Héctor Vergara, a Chilean wine professional, has just released his autobiography, Descorchando mi Vida (Uncorking My Life). Vergara is the only Master Sommelier in Latin America and one of just 197 professionals worldwide to ever achieve this prestigious title.
Master Sommeliers are named as such only after a rigorous exam testing their knowledge of global wine regions, wine tasting, specific vintages, methods of vinification, cigar, cheese, chocolate and spirit tasting, and much more.
While those who are wine hobbyists might be intimidated by the words of a Master Sommelier, Vergara’s life story is a dynamic one that seamlessly intermingles with the history of wine in Chile, and with social and political happenings around the globe, giving the account a wide and informative scope.
His tale begins with humble origins in the town of Padre Hurtado with his first wine tasting as a boy. Vergara’s father owned a country store that sold a wide variety of everyday goods as well as a collection of wines and spirits.
“I’m talking about the sixties, when practically all wine wasn’t sold in bottles, but in 15 liter bottles called ‘chuicos de mimbre,’” Vergara writes. He recalled a group of his father’s friends at the store gathered around a newly arrived bottle of Casillero del Diablo from Viña Concha y Toro.
“No one there could have said things like that wine had round and silky tannins, that it had notes of pepper,” Vergara described. “But we surely made reference to whether it was a full-bodied wine or not, that it was strong, that it lingered on the palate, and of course, that it was good.”
Exiled in Europe
His peaceful existence took a dramatic turn during the era of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Vergara was detained a number of times as a political prisoner and eventually managed to escape, first to Argentina and then to England.
His stint abroad extended for nearly two decades and took him from England to France and then to Canada. More importantly, however, it reignited Vergara’s childhood love for wine and exposed him to a worldwide wine culture that could not have been possible in Chile at the time.
Rich wine and food imagery run through Vergara’s story. These pairings come to signify critical events, like when he meets the parents of his first wife, or the birth of his daughter.
He recalled an instance while working in the Chilean air force. While stationed at a base El Bosque, a friend was turning 17 years old. Although it was against all air force protocol, Vergara snuck him a bottle of red wine from Viña San Pedro.
He blissfully describes the bittersweet combination of the savory cabernet sauvignon alongside a slice of birthday cake as if it had happened just yesterday – not over four decades earlier.
“We didn’t have glasses, we drank it out of plastic cups, but what a perfect pairing!”
Vergara’s unpretentious love of wine is both contagious and informative. In reading Descorchando Mi Vida, you’ll learn about nearly three hundred years of wine history in Chile, about strange and exotic grapes and wine experiences from all over the globe, and of course his truly unique life story—one of struggle and hardship but more importantly of vibrant taste and sensation.
El Mundo de Vino, Chile’s vanguard wine boutique
For the moment Descorchando Mi Vida is only printed in Spanish. It is available for purchase online or in any of El Mundo del Vino’s locations. Vergara was a cofounder of these wine boutiques, now known throughout Latin America for their excellent selection of Chilean and imported products.
El Mundo de Vino stores are worth visiting for any wine lover passing through Chile. They offer tastings and occasional talks by notable Chilean and international players in the wine industry.
By Gwynne Hogan