Founder Kristin Chambers visited Chile’s Colchuagua Valley last month. Pam Wehbi documents her travels below
It was Spanish monks who first brought wine grapes to Chile in the 16th century so they would have wine to celebrate mass. Fortunately, the locals developed a taste for it, and Chile’s thriving viticulture began.
Well, the monks got the ball rolling at least, and the fabulous terroir didn’t hurt. Now, vintners in the Colchagua Valley are producing award-winning wines that beg to be tasted. Two of last year’s highest-rated wines were produced in this region, located two-and-a-half hours south of Santiago. The Colchagua Valley’s warm and dry climate has just enough rain and ocean breeze to promote vine growth, making it ideal for growing grapes,
The Colchagua Wine Route is graced with many a fine vineyard producing Cabernets, Syrahs, Malbecs and Carménères. To really appreciate the varietals and the stunning landscapes of the Colcagua Valley, going slightly off the beaten path rewards you with incredible experiences – and unparalleled wines, of course.
We had just two days free before my visit to Argentina, and the hour-long flight from Buenos Aires to Santiago and two-and-a-half-hour scenic drive from there to the Colchagua Valley was totally worth it. Fortunately, husband and wife team (Francisco and Connie) from Colchagua Wine Tours gave me ‘behind the scenes access to the wineries in Colchagua. They opened back doors to some wonderful wineries, accommodations and restaurants for an experience that was completely different from the standard Napa or Sonoma wine tours (and even commercial tours of the region) that most people are familiar with.
Having Connie and Francisco accompany us and show us the wine country as locals know it made all the difference. Here are some of the hidden gems I discovered.
With thriving vineyards, award-winning wines (Casa Silva is one of the world’s top 100 wineries) and a small colonial-style boutique hotel (located in the original family house), it has a little of everything. You can tour the vineyards and stop in the wine cellar, and then relax in the Polo Club House. If you’re there in the summer, sit outside, and you can often watch a polo match in action in the nearby fields.
Want a taste of history with your glass of wine? Neyen in the old terraces of the Tinguiririca River in the Apalta area is it. The Cabernet Sauvignon vines are among the oldest in Chile, first planted in 1889. Carménère vines were added in 1936. The owners of Neyen noticed the grapes paired well together, so they developed their one and only wine, a blend of the two. The taste from year to year displays subtle differences, and their intensive tasting program let us discover firsthand the differences a year of aging makes.
To produce the world’s best wine, you need the world’s best location. Norwegian entrepreneur Alexander Vik found a spot just outside Santa Cruz in the Millahue Valley, which means “Place of Gold,” to grow grapes. He even goes so far as to position the vines according to the sun and wind, and put rocks and water where they are most beneficial. The result is a wine created from a blend of grapes that changes yearly in different combination. The first thing you notice when you visit is the contemporary, out-of-the-ordinary hotel with glass-walled suites, the Viña Vik Millahue, set amid the back drop of the Andes. At Vik, you can go on a wine journey, sampling a progression of wines that allows you to enjoy each grape’s singularity, and ultimately, you arrive at the perfect blend.
What do you get when you cross a Carménère with a Spumanti? A delicious wine that the French could never produce because of tight regulations. Apaltagua in the Apalto region can take some liberties with their varietals and have fun with winemaking. It’s worth stopping at this five-year-old French-influenced winery that has won many awards for their wines. Their ‘Grial Icono’ wine was awarded by local vintners as the best Carménère in Chile.
Having a panoramic view of the white-capped Andes while you’re visiting a renowned vineyard is a fantastic bonus, but taking in that view from a horse-drawn carriage is spectacular. That is an experience not to miss at this 82-year-old winery that offers an outstanding portfolio of Malbecs. The winery is family friendly and has an award winning restaurant Rayuela Wine & Grill. It is also home to the Food & Wine Studio run by Chef Pilar Rodriguez. When Pilar is in town, she sends out menus to the locals who rush for a chance to taste her farm-to-table menu – but usually just days in advance.
This is another gem in the Apalta region, a winery known for its reds – and its sustainability. The prize of the property, however, is Fuegos de Apalta, the new restaurant by renowned chef and restaurateur Francis Mallmann. The restaurant is picture perfect – enclosed in glass with unobstructed views. The kitchen is within view, and everything is prepared to perfection over an open fire. If you could picture the perfect lunch setting in the wine country, Fuegos de Apalta is it.
When you’ve spent the day in the Colchagua Valley touring vineyards and tasting wine, try to end up at the Ventisquero La Roblería” vineyard. Walk into the living room of this little bodega on stilts, and then go out on the terrace for 360-degree views. The serene setting is ideal for watching the sun as it sets over the mountains.
You know that the Colchagua Valley boasts the perfect terroir for growing grapes. That’s not all; it produces wonderful organic produce and has rich pastureland to nourish farm animals. The five farmers’ markets within the Santa Cruz area are worth a visit. You’d be amazed by the variety of products available – everything from sustainably harvested seafood and grass-fed beef to handmade soaps and lotions. Pick up the fixings for a wine country picnic, or grab some souvenirs to take home to family.
Even a short visit to the Colchagua Valley is worth it. The people are friendly, the wine delicious and the views are breathtaking. It’s a great way to wind down after spending time in Patagonia or as a stop along an extended South American journey.