Courtney Kingston
September 29, 2015 | Courtney Kingston

The Frost Blanket (and Our New Wines!)

For many, frost conjures up images of a crisp autumn morning and a white dusting on your neighbor’s roof or lawn. For our family’s vineyard in Chile, frost is also a hallmark of fall, but it is even more so a rite of passage for Casablanca Valley’s early spring.

We have lived through almost 20 years of nail-biting induced by western Casablanca’s spring frost season.  It has become part of what we expect each year, and we breathe a collective sigh of relief when late September comes and we’re finally in the safe zone.  

Frost in the vineyards

We have extensive frost protection throughout our vineyard, including overhead micro-sprayers and wind turbines.  The micro-sprayers are usually most effective, because as the water freezes on the buds, it releases latent heat and keeps the new green growth warm.  But given Casablanca’s 9-year drought, it means making a big bet with our most precious resource, water. Once we start the water sprinklers, we have to keep them on until the temperatures rise again above freezing.  Thankfully, our vineyard manager Patricio and his crew are quite adept at 2am decisions about whether or not to use water on those clear, cold nights.  

Ice on the vines creates an igloo effect

The sun warms the frozen vines.

The 2014 vintage was particularly challenging, when the strongest frost in over 40 years hit us on the night of September 17, 2013.  Similar to a 50-year flood or a forest fire, there was little we could do to counteract Mother Nature’s powerful freeze that night.  But also akin to those devastating natural disasters—with time we saw small signs of rebirth.  

For this fall release, we made just 5 barrels of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay—bottling 50 cases of our 2014 CJ’s Barrel Pinot Noir, and 75 cases of our 2014 Sabino Chardonnay.  Despite the high farming costs and meager harvested grapes per hectare, we are especially pleased with the quality of these wines and think they are among our best ever.  Our winemaker Amael Orrego commented in his recent tasting notes: “it’s wines like our 2014 Pinot Noir that inspired me to become a winemaker.”  David Gates, our longtime vineyard consultant from California’s Ridge Vineyards, fortunately tells us outstanding wine frequently emerges from extreme frosts as the additional bud break produces low quantities of grapes, but exceptional fruit.

Hope springs, bud break reaches the vineyards

Unfortunately due to the very low quantities, our new wines will likely be sold out immediately to our Old Corral Club members.  For our general mailing list customers, we’re delving into our library to share some earlier vintages that have since been highly rated.  I pulled together a fun set of my husband Andy's and my favorite wines that we too will be enjoying this Fall with our family and friends.

Frosts and other challenges notwithstanding, our family is grateful for our farm, and for the opportunity to share our corner of the world with you.  Thank you for your support and enthusiasm for our wines; it means everything to our small, family vineyard.

Courtney Kingston
August 5, 2015 | Courtney Kingston

Seven Days in Chile's Lake District

Over the years our family has had many opportunities to explore Chile – first as kids, later as young adults and now, as parents. Last year we had the good fortune to travel to the country’s three most popular destinations: The Lake District, Patagonia and The Atacama Desert. Our vacations were filled with many memorable adventures, amazing scenery, lots of great food and wine, and, of course, a few mishaps. Friends often ask us for advice about Chilean travel, so we’ve decided to put together a sample itinerary based upon highlights of our own trips. We will share our experiences in a three-part travel series, beginning with the Lake District.

Sample Seven-Day Itinerary

Volcán Osorno towers over Lago Llanquihue, Chile’s second largest lake.

Located in southern Chile, the Lake District, or Región de Los Lagos, is best known for its spectacular scenery made up of emerald green hills, snow-capped volcanoes, historic fishing villages, farms speckled with sheep, lush forests, national parks and – you guessed it – lots of lakes. An adventurer’s paradise, the area is a popular travel destination for chilenos, but is less known to international travelers than Atacama and Patagonia.

When arriving in The Lake District just about everyone comments upon how green it is. The climate is temperate, much like Ireland or Portland, Oregon, and it can get very rainy at times. Most tourists visit during the Chilean summer, but in our opinion the best times of year to go are March/April (fall) or November/December (spring) because it is less crowded. Last year we went in winter (July) and were practically the only Americans vacationing there; it was a little chilly -- and definitely wet -- but well worth the visit. The region had an amazing mystical quality to it that felt special and original to Chile.

In addition to the gorgeous scenery and lots of opportunities for playing outside, the area’s diverse history provides a unique mix of culture that you won’t find anyplace else. Once inhabited by the indigenous Huilliche people, the region was conquered by the Spanish in the 1540s. Later, in the 1850s, German settlers from Hamburg began to put down roots. As a result, many of the geographical names are in the Huilliche language, some of the area’s biggest attractions are hundreds of wooden churches built by Spanish Jesuit missionaries, and the architecture in several areas is distinctly German.

One reason we like the Lake District is because of the creative spirit that pops up in unexpected ways and places. Sometimes striking, often quirky, there’s a sense of Chilean artistry that has flourished since Pinochet’s military government left power in 1990. We saw it in unusual locations such as outdoor metal sculptures perched upon a hilltop, at a restaurant that prominently featured wool woven into its décor and in modern architecture accentuated by sustainably harvested wood from local forests.

Having fun with metal animal sculptures above Castro.

Anyone who travels to Lake District should know that not everything functions like clockwork. You’ll want to allow extra time for just about everything you do, because you never quite know what’s around the next corner. There could be a traffic jam (cows crossing the road), snowfall at high elevations, or even a volcanic eruption (or two).

Day 1 – Chiloé

The easiest way to get to the Lake District is by plane. Two airlines, LAN Chile and Sky Airlines, operate many direct daily flights from Santiago. LAN Chile tends to be more expensive than Sky, which is somewhat like Southwest Airlines in the U.S. We recommend flying into Puerto Montt, about an hour’s drive from the island of Chiloé.

Taking a morning flight into Puerto Montt should give you enough time to explore some of the area’s bigger towns and small fishing villages in a day, should you want to do that. Upon arrival, you can rent a car at the airport or arrange for pick-up by your hotel. A few hotels even offer free transportation and will plan daily excursions for you, eliminating the need for a rental vehicle entirely. Assuming you rent a car, head south to Pargua to catch the car ferry for the crossing to Chiloé. You should know this is not like a ferry to Nantucket. There are really no “schedules” – the boats seemingly just go back and forth between the island and the mainland – so you might have to wait a while. The boarding process is very low-key, too. When the road disappears into the water you stop your car and wait for the ferry to pull up.

Sheep graze on a hillside in Chiloé.

In the event that you’re hungry when you reach land, you might try the sour apple empanadas being sold along the roadside – they’re delicious and made from a local variety of apple. Some people go to the seaside city of Ancud for lunch with the hope of seeing penguin colonies that inhabit the area from November through March. We suggest heading southeast toward Castro, the teeny capital of Chiloé, and checking into your hotel.

We stayed at the Centro del Ocio, located on the Peninsula Rílan, about 20 minutes from downtown Castro. The wood-shingled buildings are linked together by walkways, which is typical of the area because of the soggy ground. The hotel has a beautiful view overlooking the archipelago, and the cabins are positioned on the hillside above a sheep farm. If you’re lucky you might see a monito del monte, a rare tree mouse that resembles a mini possum, but is cuter. We’re pretty sure one resides in the casa antigua, an original building on the property. We also highly recommend Tierra Chiloé, a new sustainably-built boutique hotel, or you could try one of the “palafitos” for a truly local experience. The colorful houses perched on stilts along the water’s edge were once the homes of fishermen who would tie up their boats to the stilts and climb up a ladder to the door. Our friend Maria Paz's family owns Palafito del Mar, a contemporary-style B&B that prominently features local wood.

Woolen caps add a touch of quirky flair to wine bottles in Chiloé.

Dinner comes late in Chile so make sure to plan accordingly. Most restaurants will let you in around 8 p.m., but chilenos won’t start arriving until at least 9. (To fend off hunger, a common practice is to take “onces,” which is similar to high tea and happens between 5 and 7 p.m.) For dinner, Sacho is considered the top seafood restaurant in town, known for its curanto (a traditional chilote meal consisting of fish, meat, potatoes, dumplings and vegetables), soups and other crab dishes. We like it because it’s casual and kid-friendly. Other popular spots are Rucalef Putemun (you’ll need reservations) and Mercadito, a cozy spot that sports wine bottles wearing little woolen caps. Licor de Oro, a Chilotan liqueur that tastes somewhat like Limoncello, completes most meals on the island.

The Iglesia de San Francisco in Castro.

Day 2 – Chiloé

Due to its small size, it’s easy to take in Castro’s sights in a few hours. You can’t miss – and wouldn’t want to – the bright yellow and purple Iglesia de San Francisco. In addition to being an important historical landmark, you’ll notice that all of the religious icons are wearing wool sweaters. MAM Chiloé, a modern art museum housed in an old converted barn, is another “must-see” in our opinion. One friend believes it to contain the best art in all of Chile.

If you were to visit these places in the morning, you would still have time for afternoon activities. Some options are heading to the beach (windswept Cucao is a lovely choice, although it is about an hour’s drive), taking a ferry to a neighboring island such as Isla Quinchao, or going to the “feria” (outdoor market) in Dalcahue for original woolens. We purchased colorful yarn at the Puerto Montt airport and later bought long, wooden knitting needles in Dalcahue. If you prefer not to rent a car and explore on your own, many private tours are available. Tierra Chiloé, for example, offers half- and full-day excursions that range from boat trips to horseback riding to visiting cultural attractions. Their experienced bilingual guides provide access to off the beaten path locales that you might not otherwise find.

A wool stall at the Puerto Montt airport presents many colorful choices.

Day 3 – Puerto Varas/possibly Frutillar/Petrohue

Saying good-bye to Chiloé is never an easy thing to do, but adventure awaits! Roughly 200 km north of the island is Lago Llanquihue, Chile’s second largest lake. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you spot Volcán Osorno, a breathtaking snow-capped volcano that looks like Mt. Fuji, and Volcán Calbuco, which erupted in April of this year. Situated along the lakeshore is Puerto Varas, a postcard-perfect town with the stunning white Iglesia del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús at its center. Assuming you departed from Chiloé in the morning, La Jardinera Gastropub would make a good stop for lunch. It has a lovely cottagey feel, features organic fare and the sommelier knows our wines, which we were very excited to learn. You could also try Donde El Gordito, which chef Anthony Bourdain profiled on his TV show.

At this point you’ll have to make some choices: Do you want to hop back in the car and drive east to Lago Todo los Santos or have an outdoor adventure? Another option is to continue north to the “must-see” village of Frutillar Bajo, located 30 minutes from Puerto Varas.  Your decision really depends on how much time you want to spend driving.

Puerto Varas serves as a gateway of sorts to the rugged outdoors. The surrounding area offers many chances for adventure, ranging from gentle hikes to more extreme activities such as canyoning, a combination sport that involves technical climbs, swims and jumping off boulders into rivers. The most common water activities are sea kayaking, canoeing, rafting, boat touring and fly-fishing, or you can stick to land and see the area by bike. Numerous tour companies are stationed in town, ready to help you get out and about.

We opted to head to the Petrohue Lodge, on the banks of Lago Todo Los Santos. However, we highly recommend visiting Frutillar Bajo at some point during your visit. The quaint resort town was colonized by Germans in the 1850s and features houses with German architecture, tidy rose-lined streets, and is famous for its pastries such as “kuchen,” which is essentially a pie made with local raspberries and strawberries. Known in Chile as “La Ciudad de Musica” for its annual music festival, Frutillar is also home to Teatro del Lago, a contemporary performing arts center that has hosted some of the world’s best known musicians including Yo-Yo Ma and Plácido Domingo. It’s a gorgeous venue and we think its restaurant, Café CapPuccini, has the best espresso in town. It also has great high-speed Wi-Fi, which is not a given elsewhere.

If you decide to stay for a night or two in Frutillar, we recommend Hotel Serenade de Franz Schubert. The charming B&B has a veranda overlooking pretty gardens, rooms named after composers, and wonderful breakfast served on floral china. (Frutillar is not far from Interstate 5, which takes you to Puerto Montt, so if you cannot make it at this point in your travels, you can always stop on the way to the airport on your last day in the Lake District.)

The turquoise waters of Saltos de Petrohué.

Day 4 – Petrohué

After a day of travel, the lush natural surroundings of the Parque Nacional Vicente Pérez Rosales provide the opportunity for lots of fresh mountain air. The only lodging option in the park is the Petrohué Lodge, situated at the base of Volcán Osorno. It’s not fancy – there is no TV, phone or Wi-Fi – but the Swiss-style hotel has an old-school feel that we like. It’s distinctly Chilean in that the first time we were there, in 2000, the same person (Marcelo) greeted us at the door, was our waiter, guide, concierge, bell-man, and by the end of our visit, friend. While there, you’ll want to visit , the magnificent chute-like waterfalls that tumble over black volcanic rock into turquoise water. There’s an information center that is nice, new and informative.

Day 5 – Petrohué

A second day in Petrohué provides countless opportunities for getting outdoors. The Lodge offers guided treks ranging from a half-day to six days that vary in terms of difficulty. Three of the treks can be completed in one day or less: the “Trek El Rincon,” which involves hiking along the base of Volcán Osorno through ancient landslides and native forests; the “Desolation Pass Trek”; and the Trek Paso los Pumas,” a full-day adventure that includes boating across Lago de Los Santos, crossing creeks and walking through a valley of endangered alerce trees. Many tourists also go white-water rafting on the Petrohué River. We stayed on land and had almost as much fun watching a duck endlessly surf the river’s Class IV rapids.

Day 6 – Puyehue

A scenic three-hour drive past snow-peaked volcanoes, farmlands and Lago Rupanco gets you to Lago Puyehue and the Cantarias Lodge and Spa. Widely recognized for its world-class fly fishing, the chilly crystal waters in the surrounding area are filled with salmon and trout (Rainbow and Brown). Experienced fly-fishing guides are available at the Lodge and will create custom outings based upon your needs. The owner, Javier, is great and took us on a boat ride on the lake. We couldn’t miss the many nesting bandurrias (black-faced ibis), which are very loud, goose-size birds whose beaks look a lot like downturned divining sticks.

Our kids peek through decorative wooden slats at Cantarias Lodge and Spa.

The creative gourmet food at the restaurant, which we found to be the best in the area, followed by a glass of wine next to Cantarias’ volcanic rock fireplace made for a wonderful last meal in the Lake District.

Day 7 – Puerto Montt/Santiago

Many travelers use Puyehue as a stop along the way to Villa La Angostura, an especially picturesque town in Argentina near Bariloche. You’ll need a visa to do this – as well as a few more days – so we are not going to profile that journey here. We are also leaving out Parque Pumalín in Región Aysén, an amazing 715,000-acre nature preserve created by The North Face founder Douglas Tompkins, which we also strongly recommend, but cannot easily be fit into a one-week trip. Instead, we suggest making the three-hour drive back to the airport in Puerto Montt and returning to Santiago. (Make sure to build in some extra time in your itinerary because of unforeseen issues.)

Once you return to the Santiago area, we welcome you to visit our family’s vineyard in Casablanca. It’s an easy afternoon outing from the city. ¡Bien Viaje!

Kingston Family Vineyards in Casablanca, Chile.

We hope you’ve found this information helpful. Feel free to e-mail us at if you find yourself in need of planning assistance. TripAdvisor is also a great resource.  

Courtney Kingston
September 17, 2014 | Courtney Kingston

A New Look for Kingston Wine Labels

New Kingston Wine Labels

Courtney Kingston is the founder of Kingston Family Vineyards. While she usually lives in northern California, this year she, her husband Andy Pflaum, and their three daughters are living in Santiago, Chile.

This past year was our 10th vintage at Kingston Family Vineyards.  We've been farming in the Casablanca Valley for five generations, and our family tends to take the "long view" on things.  For the last decade, we've been steadily zeroing in on how to make the best wines possible in the western hills of Casablanca.  Much has stayed consistent for us -- our commitment to leveraging the best of Californian and Chilean techniques to make small lots of wines that reflect the terroir and climate of the western Casablanca Valley; our focus on pinot noir, syrah and sauvignon blanc;  and the leadership of our longtime winemaker Evelyn Vidal and consulting winemaker Byron Kosuge.

In the past 10 years, we also haven't changed the design of our wine label -- a distinctly short, rectangular front label with an abstract etching of our 1880's house on our Chilean farm -- which has been essentially the same since our first vintage in 2003.  But with this month's release of our 2013 pinot noirs to our mailing list, our newest wines will have an new look, which you can see pictured below.

Why change?  Our main reason for the update is to better balance the display of the horse name we provide to each wine -- such as Alazan for our flagship pinot noir, or Cariblanco for our sauvignon blanc -- with our name, Kingston Family Vineyards.  Over the years we've received feedback from fans and sommeliers that they wanted us to increase the visibility of the Kingston Family name & logo, yet not give up the horse-name motif.  So to better accommodate both our family name and each wine's name, we've increased the size of the label, and in so doing have also updated the label design.  We hope you like it.

Most important of course, is that what's in the bottle this year and in the next decade is of the same caliber and aspiration as our wines of the past decade.  And we're confident we're delivering on that.


Courtney Kingston


P.S. Our new label features the horse names in a script reminiscent of the handwriting of the Kingston family patriarch, Carl John Kingston ("CJ"), who came to Chile in the early 1900s as a mining engineer.  These horse names were written for the new labels by my father and CJ's grandson, Michael Kingston, who grew up on the farm in the 1940s & '50s, and who remains very active today in the family farm and winery.

Eliana Arredondo
September 10, 2014 | Eliana Arredondo

36 Hours in Santiago

Following her graduation from Stanford in the summer of 2012, Eliana Arredondo (Kingston's Marketing Manager) lived and worked in Chile for 9 months. These are her recommendations for 36 hours in Santiago.

A great thing to do when you first arrive in a new city, whether you’re traveling there or settling into living there, is to orient yourself. The best way I’ve found to do this is through a walking tour of the city. Many larger cities, and even some smaller ones, offer free* walking tours, of the city you’re visiting. They're usually offered in English and lead by city locals. The benefit is that you immediately know where things are located in the city and many of the neighborhoods, making you much less likely to get lost later in your stay. Additionally, you see a lot of the city in a short time, it’s a great place to meet other travelers, especially if you’re traveling solo, and it’s good exercise!

Chile's Congressional building, one of the historical buildings seen on the city tour

City Tour

In Santiago, I took the Good Morning Stgo! tour guided by Spicy Chile which takes you through much of the city's downtown historical buildings and ends at the base of one of Santiago's most famous sights, the Cerro San Cristóbal.

Cerro San Cristobal

One of two famous hills in Santiago, the Cerro San Cristóbal is the taller of the two and you must take a gondola to reach its peak. More adventurous visitors, who are not afraid to sweat or not short on time, can hike up to the top. From there you’ll take in great panoramic views of Santiago and have the chance to see up close the large Virgin Mary statue that watches over the city.

View of Santiago from the Cerro San Cristobal

Barrio Bellavista

If you're tired after the tour (it is a long walk!) you can head to Patio Bellavista for lunch or a nice drink at one of Bellavista's trendy restaurants, just down the street from the Cerro San Cristobal. Restaurant recommendations include: The White Rabbit (American style food, mixed drinks and MOVI wines) and Backstage Life (Italian style pizza and great artisan beers from Chile).

La Chascona

Once you've had lunch and a little rest you can double back to see the hill and Pablo Neruda's house in Santiago, La Chascona. Built almost into the side of the Cerro San Cristobal, La Chascona is shaped something like a ship and was constructed for the poet's third wife and then lover, Matilde Urrutia. Tours of the museum are offered daily and can be taken in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French or German and though the website says no reservations are required, I recommend checking in before lunch to put your name on the list, just in case.

Cerro Santa Lucia

Once you've enjoyed your tour there, you can head over to the Cerro Santa Lucia which is not quite as high as the Cerro San Cristobal but getting to the top is not quite as easy. There’s no gondola and the last part is a series of steep and sometimes uneven stone steps to the miradoro or lookout point which presents different views of the city than the Cerro San Cristobal. The architecture on the hill, however, make it all worth the effort. On one side of the hill you’ll find a European style courtyard and steps with a Neptune fountain (pictured) leading up to other points of interest. Nearer to the top of the hill you’ll find a grassy courtyard with small fountains, all with a great view and perfect for sitting and relaxing a bit.

Terraza Neptuno, Cerro Santa Lucia

Feria Artesanal Santa Lucia

Across from the Cerro Santa Lucia is the Feria Artesanal Santa Lucia, a great place to purchase gifts for your friends and family. Less touristy than other markets in the city, namely Los Dominicos which is also beautiful but a bit of a trek, this market offers a plethora of stands selling typically Chilean goods including cooper, lapislazuli, leatherworks and more.  I found some beautiful pieces ranging from purses to children’s clothing detailed with indigenous Chilean designs at reasonable prices.

Once you've finished your shopping, it should be around dinner time or time for a rest before you check out one of our favorite restaurants in Santiago which we've written about in detail here.

Barrio Lastarria

The next morning, be sure and head over to one of Santiago's up and coming neighborhoods, Lastarria.  As you enter into the barrio you'll see stands  of people selling antiques, old books and clothing and artisan crafts which are fun to peruse as you head to one of the barrio's cafes. We especially like Cafe Wonderful for a cup of coffee (or a bagel) or even delicious mango lassi which they also have as a menu item.

Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral (GAM)

The GAM or the Gabriela Mistral Cultural Center

Then, on your way out of Lastarria don’t forget to take the time to see the Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral or GAM as it is affectionately known. Formerly the headquarters of dictator Augusto Pinochet’s cruel regime, the place has been transformed into a cultural center named for one of Chile’s most famous poets and nobel prize winner Gabriela Mistral. There you can see movies, plays, dance performances, concerts and all forms of art. That’s not to mention the work of art that is the building itself with its patterned copper covering, open spaces and beautiful and unexpected stained glass ceiling! Pick up a program of events and mull it over in the center’s Café Público which serves up coffee and simple on-the-go Chilean food.

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes

Then, if you still have some time left, walk the couple of blocks to see the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, another work of art building which may even be more beautiful than the art it contains.

Though you'll feel like you've seen a lot, rest assured you've gotten only the tip of the iceberg of this great metropolitan city. Look for our next post for more advice on where to go if you've got a bit more time on your hands.

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes

*The tours are free but you'll need to tip your guide as they are paid only from the tips they receive.

Update: Kingston was recently featured in Hemispheres magazine's piece on 3 perfect days in Santiago. In addition to a nice review of our Pinot Noir and Bayo Oscuro Syrah the article is another fine resource for things to do in Santiago.

Courtney Kingston
March 18, 2014 | Courtney Kingston

Our 2014 Spring Release is Here

Dear Friends,
Early this morning, I went for a walk in Las Condes, our new neighborhood in Santiago. Our late summer mornings here are beautifully brisk and quiet. It’s my favorite time of day to explore, and reminds me of walks I took at daybreak through the hills of San Francisco when I first moved to California 22 years ago.

My husband Andy and I have moved our family to Chile for the year. Our three daughters are attending a girls’ primary school a few blocks away in Santiago, with their Chilean cousins. They dutifully (sometimes not so dutifully) wear their navy uniform dresses to school each day, and paso a paso are improving their Spanish on the playground and in their lenguaje class.

Ratings and Awards

Our vineyard is an easy hour’s drive west toward the coast. It will be a treat to watch summer fade into fall, fall fold into winter, winter burst into spring. Living in the US, I’ve “dropped in” every couple months to Casablanca for 10 days here, two weeks there—but rarely had the chance to watch the farm gradually shift with the seasons. 2014 will be an opportunity to explore and experience Chile in a new way.

This spring, we’re releasing our 2012 Bayo Oscuro Syrah, our 2012 Lucero Syrah, our 2012 Bayo Oscuro CJ's Barrel Syrah and our newest 2013 Cariblanco Sauvignon Blanc. As always, they are 100% estate grown and bottled on our family’s vineyard in the Casablanca Valley. And if you’d like to revisit our Pinot Noirs and Chardonnay released last fall, small quantities remain—just let us know.

How to Order Wine

To order wine, please visit our website. Old Corral Club members receive advance allocations of their personalized wine selection, a 10% discount on all orders, and complimentary tastings in Casablanca. To join the Corral, please call us to learn more or sign up online. We also offer free shipping on one case or more.

We only send release letters twice a year, but on our blog, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest you can get more frequent updates on Kingston. Read the latest on our harvest, hear the birds in the vineyard, and get travel recommendations for your next trip to Chile.

We hope you enjoy drinking these wines as much as we’ve enjoyed making them.

Sending our family’s best from Chile.


Courtney Kingston

Time Posted: Mar 18, 2014 at 10:42 AM
Courtney Kingston
February 26, 2014 | Courtney Kingston

My Chile

First in a series of posts by Courtney Kingston (Founder, Kingston Family Vineyards) about her year in Chile.

I write from a flight to Chile, embarking on a new adventure. For the past 10+ years, I’ve been traveling to our family’s vineyard in Casablanca four to five times per year from the San Francisco Bay Area. I usually fly with Byron (Kosuge, our Napa-basedconsulting winemaker), and/or meet my father Michael in Dallas to continue the 10-hour flight down to Santiago. My trips usually last around a week to 10 days, and then I return home to my family in northern California. In many ways, this month’s trip is like many others this time of year. Byron and I are headed south to check on the 2013 pinot noir and chardonnay blends before bottling. We’ll also be surveying the vineyard in anticipation of the upcoming 2014 harvest in March. The big difference is this: Byron flies home midweek, and I’ll stay to live in Chile for the balance of the year.

My husband Andy and our young daughters (ages 8, 6, and 4) arrive this weekend. We have rented an apartment in Santiago, where Annie, Louisa and Caroline will attend an all-girls’ school nearby with their Chilean cousins. I brought back the girls’ navy school uniforms after my November trip, which they eyed cautiously (especially Annie who “doesn’t wear dresses”). They were more easily enthused when Andy and I talked up the ascensor in our El Golf apartment building. (Clearly an elevator is a bit of urban glamour for kids used to living the more rural and suburban setting of Portola Valley, California.) For the past two months, Andy and the older girls have been cramming Duolingo online Spanish lessons together. While Andy hopes the lessons will temper the girls’ adjustment to an all-Spanish speaking school, the girls are clearly in it to spend time with their father on the sofa.

The vineyard will be an easy hour’s drive on the Costanera Norte to Casablanca to visit the winery during the week. It will be a treat to watch summer fade into fall, fall fold into winter, winter burst into spring. Living in the US, I’ve always “dropped in” to Casablanca for 10 days here, 10 days there—rarely having the chance to watch the farm gradually shift with the seasons. Andy and I are planning a weekly date night to explore the food scene in Santiago, which has been coming of age lately. When we made our first Kingston Family wines over ten years ago, the local sommelier community was virtually non-existent. Now a connoisseurship of wine is developing in restaurants in Chile, and artisan wineries like ours are newly embraced.

We hope to spend many weekends at the farm as a family, gathering eggs from the chickens and hiking in the western Casablanca hills. When we’re not on the farm, we hope to explore greater Chile—and discover it in a whole new way. I’m always struck by the fact that Chile is as long as the United States is wide. Given my family’s five generations farming in Casablanca and my frequent trips south, many friends consider me to be quite knowledgeable about Chile. But in fact I know a lot more about our farm in Casablanca. My other travels to Patagonia were 15 years ago, before our vineyard’s inaugural harvest in 2001. This year will be all about depth and discovery. I have much to see and learn. I can’t wait to get started.

Time Posted: Feb 26, 2014 at 11:09 AM
Courtney Kingston
January 24, 2014 | Courtney Kingston

Wine Named After a Horse

Horses are very important to the Kingston Family and have been on our farm for generations.  Half working horses, half wild horses, the Kingston caballos are beloved by all on the Farm.  Most of the time they’re occupied with reducing our risk of wildfires by gobbling up all the dry grass in the hills.  Other times we take them on rides around the Farm to soak in the natural landscapes of the Casablanca Valley, stirring them from their resting place down next to the Old Corral for which we named our Old Corral Club. Sometimes they surprise us, emerging from the fog, right above the winery.  Allowing us a peek of them as they amble about the hills munching diligently.

While growing up on the farm, my uncle Peter had a favorite horse named Alazan de Paso, for the characteristic deep red--almost burgundy--color of his coat and mane.  Years later, when we were deciding what to name our flagship wine, similarly deep red in color, we decided Alazan was the perfect fit.  We soon discovered that other names inspired by our Chilean horses' coats worked for our other wines and embodied the Kingston farm and our love of horses.  We continued the theme with all our wines, not just Alazan but also Bayo Oscuro, Tobiano, Lucero, Cariblanco and Sabino.

We're often asked by guests at our winery to point out a descendant of Alazan and other horses on our farm.  Below are some pictures taken by our friend and photographer, Elisabeth Calmes.  On the day Liz visited, a pack of our horses had come down from the hills and was grazing within a stone's throw of the winery.

Alazan - Referred to as a chestnut horse in English, it simply means the horse is  brown in color and completely devoid of any black hairs, the Spanish meaning assumes a more copper or reddish color coat.

Bayo Oscuro - With the same characteristics of a bay horse, the Bayo Oscuro or Dark Bay in English, has the unique quality of a very dark red or dark brown coat.


Tobiano - A pinto or painted horse whose coat is a patchwork of large brown and white spots. Typical characteristics include legs which are white from about the knees and down, a brown face and a white tail.

Sabino - Sadly unphotographed at the time of this publishing, a Sabino is another variety of painted horse characterized by a relatively solid colored coat which is mottled or speckled in some places, especially the belly.

Lucero - Referring not to the color of the horse’s coat in this instance, a Lucero is a horse which has a white star or diamond shaped marking on its forehead.

Cariblanco - As with the Sabino horse, unfortunately, we could not find a Cariblanco horse on the Farm the day Liz visited. Its name means “White faced horse”.

Time Posted: Jan 24, 2014 at 11:20 AM
Courtney Kingston
October 11, 2013 | Courtney Kingston

Spotlight on Pilar

Beakers of grape juice (must) arranged by Pilar to be tested

At Kingston we’re fortunate to have a small team, many of whom have worked on our vineyard or our farm for years if not decades.   In many ways, everyone feels like an extended member of the Kingston family---some with stories that go back generations in Casablanca, and others who have called our small corner of Chile home more recently.  We thought it would be fun to continue to share the stories of the people behind Kingston---this month telling you more about Pilar Jara, our enologist at the winery.

Courtney watches as Pilar measures out grape must to be tested

Pilar grew up in Concepción, Chile’s second largest city after Santiago, located about a six hour drive south of Santiago.  (Most recently, Concepción made national headlines in 2010 when an 8.8 magnitude earthquake hit nearby).  When Pilar turned fifteen, her family moved north to the Casablanca Valley in search of work.  They settled in Casablanca for a few years, but her parents ultimately returned to Concepción. Pilar chose to stay behind. In 2005, she came to Kingston to work harvest and pick wine grapes as part of our vineyard manager, Patricio Monsalva’s team. Pilar made a name for herself with her dedication and can-do enthusiasm, and soon caught the eye of Evelyn Vidal, our winemaker.

Pilar driving the tractor during harvest at Kingston.

In late 2005, we broke ground on our own small winery at Kingston. (Prior to that, we had been making our small-lot wines in a small rincón (corner) at our neighbor's winery, Casas del Bosque.)  Evelyn asked Pilar to join the founding crew at the winery for the 2006 harvest.  That year Pilar quickly learned to do every job from punch downs and pump overs to driving the forklift (which you can see her doing in the picture below if you look closely at the mirror).  She learned almost every facet of winemaking through her hands-on experience in the vineyard and the winery.  With Evelyn as her mentor, Pilar soon took on all the enology work in our winery’s small laboratory. There she studied each vintage’s fermentations and young wines in barrel, always keeping our team appraised of each tank or barrel’s composition---an important and key part of top quality winemaking.

Three years ago, Pilar took the initiative to invest further in her career by studying in the evenings at the Universidad de Playa Ancha in Valparaíso. With our support, she’s been pursuing a degree in Chemical Analysis and will graduate later this year. On top of her studies and full time work at the winery, Pilar has raised two boys, Felipe and Diego. We couldn’t be more proud of  Pilar. She is a treasured member of our family and team, and an inspiration for us all. When you come visit us in Casablanca, say a special hello to Pilar. Along with the rest of the team at Kingston, she’ll look forward to welcoming you.

Time Posted: Oct 11, 2013 at 11:39 AM
Courtney Kingston
September 19, 2013 | Courtney Kingston

Welcome to the Fall Release!

Dear Friends, Ten years ago, few friends would take me up the invitation to visit us in Casablanca. Admittedly, Chile is a long way away from much of the world.  The flights to Santiago were barely half-full (this had its benefits: I depended on my “C” seat always becoming “C+D+E” for the overnight flight).

But in 2011, the New York Times named nearby Santiago #1 in its “Places to Go in 2011,” and then National Geographic Traveler praised our neighboring Valparaíso in its “Best Trips 2013.” Things changed.

Like our handmade wines, a visit to Kingston is still—and will always be—an intimate experience.  All tastings and tours are private, by appointment only. Old Corral members are complimentary.  Here’s what a few guests have said on TripAdvisor about their time with us in Casablanca:

“A truly behind-the-scenes experience. I would highly recommend [Kingston] to anyone looking to go off the beaten path and experience something remarkable.”

“Of all the places we visited in and around Santiago,our trip to Kingston was the highlight.”

“A tour only surpassed by the wine.”

How to Order Wine

To order wine, please visit our website. Old Corral Club members receive advance allocations of their personalized wine selection, a 10% discount on all orders, and complimentary tastings in Casablanca. To join the Corral, please call us to learn more or sign up online. We also offer free shipping on one case or more.

We only send release letters twice a year, but on our blog, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest you can get more frequent updates on Kingston. Read the latest on our harvest, hear the birds in the vineyard, and get travel recommendations for your next trip to Chile.

This fall, we’re releasing our newest Pinot Noirs and Chardonnay, including the 2012 Alazan Pinot Noir ($32) and 2012 Tobiano Pinot Noir ($20).  Old Corral members will also enjoy exclusive bottlings of the 2012 Alazan CJ’s Barrel Pinot Noir ($38) and the much anticipated 2012 Sabino Chardonnay ($24).  We hope you enjoy drinking these wines as much as we’ve enjoyed making them.

Sending our family’s best from Casablanca, and we’ll look forward to welcoming you south someday soon.


Courtney Kingston

Time Posted: Sep 19, 2013 at 12:00 PM
Courtney Kingston
August 28, 2013 | Courtney Kingston

Wineries to Visit in Casablanca

One of the most common questions we get from our friends and guests to our family's winery is "what other wineries should I visit on my day trip to Casablanca?"   We thought we'd do a post on our favorite recommendations of neighboring wineries---where we like to go ourselves on a day off.  They all share our focus on handcrafted wines, and we can testify first-hand of their gracious hospitality.  It's not an exhaustive list, but instead we hope a reliable short list of other Casablanca wineries you'll enjoy visiting as much as Kingston.

As a side note, like us, these wineries are small and usually unable to keep a full time visit staff so tours must be booked in advance by at least a day to ensure tour availability.  For those tours with lunch options, even more time might be necessary to plan your visit.  In general, the rule is the more in advance you book your tour, the better.  We've also made sure that at all the wineries we mention here have tours in both English and Spanish and sometimes other languages. ---Eliana Arredondo

Alejandra Gutiérrez of Loma Larga showing the vines that grow over the bodega.

Loma Larga

A wonderful winery, you’ll be warmly welcomed to Loma Larga by their tour guide, Alejandra Gutiérrez who will take you on a walk around the small family-owned winery that is doing great things with cool climate reds and whites.  The winery, which sits far into the ranch owned by the Díaz family is a lovely setting with lots of fruit trees and a neat underground bodega which has grapevines growing on its roof.  The tour ends in a tasting of five wines in one of the cosy little houses they have near the bodega and which have been converted into tasting rooms.  One of my favorite things about the tour here was Alejandra's extensive knowledge of the winemaking process and of wines in general having taken several sommelier courses.  Chilean, she's also trained as a translator and is fluent in at least three languages, Spanish, English and French and loves to practice her French with any of you francophones out there.  Also, I'm a huge fan of their Chilean Malbec (named by Descorchados as the best Malbec in Chile) so when you're scheduling a visit, ask in advance if you can try it.

To make reservations, go to their website or you can email Alejandra at

Rodrigo Gómez at Bodegas RE with a glass of their white pinot noir.

Bodegas RE

The latest winery to be opened by Pablo Morandé, the winemaker/"discoverer" of Casablanca as a winemaking valley, they not long ago opened for tours.  More than just a winery, they also produce balsamic vinegar and flavored alcohols which are sold in their shop, reminiscent of a small Italian cantina filled with countless other products made in Chile.  In terms of wine, however, one of the most unique things about the wine they produce is that it is fermented only in oak barrels, clay pots and even larger clay tanks, which makes for an exciting tour. You can even plan to have lunch inside their wine cave among the clay barrels which you won’t find anywhere else in the stainless steel dominated Casablanca Valley.  Even more interesting than the manner in which Bodegas RE produces its wines are the wines themselves.  Full of strange and intriguing combinations, one of their most interesting wines, which I fell in love with, was their $25.000 CLP ($50 USD) white pinot noir called REvelation.  Discovered by accident by the winemakers, this wine has gone on to win numerous awards in Chile and abroad.  With the nose of a fine port, this white pinot noir tastes like you’re drinking pinot noir with a rather strange but not unpleasant twist.

To make reservations, go to their website or you can email at

The first stop on the Quintay tour in and around the winery.


Also somewhat new to the tourism scene in Casablanca Valley, Quintay opened its doors to guests in early 2012.  A co-op of wineries throughout the Casablanca valley, Quintay blends of berries of the same varietal from their different vineyards to craft delicious wines and a diverse tour experience.  The tours, which are planned by their young tour guide, Rocio, lead you on small circuit in and around the winery, so be sure to bring your walking shoes.  You’ll get to see some of their newest grape vines which are all organic and the unique architecture of the winery which lets in enough sun for them to use natural light most of the working day.  You’ll also get to step onto the winery floor and taste different wines straight from the barrel. Since Quintay sources their grapes from different growers all over the valley, you’ll get to compare wines from distinct regions of Casablanca and see how much the micro climates within the valley affect the same grape varietal.  After doing some barrel tasting, you’ll get to try the wines themselves, from the bottle, and compare even further the final blends.  Excitingly, at the end of this year they're slated to start building some new visitor installations with views over the valley.

To make reservations, go to their website or you can email Rocío at

The beautiful tiles and architecture of Casa Marín.

Casa Marín

This winery doesn’t sit in the Casablanca Valley, rather the San Antonio Valley not too far away, but is worth the trip.  With a beautiful bodega decorated with ceramic tiles made by the sister of the winery’s founder and owner, Maria Luisa (Marilu) Marín.  One of the first female winemakers in the area María Luisa resisted others protests that she was planting her vineyards too close to the sea and has survived to be a very successful winery  Her son Felipe, is now the winemaker and year after year the winery continues to win awards for its outstanding wines.  My favorite is their Sauvignon Blanc named by Descorchados as the best Sauvignon Blanc in Chile.  Reminiscent of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc theirs is fruity and so aromatic that you can smell the orange blossoms before your nose even approaches the glass.   In addition to the great wines you'll try at Casa Marín, another benefit of making the trip out to San Antonio is the restaurant, El Sauce, located in the tiny town of Lo Abarca where Casa Marín sits and Casa Marin’s beautiful bungalow, which is, as mentioned in our blog post on hotels in Chile, a great place to stay if you’re in wine country.

To make reservations, go to their website or you can email Isabel at

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To visit Kingston Family Vineyards, email us at

Time Posted: Aug 28, 2013 at 12:16 PM