Wine regions in Chile
The most beautiful vineyards in the country
Elqui & Limarí Valley
Five hundred kilometers from Santiago, the Elqui Valley forms the northern borderline of Chile´s wine regions. Climate conditions for growing wine are excellent: hot, a bit windy and dry, with only 130 mm rainfall yearly. An integrated irrigation system (big water tanks being connected by canals with one another) and nutrient-rich, water-storing and heavy soils provide harvests of ripe and sweet grapes that are used in the pisco production, a brandy considered as Chile´s national drink. Mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carmenère, Chardonnay and some Syrah are cultivated.
The wineries Falernia and Cavas del Valle are open to visitors. Cavas del Valle is one of the smallest wineries in Chile and handcrafts organic wine in a very caring way.
Valle del Elqui is one of Chile´s most beautiful natural areas. The fertile valley divides a semiarid mountain range, the “precordillera” of the region, reminding a desert. Due to very low rainfall, the sky is clear all year through. Several international astronomy associations operate observatories in this region, such as the one on top of the mountain Tololo, in La Silla, or on top of the Pachón. The latter maintains a Gemini-Telescope of 4,1 m and is one of the most important observatories in the southern hemisphere. In Vicuña, a small village 50 km from La Serena into the valley, Gabriela Mistral was born, a Chilean poet and nobel prize winner. A museum and a school in which she tought is dedicated to her and can be visited.
In the 1990s, the nearby river valley Limarí was discovered for the cultivation of primary grape varieties. A vine acreage of 1700 hectares arose from similar climate and soil conditions, almost half of it being cultivated by Cabernet Sauvignon. As in the Elqui Valley, a lot of archaelogical records were found in the Limarí Valley. In the heritage protected site Pichasca, one can marvel at fossil records of the rain forest. The National Park Fray Jorge is a beautiful place, owing its name to the Spanish Franciscan who discovered and described the region in the 17th century. The principal factors that typify the region concern its humid micro-climate moisterized by the coastal fog, and a rain forest with species from prehistoric times in the middle of the semi-desert.
Wine tourism in the Limarí Valley is still in the fledging stages. Only the wineries of Casa Tamaya and Agua Tierra are open to visitors.
A hundred kilometers north of Santiago the Aconcagua river flows through the Central Valley from east to west. The river rises near the mountain of the same name, an almost 7000 m high Andean peak, and flows into the Pacific, close to Valparaíso. The Mediterranean climate of the Aconcagua Valley provides hot days and cool humid nights – ideal conditions for viticulture. Its soils are sandy and rocky, rich in minerals and in organic river sediments. Since 1870, wine has been cultivated in the region. Next to a couple of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, the Syrah of Viña Errázuriz has become a successful wine. Though only a bit more than ten percent of the vine acreage are cultivated by Syrah, it is considered as being a characteristic wine of the Aconcagua Valley.
A great variety of wine cellars and small wineries are open to visitors: the technically high standard facilities of Viña Errázuriz and in contrast the old handicraft machines of Viña Sánchez de Loria that are used for producing fortified wine to this day. Lately, a new tourism project was initiated providing an opportunity to travel from the Aconcagua Valley via the international mountain pass to the Argentine wine region of Mendoza.
In addition to the wineries, there are many more tourist attractions in the Aconcagua Valley. Portillo in the Andean mountains is a real paradise for skiers, the 6962 high mountain Aconcagua can be climbed by mountaineers, and Laguna del Inca is ideal for canoe and kayak fans. Some wineries of Viña San Esteban contain ancient pre-Columbian petroglyphs.
Lying in between the Andes and coastal mountain range, the rather cooler Casablanca Valley is located about 60 km from Santiago at the mainroad to the Pacific. The climate is strongly influenced by the sea, providing constant humid air due to a heavy morning fog. Soils are natural, clayey and rich in minerals of the Andean snowmelt. The cooler climate make Casablanca ideal for cultivating white grapes. Almost three fourth of the acreage is Chardonnay. Furthermore, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Merlot are characteristic for the Casablanca Valley. Riesling, that is rarely found in Chile, is cultivated amounting to an acreage of 4.000 hectares.
It was first recognized as a special place to cultivate wine in the early 1980s when the oenologist Pablo Morandé compared the clayey soils and humid coast climate to the conditions of California that he was familiar with. In addition to the production of quality export wines, there are first initiatives to produce organic wine.
Since many tourists take the wine route 68 from Santiago to Valparaíso, wine tourism has established quickly in the Casablanca Valley. wineries such as Morandé, Concha and Toro, Santa Emiliana or Santa Carolina are open to visitors, offering wine tastings, traditional coach tours, or lunch in selected gourmet restaurants. The wine restaurant “House of Morandé” is a must for all gourmets. Top chefs prepare unforgettable creations of crabmeat, game or garlic from Chiloé. The wine cellar of the winery Indómita, located on top of one of the coastal mountains, reminds on an ancient wine castle, providing a lovely view to the green wineries of the Casablanca Valley. A fresh breeze coming from the Pacific and the huge letters forming the emblem “Viña Indómita”, will make the visitor feel like being in Hollywood.
However, small innovative bodegas and romantic wine cellars pay great attention to improving their services. At the winery Puro Caballo, Chilean customs and traditions are preserved; one can marvel at the skills of the Chilean Huasos and their riding horses. The restaurant of Viñas Casas del Bosque of the former Hacienda Santa Rosa in Casablanca provides an excellent opportunity to pair your wine discoveries with an outstanding menu. The “Ruta Aéreo del Vino” is the latest attraction of Chilean wine tourism. A private airplane flies over the wineries of the Casablanca Valley and Maipo Valley, stopping for lunch and wine tastings at famous wineries.
San Antonio Valley
Close by to the seaport San Antonio and one hour drive to Santiago, San Antonio is a new discovery of Chile´s wine regions with exciting potential. For ten years and an ever increasing success, wines are being produced in the Valley such as exclusive Sauvignon Blancs, Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. Soils are generally clay-loam and dry. Climatic conditions are strongly influenced by the ocean. The first wineries established in the San Antonia Valley were Matetic, Garcés Silva and Casa Marín. Looking for ways to differentiate their wines, the wineries contribute to an outstanding characteristic wine production of this region. That is how the first Syrah in a humid-cool climate and the best Pinot Gris of Chile was produced. Appealing creations such as the Merlot-Malbec of Matecic come from the San Antonio Valley. Since 2002, this region is one of several recognized wine-producing areas with the official seal D.O. (Denominación de Origen).
For wine tourists, this wine region is yet to be developed. There isn´t a wine route but there are some interesting offers for those with an eye for the extraordinary. Viña Matetic with its own restaurant and guest house offers a visitor tour through the wineries.
Close to the capital Santiago, the Maipo Valley is the birthplace of Chile´s wine production. To this day, it is the best known wine region of Chile. The Maipo Valley produces the most successful export wines in the country and features the most important dates of viticultural tradition: in 1555, when the first wine production of Chile was officially recognized and certificated; the introduction of French grape varieties from 1851 to 1994; and eventually the rediscovery of the long mistaken Carmenére grape variety.
The climate in the Maipo Valley is stabil with hot dry summers and short mild winters of not more than 450 mm rainfall. There are extreme differences in day and night temperatures with hot days and cool nights. High in the hills, there is morning frost that provides ideal conditions for the sun-loving red wine grapes. A total acreage of 10.000 hectares are cultivated by 8.000 hectares of red varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carmenére, Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Malbec; whereas the remaining 2.000 hectares are cultivated by traditional white varieties, such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Semillón.
The natural soils are rich in minerals, sandy-clayey and highly permeable. There is a traditional irrigation system of canals using the waters of the Andean snowmelt. The drip-irrigation method is not very common.
Located well protected in between the Andes and coastal mountain range, the Valley is crossed by the two major rivers Maipo and Mapocho. Depending on climate, soil composition and altitude, the Maipo wine region is sub-divided into three cultivation areas: Maipo Alto, Maipo Medio and Maipo Costa. The Valley of Maipo Medio (550 m a.s.l.) has the most sun, producing one of the smoothest and fruitiest red wines. In the higher and cooler regions of Maipo Alto, more complex wines with well structured tannins are being produced. Close to the coastal mountain range with fresh winds, Maipo Costa produces wines of an elegant acid structure.
Most of the country´s oldest wineries are based in the Maipo Valley, expanding more and more to other wine regions: Concha y Toro (the biggest wine cellar in Chile), Santa Rita, Cousiño Macul, Tarapacá, Carmen, Barón de Rothschild. The wineries of Antiyal and Pargua produce organic wines of good quality. A big advantage of the region is being close to Santiago with its many wine pubs, specialized wine stores and good restaurants.
About a hundred km south of Santiago, there is the Rapel Valley that centers two of the best-known and internationally recognized wine regions of Chile: the Cachapoal Valley criss-crossed by the Cachapoal River South of Rancagua, and the Colchagua Valley irrigated with Tinguiririca River water. Imbedded among hills of the coastal mountain range, there is the old colonial town of Santa Cruz (see below). The region is characterized by a Mediterranean climate of the Chilean Central Valley, consisting of hot summers, mild winters and extreme differences in day and night temperatures. Regions with characteristic microclimates (depending on the proximity to the Pacific and the Andes) create favorable conditions for a number of grape varieties. Soils are natural, rich in minerals with sandy layers and lime-stone parts in places. The majority of the principal grape varieties grow here, such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Carmenére and Malbec). Particula rly successful had been the rather low-yielding and less cultivated varieties Merlot and Carmenére.
The Cachapoal Valley, particularly Alto Cachapoal close to the coastal mountain range, have been the center of attention among French investors and wine lovers. Many famous winegrower families from Bordeaux, Alsace and the Loire region have either merged with long-established Chilean winemakers or have built up their own wineries to produce quality red wine of French character. The wine route Alto Cachapoal is easily accessible and lined with many famous wineries, such as those of Altair, Morandé, Anakena, Misiones de Rengo, or Chateau Los Boldos. The famous red varieties (Merlot and Carmenére) are deeply concentrated, fruity and a bit sweet with rich flavors of chocolate and jelly.
Close to Santiago, this wine region is of special interest for visitors who have little time but want to see more than the wineries within reach of Santiago. In the nearby Andes, there is a winter sports center and a number of beautiful nature protection areas. The natural hot springs of Cauquenes invite visitors to relax in their soothing waters. The former mining city of Sewell is accessible from the wine route.
The Tinguiririca river valley has similar climatic and edaphological characteristics as the neighboring Cochopoal Valley: Mediterranean temperatures, well protected and sunny wineries, clayey soils rich in minerals. Both regions form the Rapel Valley that produces premium quality Chilean wines: Montes Alpha, Folly and Clos Apalta. This cultivation area is known all over the world for producing value wines, for preserving Chilean cultural traditions and customs, and for providing good offers in wine tourism. In 2005, the American magazine “Wine Enthusiast “ nominated the Colchagua Valley as “Wine Region of the Year”.
In 1996, the first Chilean wine route was created in the Colchagua Valley. Famous wineries such as Lapostolle, Casa Silva, Montes, Laura Hartwig, Estampa or Montgras opened their doors to visitors. Ruta I-50 is the north-south connecting highway between Panamericana and Pacific, and since 2001 it has been known as “Carretera del Vino”.
The colonial town Santa Cruz is an excellent starting point for visiting all major wineries. Furthermore, this region offers many more tourist attractions, such as the Hacienda Huique, former summer residence of Chilean presidents, restored in the style of the 18th century, or the “Tren del Vino” that is operated by steam engine, passing through wineries and serving the best wines of the region. The Hotel Santa Cruz is one of the most appealing guest houses in Chile, combining modern services with traditional elements. The attached museum of Colchagua is a must-see for visitors coming to this region. It depicts the biggest private collection of the country, featuring a comprehensive journey through Chilean history and traditions.
Viña Santa Cruz produces the characteristic Chamán wine and is committed to develop a special offer for wine tourists. A cable car takes the visitor directly from the wine cellar to the top of a hill that harbors a star observatory that does is not meant for scientific operations but open to visitors. Meteorite relics and basic commodities of astronauts are part of the collection. A visit to the Indian village of Sante Cruz rounds off the day. The village features model houses of Chile’s indigenous population – Mapuche, Rapa Nui and Aymara.
Curico is the most southerly wine region, about 220 km from Santiago. It is characterized by a moderate Mediterranean climate with hot summer days and cool humid nights. The winter is influenced by the high pressure area of the Pacific that experiences with 720 mm more rainfall yearly than the Rapel Valley. Soils are flat, eroded, rich in minerals and highly permeable. In higher locations, soils are sandy and stony. Many irrigation canals cross the valley and are fed by the Rivers Teno and Lontue. This region comprises the biggest acreage of white grape varieties in the country.
The Curico Valley incorporates a total acreage of 18.000 hectares. In descending order, the grape varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Chardonnay are being cultivated. The origins of wine cultivation in Curico go back to the winegrowing family Correa Albano who introduced noble French grape varieties in 1851 to this region. Close to the town of Molina, there is the third biggest winery in Chile, Vina San Pedro. The Curico Valley is center of attention that features one of the biggest technologic accomplishments of Chilean viticulture: in the early 1980s, the Spanish oenologist Miguel Torres stored wine in stainless steel tanks for the first time, giving impetus to a fundamental modernization in this sector.
It was Viña Miguel Torres that for the first time opened the traditional vintage festivity “Vendimia” to the public. A visit to the gourmet restaurant of Miguel Torres located at the Camino Longitudinal Sur should not be missed.
Curico Valley offers a variety of attractions to wine tourists, ranging from traditional Chilean festivities, wine tastings, visits of wine cellars and specialized stores to local cuisine and delicious meals. The proximity to beautiful recreation areas such as the Cascades of Siete Tazas, Laguna Torca or the Vichuquén Lakes turn this wine region into an attractive travel destination.
Located 260 km south of Santiago there is the wine region of the Maule Valley. Next to the Maipo Valley, this region is the only one that can claim the title of being the “cradle of Chilean viticulture”. In fact, origins of viticulture in this rather cool river valley between the Andes and coastal mountains go back to the Spanish conquistadors who arrived in the 16th century and cultivated the país grape in the Maule Valley. To date, 8.500 hectares of a total acreage of 31.000 hectares (the biggest in Chile) are cultivated by the red país grape. The cool climate, in winter a rainy Mediterranean climate and heavy clayey soils high in acidity cause low-yielding results. In return, valueable wines are grown here. All popular red and white grape varieties are cultivated in the Maule Valley, red wine being the most valueable of all (Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenére, Merlot and Malbec). Soils close to rivers tend to produce fruitier wines than those located at slopes.
The Maule Valley distinguishes three principal cultivation areas: Valle de Río Claro, Valle de Loncomilla and Valle de Tutuvén. The latter presents a lesser-known facet of Chilean viticulture: the traditional dry cultivation of grapevines dominates here (the vines are irrigated by rainfall only). Vines of simple grape varieties as país or moscatel do not stand in lines but are grown in bush or gobelet form.
Wine tourism in the Maule Valley is on the upswing. Sixteen wineries, among them Balduzzi, Casa Donoso, Calina, Domaine Oriental or Carpe Diem, offer well organized visitor tours with own guest houses, fine cuisine, horseback riding and just recently wine-therapies. Carmenére is considered as being the characteristic wine of the region, holding its very own event: The “Noche del Carmenére” is celebrated on the second Saturday of November (in the middle of Chilean spring). In Villa Cultural Huilquelemu all important local wineries organize a big festivity to nominate the best Carmenére of the year.
One of Chile´s traditional winegrowing regions is located 400 km south of Santiago and 50 km east of Concepción. In recent years, winegrowers started to produce value wines of good quality next to the mass production of simple table wines. That is why an acreage of 10.000 hectares is cultivated by rustic grape varieties (país and moscatel). In the past five years, an acreage of 1.000 hectares is cultivated by Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. The climate in the Itata Valley, that is crossed by the rivers Itata and Ñuble, tends to have cool and windy summer days and rainy winters. Soils are sandy and rich in minerals, promoting high-yielding varieties. Vast forests alternate with green wineries located on slopes between the Andes and coastal mountains.
Since 2003, a government program tries to enhance wine tradition in this region. Shortly after Spanish conquest, wine was produced for the whole country in this region. Wine from Itata was considered as being the best of Chile. With the introduction of noble European vines and an intensive production in warmer regions, the Itata Valley fell into oblivion. Today, innovative winegrowers committed to quality give new impetus to the region, such as Casas de Giner, Viñedos del Larqui, Tierra y Fuego or Tierras de Arrau.
Vintage is performed in two stages: white grapes are harvested from the end of February to mid March at the end of Chilean summer; red grapes are harvested from mid March to the end of April. The traditional vintage festivity Vendimia is celebrated in the first week of April.
Bio Bio Valley
The Bio Bio Valley is situated some 500 km south of Santiago at the very southerly edge of viable grape growing. As in the neighboring Itata Valley the rustic grape varieties país and moscatel have been cultivated for centuries. To this day, a mass production of simple table wines is the basis of viticulture in the Bio Bio Valley. Building on experience acquired in Itata and Limarí, value wines are produced in a number of wineries. Throughout the whole year, it is quite cool and very windy with a rainfall of 1.100 mm. Soils are natural-sandy and stony, mineral and organic river sediments turn them into fertile and high-yielding land. These conditions are particularly favorable for the cultivation of noble grape varieties that need lengthy ripening periods and give great acidity and freshness to the wines: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Chardonnay. wineries that are committed to produce value white wines in this wine region are: Carpe Diem, Don Francisco or VinSu r. Viña Canata, a traditional family run winery, boasts the world´s most southerly winery.