The name Vik is inescapable at Viña Vik, a stunning new resort with a winery and vineyard, located two hours from Santiago, in Chile’s wine country. Vik is branded in huge maroon letters on every bottle of the property’s red blend stacked in the floor-to-ceiling glass wine vault that spans the length of the hotel’s dining room. The staff utters the name Vik in worshipful, mysterious whispers.
It isn’t because I arrived with a Kindle full of F. Scott Fitzgerald that every time I heard the name Vik, I thought of Jay Gatsby. Just like at Gatsby’s mansion on the Long Island shore, every detail at Viña Vik reflects the exacting taste of one man, in this case Alexander Vik, and his wife, Carrie. The Viks, along with Uruguayan architect Marcelo Daglio, designed the hotel’s undulating titanium roof, which glints like a golden spaceship as you approach the glass-and-cement-enclosed resort. They selected or commissioned every piece of artwork and furniture in the place. And like at Gatsby’s, there are beautiful people—stretched by the slate infinity pool on a hill overlooking a lake, including, when I was there, a famous Victoria’s Secret supermodel. The only thing missing is Daisy’s green light, although the dazzling Southern Hemisphere stars are certainly an acceptable substitute.
Alexander, a Norwegian-born, Swedish-raised financier, and Carrie, an American, are hardly parvenus to the hotel industry. Over the past decade their Vik Retreats, in Uruguay (where Alexander’s mother is from), has expanded to include wildly popular beach hotels Playa Vik and Bahia Vik, and ranch Estancia Vik, all located in the Atlantic Ocean-facing village of José Ignacio, near the country’s southern tip. But for Viña Vik, it was the wine that paved the way for the hotel.
In 2004, two years before the Viks started developing what would become Playa Vik and Estancia Vik, Alexander, ever the entrepreneur, got an idea stuck in his head: “To make the best wine in South America,” he says. “To join the pantheon of the great wines of the world.” So for the next two years, Alexander and a team—including the Viks’ head winemaker, Patrick Valette, who is Chilean by birth but grew up in France (his parents owned Château Pavie, in Bordeaux)—conducted extensive scientific research of the South American terroir, studying the wind, temperature, and water. This led them to Chile’s Millahue Valley, just southwest of the better-known Colchagua Valley wine region, and, in 2006, the Viks purchased 11,000 acres of completely undeveloped land. They were going to open a winery where none had been before.
It’s almost impossible to describe the beauty of the green-and-brown scrub-filled landscape of Chile’s 250-mile central corridor, with sloping hills, valleys, gorges, and lakes, or the gorgeousness of the Mediterranean-like climate, with the wind blowing off the Pacific Ocean to the west in the morning, hitting the Andes Mountains to the east, and then coming back to cool the region in the evening. Charles Darwin, during the voyage of the Beagle, came as close as anyone. After the fierce wind and intense hardships of sailing through Patagonia, first in southern Argentina and then Chile, Darwin, hideously seasick as always, disembarked for several weeks of rest nearby what is now the Millahue Valley. Ecstatic over his new surroundings, Darwin wrote, “I did not cease from wonder, at finding each succeeding day as fine as the foregoing.” Visiting in the Chilean summer, I also did not see a cloud during my four-day stay, which I capped, reversing Darwin’s voyage, with three days in Patagonia.
It’s hard to imagine that such a wild place could be home to what the Viks call “an avant-garde retreat and wine spa,” a curious combination that reflects the couple’s idiosyncrasies. Like their other hotels, Viña Vik, which opened last year, is more of an art gallery. Each of the 22 suites is a separate, quirky artwork. The Valenzuela Suite has huge red murals by Chilean artist Sebastián Valenzuela and a colorful Mondrian-esque oak floor. For the Azulejo Suite, the Viks worked with a small artisanal company in Portugal to design hand-painted blue-and-white-tile murals for the walls and ceiling (in the bathroom, it depicts a bacchanalian feast featuring likenesses of the Vik family and their friends drinking Vik wine). Huge black-and-white faces are painted on the walls of the Fornasetti Suite, which honors Italian artist Piero Fornasetti; the room also has a reading chair with a sculpted face on the back, which got on my nerves, with its shades of Gatsby’s T. J. Eckleburg. The best features of almost every room are the glass walls, which offer panoramic views of the vineyard’s rolling hills. You feel like you are looking out at one of Cézanne’s landscapes as the sun begins to go down.
Carrie remembers riding her horse in the early days through acres of brambles and uncleared land and tearing holes in her clothes. So she is hardly exaggerating when she describes the project as “monumental.” And if you are going to build something monumental, modesty is not required; it’s no surprise that every detail in the place comports with the Viks’ ideal of perfection, especially their wine.
Three vintages—2009, 2010, and 2011—of the Viks’ red blend have been produced and are served at just about every meal at the resort. Each year the wine’s structure varies slightly, though the last two years it’s been about 55 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 30 percent Carmenère, and it has a bit of Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. It has yet to be rated by Robert Parker or Wine Spectator, but I thought it had a lot of finesse, with aromas of cherry and plum. The wine can be purchased for $140 per bottle. Naturally, I shipped some home. I also bought a few bottles of the Christiania Vodka that Alexander produces in Norway, but that’s another story.
A tasting inside the winery, which is underground in order to keep the temperature at 57 degrees, is one of the high points of a visit to Viña Vik. The other things to do on the property besides lounging by the pool, which is kept at 70 degrees, are hiking, biking, horseback riding, or getting a treatment at the spa, such as a Vik signature massage or an aromatherapy massage. (Guests can take excursions off the property by using a tour operator like Glove Travel, which arranged my Patagonia trip.) By the second day, my family and I had dived into a cupboard of brand-new board games, playing Life and Parcheesi, two classics from my youth, for some indoor amusement away from the strong sun (TV is available only upon request).
Meals by the capable chef Rodrigo Acuña Bravo are prepared according to what’s available locally, and served in the dining room or outdoor terrace, and are also available for room or pool service. I didn’t love the food. One dinner featured sweetbreads, which are not to everyone’s taste. A lunch was osso buco, which is a pretty heavy dish for midday. It was possible to substitute an avocado salad for one of the hearty dishes, but only after negotiating with the kitchen. The Viks told me after I visited last Christmas that they were still making adjustments to the menu, given how new the place was, and that more choices may be offered. That would be a good change. Otherwise guests should specify their dining preferences prior to their trip.
Unlike at the Viks’ Uruguay properties, there aren’t any lovely towns nearby to stroll or explore, and the coast is two hours away by car. Frankly, by our third day at Viña Vik, I began to feel a little trapped, and we actually planned an impromptu escape. I had the concierge hire me a car for the next day and we visited another winery about an hour’s drive away. Mostly, I yearned for a taste of the real Chile. My driver found me a roadside place that had great empanadas. I was almost delirious as I wolfed them down, along with a cold beer. Sadly, I concluded, I was probably not the ideal guest for a vacation experience designed as a wine spa. True wine lovers and art aficionados would, no doubt, adore the place.
While at Viña Vik, I discovered that most of the other guests had decided to couple their visit with an additional stop, either the spectacular Atacama Desert or, like me, farther toward the end of the Earth, to Patagonia, 1,700 miles south, where I stayed at the Awasi Patagonia and the Río Serrano, in Torres del Paine. Indeed, in Patagonia, as I faced the wicked wind that so challenged Darwin, I sometimes longed for the languid afternoons at Viña Vik, where I sat on the upholstered chair swing on the front veranda reading The Crack-Up, sipping a glass of red wine and marveling at both the beauty of the landscape and Fitzgerald’s writing. Thus, the days at Viña Vik became, for most of us, a restful time between a more rugged destination and the long journey to and from home.