Spotlight: Alex and Carrie Vik
An interview with Alex and Carrie Vik
Tell us a little about your background, education, and how did you meet Alex and the vision you both share about life and business.
I am an American. I was born and half raised in Washington Stare near Seattle and then lived in Boston where I went to Tufts University graduating with a degree in Sociology. During college I began my entrepreneurial life starting a homemade ice cream and bake shop on Cap Cod during the summers instead of getting a summer job. Alex and I met during college (he came to the US from Europe to go to Harvard). He was my first employee (his pay was ice cream!). We have been together since then, raised a family of 4 children, worked together on the retreat and vineyard projects and have shared a lifelong passion for art, architecture and design.
Do you have children? Are they involved in the family business?
We have 4 children. 2 of them are beginning to get involved in family businesses where they have interest. The other 2 are following their passions.
Does the name Vik have its origin in the Vikings?
Yes, the Vikings come from Vik, Vik-ings. My husband is Norwegian.
What joint businesses or activities did you first develop in Norway or Sweden?
Over the years my husband has had a number of high tech businesses in Scandinavia.
Was love for art a commonality since the beginning of the relationship?
We both grew up with a love for art in very different ways. Alex’s family collected art and had an art auction house in Oslo. Art was something in my family, 1 of my sisters was an artist and I did a lot of art in my teenage years. After college, Alex and I moved to New York City where we soon began to collect art and antiques. Our passion and interest grew from there.
Was Uruguay the first foreign country to invest in? What steered Vik there?
Vik Retreats was born in Uruguay. We first came to the country to present our first daughter to Alex’s grandmother who was Uruguayan and lived in Montevideo. It was the first time he had ever been. We fell in love with the country and about two decades later decided to create these beautiful projects. Alex calls them our “for love projects”.
How was the processes between creating the architecture and curating its works of art for Vik Retreats?
Each property has its own personality, its own design, architecture and unique art. The first Vik Retreat was Estancia Vik José Ignacio which is a homage to Uruguay. We had a clear vision of an Estancia with Spanish Colonial style architecture. It is 4000 acres of incredibly beautiful nature with a river and laguna. At Playa Vik we decided to build a very contemporary and sustainable property, bringing the 21st century to Jose Ignacio. It has the best location and is very private. Later we created Bahia Vik, bungalows on the beach in and among the dunes. I believe it is important to feel the environment and then decide what fits. The property has a unique personality with a main building, 15 bungalows, a great Pavilion for events, a yoga, gym and wellness center and La Susana, our very cool beach restaurant and club. We began the process of curating the art by meeting and getting to know artists as we built each property. With the art as with the architecture and design elements they must fit into the vision for the property. That breeds the individuality that is so central at our retreats.
How do you spend your time at your properties in Uruguay?
We work a lot but find time to be active, riding horses at Estancia Vik, bicycles, playing tennis, daily yoga classes, beach walks and ocean swims, lunches and sunsets at La Susana, our beach restaurant, fish bbq’s at Playa Vik and riding through the countryside watching for the endless species of birds who live here, wild animals (have you ever seen a Carpincho and Niandú, South American Ostrich?)
How did the discovery of the Millahue Valley in Chile come about?
We decided to pursue the idea of making the best red wine of South America, a wine that would join the pantheon of the great wines of the world so put together a team of oenologists, geologists, climatologists and agronomists to search South America for 2 years looking for the perfect terroir where we could grow the perfect grape. They found the property 2 hours south of Santiago and did one year of very extensive testing to prove it was the right place to plant. In 2006 we bought the property and began planning, clearing and planting. In 2007 we had an architectural competition for the winery project. We produced our first test vintage in 2009 to see if we were going in the right direction (to achieve world excellence!). In 13 years we have accomplished what many in the wine world would say is impossible. Our wines are receiving the top ratings, our vineyard is winning competitions for the best of the world and the experience of staying on the vineyard is out of this world.
Did you already intend to build Viña Vik and the hotel?
We started Vik Retreats in Uruguay at the same time we began the wine project so of course hoped that one day we would build a retreat there. First we felt it important to prove that we could produce exceptional wine before building the winery and a hotel.
And the new project, Puro Vik, how do you describe it?
Puro Vik is another exceptional experience. It is a series of 7 totally glass houses built into the hillside overlooking the lake, the vineyards and the nature. When you stay at Puro you are living among the trees in transparency yet total privacy and exceptional luxury. Each glass house has its own design and art with a private balcony with a bathtub and lounge area. The feeling of being one with nature from a glass bubble is rare in the world.
I know that there was a concern to apply the concept of terroir, or terruño in the Chilean expression. Was the objective fully achieved?
From the first day we decided to take a holistic approach to our vineyard and every aspect of creating great wines. I believe that the concept of terroir has been very successfully reached at VIK because it is driven by holism. Just spending time there with our incredibly inspired team of winemakers, chefs, agronomists, experience concierge and everyone from the workers in the fields to the team in the office you feel that passion for creating something exceptional with that holistic approach. Of course the wines speak for themselves, each pure and exceptional, with its own story and profile. Each the best in its category.
Tell us a little about the Vik, Milla Cala and La Piu Belle wines.
VIK is the premier wine from the vineyard. With a marked elegance, it has characteristics similar to the great wines of Bordeaux but with a more dynamic and fruit forward profile. Milla Cala, the introductory wine to VIK is aromatic and harmonious and ready to be enjoyed. La Piu Belle was created in homage to art and the art of winemaking. Featuring a visually stunning label which wraps the entire bottle, it is a work of art in itself. The wine is voluptuous, delicate and balanced. La Piu Belle Rosé, the newest wine, is energetic, complex and fruit-forward with a dry finish. Each of the wines is truly unique and has shown continued improvement with the release of each vintage, pointing to the exceptional nature of the terroir and sustainable practices. Every year the vines get better and we learn more each year from the 400 micro blocks we tend individually as each has slightly different characteristics, all good and with great diversity.
How was the journey from conception to the inauguration of the Galleria Vik Milano?
Working in a great city like Milan, the world capital of design was both exciting and inspiring. It was a great challenge to build an 89 room hotel in an historical monument in less than one year. The Italians proved to be great partners in the construction with wonderful artisans and enormous enthusiasm for our project. Working with the Italian and international artists was truly an honor and an inspiration. The results are spectacular.
Can the art at Galleria Vik Milano hotel be considered to be contemporary, with an Italian predominance?
Predominately Italian with a great range of artist style but mostly contemporary the art at Galleria Vik Milano is truly inspired. Each room has its own artist with many who came and spent time painting and creating within the hotel. Truly an inspiring experience.
In addition to art, the concept of wellness, wine and gastronomy are always present in your projects. Tell us about your vision of these pillars that support Vik Retreats?
VIK is about exceptional experiences and about creating extraordinary places. Our desire to include wellness, wine and gastronomy (and sustainability!) into what we have done comes from the desire to provide those exceptional experiences. Our guests come from all over the world. They are sophisticated travelers and very successful people with limited time and high expectations. When they come to stay at a Vik Retreat they are looking for an extraordinary experience. All of the elements that we have built provide them with highly curated experiences tailored to their needs and desires. One beautiful culinary experience at VIK is our extensive organic garden where guests can pick from over 200 different varieties, prepare and enjoy them. The ultimate farm to table experience, always fresh seasonal and directly from the garden.
From your perspective, what is hospitality? And which direction will that concept take after the pandemic?
Hospitality is the art of providing exceptional experiences for your guests. People are desperate to get back to life, to explore. It seems as if business travel will change but I believe that leisure travel will come back stronger than ever. Travelers will continue to demand rich experiences and Vik Retreats is ready to provide those experiences.
What´s next? Any new projects?
We do not have any new retreat projects in the works at this time but we are always on the lookout for exceptional properties in exceptional locations. We do have some wine projects in the works which are very exciting. Stay tuned!
How has travel influenced and still influences your life?
For the last year our travel has been limited by the pandemic. When the borders opened in Chile we managed to get to the vineyard after almost a year away. We spent 2 wonderful weeks there and then came to Uruguay where we plan to stay until April when we will go back to Chile to experience our harvest. Being in summer in such beautiful places during this phase of the pandemic has been a gift. We think that going forward there will be an increase in demand for remote living and working. If the pandemic has proved anything to us it is how possible it is to be away from home in beautiful places able to enjoy and continue to work. All you need is a great accommodation and excellent wifi!
In addition to South America and Europe, do you have other frequent destinations? Tell us a bit about them, and drives you to choose your trips?
Our circuit is Europe, US and South America. We love spending time on all three continents with family, friends, and enjoying the richness of life.
What catches your attention the most when arriving at a new destination?
I am a very aesthetic person so what catches my attention first is the overall look and feel of a place and then I go straight to the details, the things that make the destination unique, special and remarkable.
What are your favorite restaurants in the world? Are they Michelin stars or simple, organic and local?
Typically I prefer simple and local over Michelin star restaurants. Not to say that there are not many, many great Michelin restaurants, many of which I have been fortunate to experience. I think what we are doing at Milla Milla at VIK Chile is outstanding. It marries local, organic with exceptionally delicious and absolutely beautiful foods. La Susana, our beach restaurant in Jose Ignacio is the epitome of simple, local in an exceptional setting, feet in the sand, on the beach, music, beautiful happy people, super relaxed with food and wines that are always delicious.
In addition to your hotels, which others in the world do you recommend?
That is a tricky question. We created Vik Retreats because we travel extensively and have stayed at some of the best hotels in the world which are exceptional but in our opinion, have a different philosophy of the human experience and mostly lack individuality of design. With our passion for art, design and architecture we decided to create our retreats to reflect what we were looking for in the world of travel. Personal, experiential and individual as well as exceptional. Some hotels that come to mind; Baur au Lac and the Dolder in Zurich, the Four Seasons in Budapest and Paris, Connaught in London, Hotel du Cap in Antibes, Hotel Monasterio in Cusco. There are of course many more.
Tell us some unusual or surprising facts that happened in the places where you have been.
Travel is about exploration and discovery. We have 4 children and a goal in raising children of the world is about just those things. Exploring and discovering with our children has been a joy in my life. Of course it is what you learn about the places you visit but often it is about the people you encounter. The boy who ran through the forest to greet our bus at every hairpin turn down from Machu Picchu is one that is imprinted on my memory. He was there before the bus at every turn with a huge smile on his face and a greeting. Of course he was there to collect whatever coins we would give him. Entrepreneurial and creative, he impressed all of us. There are so many stories!
Can you tell us which places you would like to discover or go back to and why?
There are endless places in the world I would love to travel to. Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, South Pacific, Peru again, India (again as it is such a huge country and I have only traveled in Rajasthan), Chilean Patagonia, the Lake District of Chile, Bolivia, and so many more. I love understanding where I am, the culture, the people, the art, design and of course the architecture. The diversity of the world is incredible and I want to know as much of it as possible.
What is luxury for you today?
Luxury is about exceptional experiences that are hard to come by.
What are the greatest lessons you learned in your journey as a traveler and entrepreneur?
As a traveler it is go with the flow, be ready to experience what is in front of you without self conceived notions of what should be. As an entrepreneur it is about being passionate about what you do because when you are, exceptional things happen.
How do you balance your personal / family life with your business life -- the coexistence of travel, art, design, hospitality, and gourmet living?
Well, we live for our family and we live for our work. Both are passions, family first! Our family has been part of our travel, art, design, architectural life and vice versa. Life is an adventure to experience with those who you love.