villages, Chateaus, and Micro Climates. I began to learn the next step in the “Big 5″ of the Boones to Bordeaux method: Place.