When Alex and Carrie Vik went looking to buy a South American vineyard, they didn’t just want to make a good wine, or even a great one. They wanted to make the best wine on the continent. For the couple behind some of South America’s most spectacular boutique hotels—Uruguay’s Estancia Vik and Playa Vik, with two more launching soon—this would be the biggest challenge yet. This summer, with the release of the Vik 2010 Cabernet blend, they’ll see if the nine years they spent making one wine have paid off.
In 2004, while the Viks were working in finance in New York and collecting art and wine, they started their search. Alex’s mother was from Uruguay, and since both he and Carrie loved spending time there, they decided to focus on South America. They hired winemaker Patrick Valette, whose family had owned Bordeaux’s renowned Château Pavie.
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When the trio got a tip about a property in Chile’s Millahue Valley, two hours south of Santiago, they had their doubts. The area is beautiful, with rolling hills and a glassy lake, surrounded by the forested Andes. “But it was 11,000 acres of wilderness. I was terrified,” Carrie recalls. On a hike, she saw a giant paw print that turned out to be a puma’s—although the area is mainly home to rabbits, bees and stray cows. There were no vineyards in the Millahue at the time, but the area neighbors the Apalta Valley and its renowned wineries, like Clos Apalta and Montes.
The Viks hired a team of geologists, climatologists and oenologists to study the land. The scientists dug 6,000 holes to run tests, which showed an incredible biodiversity. Cool winds from the Pacific coast lower the temperature of the grapes a degree or two—ideal for the vines—and there’s no frost during growing season. “So the fruit gets a chance to fully ripen,” Alex explains.
The Vik 2010 is made up of 56 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 32 percent Carmenère, with small amounts of Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. It has the sweet fruit and richness characteristic of Chilean wines, but with exceptional elegance.
This summer, the Viks will launch their winery. Chilean-born architect Smiljan Radic, who won the commission after an international competition, designed the building to look like a futuristic ship. Alex and Carrie are designing the Viña Vik hotel themselves; it will open by the end of the year and have floor-to-ceiling glass walls as well as 360-degree views of the vines. Uruguayan chef Marcelo Betancourt will run the restaurant, grilling local lamb and salmon.
To celebrate the release of Vik 2010, the Viks flew to the Millahue Valley—they are based in Connecticut and Monaco—for a coming-out barbecue party. They invited members of their wine and hotel teams, some of whom stayed in a four-room cabin on the property. Everyone rode horses to the spot where Betancourt was grilling. Alex greeted them with caipiroskas made with lime and Christiania vodka, a boutique liquor company he owns.
Betancourt set out a lunch buffet of dishes he created to go with the Vik 2010, including boiled beets that he crushed and crisped on a cast-iron skillet. On the grill, he cooked boneless leg of lamb, beef short ribs and locally made chorizo, which he served alongside criolla, a salsa-like mix of peppers, onion and tomato.
Seated at a picnic table, Alex’s friends teased him about his competitive drive, recounting a story from that morning. Alex, a triathlete, had led unwitting guests on what he promised would be a short bike ride, which turned into an epic journey through the hills. Alex looked unruffled, but everyone else was still recovering. Luckily, there was plenty of wine to help.
Salma Abdelnour is the author of Jasmine & Fire: A Bittersweet Year in Beirut, published last year.
Viks + Art
Local art figures prominently at all of the Viks’ hotels. Lately, the couple has been touring Chilean artists’ studios, shopping for their Millahue Valley winery and hotel. Grapevines inspired wooden sculptures by Marcela Correa, who showed at the 2010 Venice Biennale.
Viks + Wine
The Viks’ quest to produce excellent wine started with hiring the right winemaker, Patrick Valette, and finding the right land. The first vintage, Vik 2009, was available at the couple’s Uruguay hotels. The Vik 2010 will be sold through the website and be available on-site at the brand-new, spacious Vik Winery. (The courtyard leading into the tasting room will span the length of two football fields.)
Viks + Hotels
This Uruguay hotel resembles a Spanish colonial ranch house in a region Alex Vik calls “Marlboro country” for its wild shrubbery and endless sky. Doubles from $500; estanciavikjoseignacio.com.
Carlos Ott, the Uruguayan architect of Paris’s Opera de la Bastille, designed six guest houses with retractable windows that open onto the sand dunes of Uruguay beach town José Ignacio. Doubles from $500; playavik.com.
Opening this summer in Chile, the Vik Winery will have a glass-floored room overlooking the fermentation tanks. A hotel will open on the grounds by the end of the year; in the meantime, guests can book the four-room pinewood cabin on the property. Cabin from $1,000; vik.cl.