Colombia is known for coffee, flowers, and tropical fruits, but did you know it also has a wine region? The answer is yes, but don’t get too excited. In the Valle del Cauca department, just a couple hours north of the city of Cali, lies the small town of La Unión which is famous in Colombia for its vineyards.
La Unión is the home of Casa Grajales, the country’s premier wine producer. Founded in 1977, they offer a tour of the winery with a restaurant and wine shop on the premises. The tour can be done alone or as part of a package ticket with the Parque Nacional de la Uva (Grape National Park), an agricultural theme park. We opted for the Pasaporte de la Vid y el Vino, a package ticket costing COP$32,000 per person (as of July 2015) which included admission to the park plus the winery tour. Other packages are available to add on extras such as zip lining.
First, let’s get to the point and talk about the wine. The winery tour wasn’t much different than any others I’ve been on. It lasted about 30 minutes and included a thorough explanation of the winemaking process from an enthusiastic guide, a look at the tanks, and finishing in the cellar. The tour didn’t allow photographs inside the plant, which is fine, but honestly, which state-of-the-art Chilean, French, or Napa winery is going to steal their “secrets”?
At the end of the tour, as with every other winery tour I’ve been on, I was expecting a tasting. That didn’t happen. We were given one measly sample – a chilled red wine with the consistency of cough syrup and a flavor that wasn’t too far off. I’ve had better shots of NyQuil. Furthermore, the wine was served in a plastic shot glass while the guide explained how to taste wine properly using a real wine glass. Keeping it classy.
Perhaps I was thinking too positively that we would be able to try the wines in the shop after the tour. When we got to the counter, we asked for a tasting so we could decide which wines and how many to buy. They said “no”. We asked which types of wine they sold – cabernet, chardonnay, anything – and we got the answer “red, white, and rosé”. Interesting. They also tried to sell us on the age of the wine.
I asked for a bottle of their best wine, Don Gerardo, a fine dry red wine, and had them open it for us. When they snapped the cork in half and had to get a new bottle, I knew it wasn’t going to end well. Despite having a wall of wine glasses near the bar, they brought a plastic shot glass and poured a light brown colored juice into it. I tasted it, made a face, and said “wow, that’s so bad”. They weren’t too thrilled but I wasn’t wrong. It had no appealing color, no consistency, and tasted like water mixed with dirt. It’s as if they washed the grapes, took the water, and bottled it. By far the worst wine I’ve ever had. I’m no wine expert and definitely not a wine snob, but the worst boxed wine I’ve had seemed like a premium wine compared to this.
We heard the excuse “our best wines are exported”. Sorry. That doesn’t cut it. NOBODY MAKES SHITTY WINE ON PURPOSE! Maybe I’m going too far comparing it to a fine prison toilet wine. No wonder they don’t allow tastings.
I’m happy Colombia has wine production, but rather than promote it like this, Casa Grajales should work on refining the quality and making it drinkable. It has potential but they’re trying to appear high class and are embarrassing their brand in the process.
In addition to the winery, there is a restaurant on site. They serve typical Colombian food. The meal was not that great and neither was the service. We paid COP$44,000 for a lunch for two with drinks.
Parque Nacional de la Uva
Parque Nacional de la Uva was a different story. We really enjoyed it. The park is set up on a single path well marked with arrows and some signs in English. There are several stations along the way with guides who give short explanations. It takes about three hours to complete the tour. I recommend taking sunblock, a hat, sunglasses, good walking shoes, and light clothing. It’s VERY hot at times, but there are stations to buy water and other refreshments as no outside food or drinks are allowed. Also, most people start with the park and end with the winery tour. We did it backwards.
The first station is about cultivation of grapes after a short walk through the vineyards.
Next is the Mundo del Trapiche, which talks about processing sugar cane and the health benefits natural sugar cane provides. Fresh sugar cane juice, guarapo, is offered for COP$2,000. This was my favorite station.
Next was an ecological talk followed by an herb garden, ostriches, and an ancient tree.
An exhibition of cattle from around the world followed, then other stations with smaller farm animals such as pigs, chickens, and goats, and the Mundo Equino showcasing horses. It was nice but not nearly as interesting or extensive as the collection at PANACA.
A palm forest, zen garden, fruit cultivation area, and small unimpressive zoo rounded out the park.
All in all, the park was interesting and enjoyable, but it has a very long way to go to compete with other more established agricultural parks like PANACA or Parque del Café. The park wasn’t very old when I visited, maybe a year at most, but they’re onto something good and I wish them the best.