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Billionaire Wines

Luxury, Isolation, and a Quest to Make the World’s Best Wine

Vik in Chile isn’t just a winery resort — it’s a monument to ambition

Jamie Lafferty By July 25, 2022
Master Suite Hermes overlooking Vik estate vineyard
The Hermès master suite is an ode to the fashion brand, with its iconic orange suitcases and coordinating décor. Photo courtesy of VIK.

It would be easy to describe Alexander Vik’s property as looking like that of a Bond villain. The Vik Chile hotel, sitting atop a promontory in the heart of a vine-stuffed valley in central Chile, looks exactly like the sort of lair that would be owned and lived in by a stylish megalomaniac.

From that lofty position, it’s possible to see up and down the Cachapoal Valley, making it easy to spot approaching helicopters or 4x4s. An agent looking to infiltrate the building would have to negotiate over 10,000 acres of densely planted vines before they could even begin to storm the mount.

The building itself is remarkably ostentatious, with a swooping metallic roof and art spilling out of every bedroom, each of which has its own theme, from traditional Japanese ryokan to hyper-saturated pop art. In one room, “Redondo,” a table is borne by a life-sized person cast in plastic, seemingly turned into a beast of burden. 

The cove for this obvious headquarters is the wine itself, four types of which are produced here. 

VIK winery atop a hill in San Vincente in Chile

Architect Smiljan Radić’s VIK winery, San Vincente in Chile. Photo courtesy of Vik winery.

A quest to make the best

The Vik family spent two years looking for a suitable location for their project, before committing to this stretch of what was scrubland two hours south of Santiago in 2006. Since then, the company has moved almost every element of production in-house, including its cooperage. While it still buys in French oak staves, the toasting is done using fallen Chilean oak foraged from the surrounding valley.

This holism approach is no doubt admirable, if fantastically expensive. Where does the money come from? Well, Swedish-born Norwegian Alexander Vik is an incredibly rich man. Having done his first real estate deal at age 13, he now has an estimated fortune of $1 billion. His financial dealings, involving everything from insurance to internet businesses, have been detailed in Forbes, with dueling profiles apparently unable to make up their minds about his character. “If he’s not on the green… he hits the gym and takes classes with energy and music; he is known for dancing the night away with his friends and family,” gushes one. Another, written in 2014, opens with the headline “Alexander Vik Is The Most Interesting Man In The World (As Long As He Doesn’t Owe You Money).”

While this is a matter for the courts — Vik recently lost a $340 million legal dispute with Deutsche Bank that’s been going on since 2013 – what I really want to know is whether he’s on track to make the best red wine in the world, his stated aim. Countless rich people, after all, pay homage to their wealth by buying trophy wineries, intending to make the world’s best wine. Disappointment often follows, but by the look of things here, Vik clearly is going all in on the project.

Inside the winemaking

Arriving at Vina Vik from Santiago, I am met by head winemaker Cristian Vallejo, who is garrulous and charming. He tells me about the evolution of the signature Vik blend — a Bordeaux blend that’s around 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Cabernet Franc — and the years of soil research. Then Vallejo leads me across a walkway that navigates a football-pitch-sized expanse with recycled water running over the top of it. He tells me that this is to regulate the temperature below, reducing the need for air conditioning, one of several measures they’ve taken to be as sustainable as possible. 

I follow Vallejo inside. As we walk inside, my eye is drawn to huge tanks, purportedly storing wine and not surface-to-air missiles. “We’re actually running out and need to get some more,” says Vallejo, which is exactly what someone building an arsenal would say. “We’re having to use these sacks until we get more sent over from Italy. Before we were selling grapes, but this season 100% will be kept for our wines.”

Nocturnal zen garden of the Vik Chile Hotel

Nocturnal zen garden of the Vik Chile Hotel. Photo courtesy of VIK.

I look across the cavernous space and see what look like enormous pillows, plump with liquid. They look incredibly inviting and I concede that I’d like to jump on one. “I think some guys working at night have already done that,” says Vallejo. 

I follow him inside the tasting room. At the back, past maps detailing the soil types and grape varieties around the property, golden shapes adorn the rear wall. “Millahue is the name of this area, means the ‘Place of Gold’,” says Vallejo. 

There are four bottles on the table: the red Milla Cala, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Carménère, and Cabernet Sauvignon; the La Piu Belle made from the same three grapes plus Syrah; a rosé version, and Vik itself, the hero product. The culmination of the Vik family project, its make-up has changed over the years, with Carménère and Merlot now dropped to leave only the Cabernets. It is rich and smooth like a certain British spy.

Priced at about $150 a bottle, it’s probably beyond the budget of today’s austerity-struck espionage establishment, but it’s still managed to attract plenty of attention. Critic James Suckling recently gave it 98 points, making it his top-scored Chilean wine of 2022. That by itself isn’t enough to get it a coveted spot on the list of investment-grade wines, but it’s a start. Provided Vik can do it again. And again. Until enough time has passed that it’s become a classic.

The man himself

Stepping out into the cool night, the vineyard’s potions ticking the edges of my consciousness, I feel relaxed for the first time since arriving. At least until I see the laser beams coming from the woods. 

“What are those?” I ask as a distant green light, almost certainly mounted on a sniper’s rifle, erratically scans the tree line. 

“Yes, they’re to scare the rabbits,” says the Vallejo breezily. “We have a problem with them sometimes.”

A jeep comes to pick me up before I have a chance to ask any more questions and 10 minutes later, I’m seated in the Milla Milla restaurant, the bottles from the tasting somehow having beat me up the hill, waiting to be paired with each course of dinner. 

Just before taking my seat, I notice Alexander Vik and his wife Carrie on the other side of the room. This is a surprise — the couple more commonly divides their time between Connecticut and Monaco, and are only visiting the property at the same time as me by chance. 

I mention to one of the staff that, if possible, I’d like to speak to Alex after the meal. Seeming to know that I’m onto him, I am ignored. I wait patiently in the lounge for an hour after dinner and spend some time shooting pool with another guest on a vintage table. Still no sign of Vik. 

The following morning the pattern continues — I see the billionaire owner only from afar, but never get close. Conscious that I’ll soon need to leave for the airport, I begin to think I’m not going to get a chance to quiz him about his Machiavellian plans. 

While I fret about this, the owner surprisingly comes striding out of the restaurant and greets me with a wide smile and firm handshake, inviting me into his library to have a chat. Despite myself, I look at the bookshelf behind him and wonder if any of the titles are really levers to open a secret room.

I bumble through a few questions, then get to the heart of the matter. 

“I hear you want to make the best red wine in the world…”

“Mmm-hmm,” says the owner. “And it’s going really well.”

Flummoxed by his candor, I ask how that can be quantified.

“Well, it can’t,” says Vik, sounding cheery while I suddenly worry that I’ve misread the whole situation. What is the aim, then, if not conquering the planet?

“What we want is to be talked about in the pantheon of the great red wines of the world, in the Bordelaise style,” says Vik, sounding simultaneously assured and reasonable. “I’m confident that in a few years we’ll achieve that. That’s the aim, anyway.”

And with that I spin out into the lobby, unsure of myself. I almost get to the car, but can’t quite resist stopping at the gift shop to buy a bottle of the good stuff. Vik’s plan may or may not be evil, but it seems to be working.

Jamie Lafferty was a guest of Vik Chile.