Grant Phelps’ Chilean Hotel a Sustainable Paradise
New Zealand-born winemaker Grant Phelps has just opened WineBox, a wine-focused hotel in the city of Valparaíso, Chile constructed out of 25 decommissioned shipping containers.
Set on a former micro landfill in Cerro Mariposa (or “butterfly hill”), one of the less-hiked of the city’s 45 hills, WineBox is constructed out of containers purchased from the nearby port of San Antonio. Each of the salvaged containers (which travelled a combined 160 million kilometres before landing at WineBox) comes with a history that’s been traced back to ships carrying freight from fireworks to 119 kilos of cocaine hidden inside instant coffee jars bound for the Polish port of Gdynia.
At the hotel, recycling is a theme that reigns throughout, with everything from the furniture to the hot tub – a 160-year-old, 1500-litre Chilean wine vat – crafted from repurposed wine products. Over 3000 wooden pallets recovered from wineries in the Casablanca Valley form bed frames and sliding bathroom doors, while a portion of 100 decommissioned barrels serve as bar stools on the rooftop.
Pop-up dinners, as well as graffiti workshops and wine blending sessions, are part of what makes the unconventional project feel all the more at home in Valparaíso, a city with a motley crew of bohemian characters and architectural styles that teeter from corrugated iron-lined homes and ramshackle wooden cottages to restored Victorian mansions housing boutique hotels.
“It’s really interesting to get people here from Santiago who have a real rejection for Valparaíso. They don’t like it because they think it’s messy and dirty, and they don’t want to park their expensive car on the street in case it gets keyed,” Phelps says. “What I want to do with WineBox is get them over that and get them to come back and experience the things that make Valparaíso great because it’s such a cool city.”
Phelps, who did a seven-year stint at family run winery Viu Manent before taking over as head winemaker at Casablanca Valley’s Casas del Bosque, passed by this particular plot of land multiple times in the 17 years since he moved to Valparaíso, but he never once saw a “for sale” sign. Inspired by the 2011 earthquake in his hometown of Christchurch, when the city turned to shipping containers as a way to quickly rebuild, Phelps transformed this less-than-prime piece of real estate overlooking Valparaíso’s port into a destination in itself worth the two-hour trek from Santiago. “When I went to Christchurch, I was really looking for a project I could do that would allow me to be independent and make wine on a small scale,” he explains. “It was serendipity that I happened to go to Christchurch at that time and see the architecture with the containers.”
As the first hotel in the Southern Hemisphere to produce its own wine – and the city’s first urban winery – WineBox follows Phelps’ no-waste mentality, with a 70 per cent barrel-to-glass concept, meaning less wasted glass and cork. Last year, some of the hotel’s first guests helped with the winemaking process, slipping off pants, shoes and socks to punch down cabernet sauvignon grapes from Maipo and Syrah from Leyda, which will be available in three months when the first vintage (and Chile’s first 100-per cent body-plunged wine) debuts. And while over 60 per cent of Chile’s wine is exported, Phelps plans on keeping WineBox’s vino reserved for in-house guests and visitors only.
Original article by Lane Nieset, Food & Wine, February 26, 2018.