Exploring Chilean Wine Country

Highlights of Chilean Wine Country

I had two and a half days to visit the areas of interest near Santiago, in particular the Chilean wine country. Christian Ramcke, my host, took me to the lovely town of Valparaiso and to two of the wine growing areas that are famous and very much visited due to their proximity to Santiago, namely Maipo and Colchagua.  If deciding to spend a few days in the Santiago area (Central Chile), I would encourage the traveller to skip overnighting in Santiago altogether. Santiago is modern and efficient capital city with a good restaurant scene and fine hotels, but with little in terms of cultural interest that would warrant an overnight stay.  I stayed at a great hotel, the W, which I loved, but for all its avant-garde style and hip crowd, it is 75% business, and now you know why. There is another fine boutique hotel that we like, called “Le Reve.”   With only 33 rooms and 2 suites and a traditional style, this and “W”, are our chosen accommodation options. They are both located in the residential areas of Las Condes  (“Sanhattan” owing to its financial connections) and Providencia respectively. Whereas these neighborhoods are pleasant, leafy, and quiet, the traffic in and out of Santiago as well as in the Centre is another big deterrent to staying in this city.

Valparaiso – Chile’s Cultural Capital

A much more interesting alternative is driving north straight from the airport to the port city of Valparaiso, which takes no more than one -and-a half hours. Valparaiso (or “Valpo” as it is commonly called) is Chile´s cultural capital. It is bohemian, picturesque and full of history, culture, and interesting architecture. The most important port city in Chile during the 19th century, it is full of charm as well positioned on a steep hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It is the world´s graffiti capital, where graffiti so long as it is creative in nature is allowed and even encouraged, but always under supervision. What began as an artistic form of protest has become one of the city´s attractions. However, sadly, there is a lot of the ugly graffiti art as well.  There are many boutique hotels in Valparaiso, and our chosen ones are Boutique Hotel Casa Higueras and Boutique Hotel Zero. They both boast tasteful decor and wonderful views of the bay. A promising newcomer is Palacio Astoreca, which will be opening soon. In Valparaiso there are interesting fashion design shops, antique stores and cafes, narrow alleys and steep staircases, and several vintage lifts that take you up and down the city streets. We had a lovely lunch at Cafe Turri, and browsed some nearby stores, but sadly had to leave this lovely town much too soon. I shall be back for sure.

Viña del Mar Seaside Resort

On our way back to Santiago we passed by Viña del Mar, Chile´s seaside resort “par excellence”, with a lovely boardwalk and turn of the century mansions.

The Colchagua Valley

The next day we spent exploring the Colchagua Valley. There are several wine producing valleys in Chile: Maipo, Casablanca, Colchagua, Leida, Curico and Limari (among others).  Colchagua, which lies approximately 200 kilometers south of Santiago, is one of Chile´s most important wine growing and producing regions. It is home to vineyards and wineries of famous Chilean wine such as Montes, Casa Lapostolle, and Viu Manent.

Best wine in the World

Chile is famous for its wines although they generally claim lower prices than wines of a similar quality from the Old World. However, Chile is now producing more and more premium wines.  One of them, the Clos Apalta 2005, a Carmenere & Cabernet Sauvignon blend, claims the enviable title of the “Best Wine in the World.”  Some of the premium Chilean wines are by Concha y Toro and Baron Philippe de Rotschild and include: Almaviva by Concha y Toro, Don Melchor y Montes, Montes Alfa M, Seña by Errazuriz, and by Santa Rita – Pehuen (100% Carmenere), Triple C (Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc and Carmenere), and Casa Real Reserva Especial.

What makes vineyards different here when compared to the old world is the quality and variety of the terroir. This terroir is both varied and rich, due primarly to the proximity to the Pacific Ocean (60 kms) and to the Andes peaks (80 mms). Many of the vineyards are planted on slanted terrain given that they really are on the foothills of the Andes here, adding a further element of richness to the earth. Many vineyards in Colchagua are now producing organic wines (without chemical pesticides or fertilisers) and a handful of others are exploring biodynamic agriculture. Biodynamic agriculture is not only organic by nature; it takes into account the phases of the moon and other physical and natural elements into the winemaking process. I am not an expert on vineyards or vineyard tourism (although I love wine), but one thing that struck me from visiting the vineyards in Chile, is how modern their approach is in both the agricultural and production processes. The wine produced in the Colchagua Valley is red wine, and generally a blend of grapes, with Carmenere (the Chilean grape par excellence) and Cabernet Sauvignon being the most predominant.

Specialty wineries

Christian chose two wonderful upscale, small specialty wineries which also have guest lodging and offer a variety of outdoor activities, such as horse riding and biking.  The first winery was VIK, which calls itself a “holistic vineyard, as a result of its unique approach to winemaking”. VIK is located in Millahue, a beautiful valley within Colchagua. The owner, Norwegian born Alexander Vik, owns two upscale lodges in Jose Ignacio, Uruguay. This is his first experiment in winemaking. The two people in charge are Gonzague de Lambert and Cristian Vallejo, two of the most renowned enologists in Chile. In addition to the winery, which now has 303 hectares of vines, it has a lovely 4 room lodge with two spacious terraces, each with an amazing 360 view of the vineyards, hills and snowcapped peaks of the Andes. Here you will discover the high precision viticulture and the fabulous winery, with its icon wine, the VIK, a blend of Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon. After a very educational visit, and an exclusive wine tasting, we had a delicious lunch at the lodge dining room with amazing views. It was not without regret that we bid farewell to our delightful hosts Sabrina, Cristiand and Gonzague, before we went off on our way to the Lapostolle Winery, further south the Valley. They had opened the winery especially for us, as it remains closed during the entire month of August.  French-owned and run by Alexandra Marnier of Grand Marnier fame,  Lapostolle are the creators of 2 ranges of both red (Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere) and white (Chardonnay) wines: the “Casa” range and the premium award winning Clos Apalta range.  The winery´s avant garde architecture and ultra high quality processes and techniques were impressive. The Lapostolle winery which we visited is where the premium Clos Apalta and Borobo wines are produced, and it is also here that the lovely “Relais & Chateaux” Caistas for hosting guests in style are located.

When visiting the Colchagua Valley you really need a full day, from 8 am to 7pm. After Lapostolle we headed back to Santiago and it took us over 2 hours. I hit the lounge at the W again and had dinner at the marvelous Peruvian – Japanese Osaka restaurant. It was a miracle that they let me in, as it was booked solid, for that night and several nights ahead. As I was a hotel guest they squeezed me in at the bar and I enjoyed a delicious Teriyaki beef.

Santa Rita Winery in Maipo Valley

My last day in the wine country near Santiago was spent at the wonderful Santa Rita Winery in the Maipo Valley, one hour from Santiago. In Maipo, you also find the headquarters of the world famous Concha y Toro and Cousño Macul wineries, two of the largest and best-known Chilean wine names in the world.  Santa Rita, founded in 1880, is the third largest winery in Chile (the first and second being Concha y Toro and San Pedro respectively) It has 750 hectares of vineyards in Maipo and a total of 4000 in total all over Chile´s wine country. It is a winery with great historic significance, as it was previously a home of Doña Paula Jaraquemada, and was where Bernardo O´Higgins and 120 soldiers took refuge after a battle against forces from the Spanish crown at the time of the fight for independence 200 years ago.  It is in their honour that Santa Rita has its very well known 120 range. Now, the building is a National Monument and it is the very well known (and delicious) restaurant “Doña Paula.”  The winery also has an unbelievable 40 hectare garden, a highlight of the property, and within it guests can be lodged in style at the historic home of the founder of the winery.

 All in all, this visit was a great and wonderful surprise. I had a delicious lunch with Christian and our delightful hosts Francisca Muñiz and Roberto Rivas, where we drank plenty of Santa Rita´s finest wines and by then, and before being able to afford a glimpse at the vineyards, I had to set off to the airport.

 

These were very busy and very enjoyable days in Chile, thank you Christian and team for putting all this together and for your company!!

Interested in traveling to Chilean wine country? Contact us to connect you with Christian for a private, tailormade trip to Chile.

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