How to Get There
The long, thin country of Chile looks a lot like an upside down California and has the same amazing climate and soil for growing grapes. The Colchagua Valley is about two hours south of the capital city of Santiago and is nestled about halfway between Chile’s cool Andes Mountains and the piercingly blue Pacific Ocean.
It is easy to rent a car in Santiago and drive down the Pan-American Highway, or you can hop on one of Chile’s many bus wine tours; Ruta Del Vino Wine Tours and EcoTours are good choices.
What to Drink
It is easy to do your own self-guided wine tour, but the biggest problem you will have is trying to choose from all of the options. Here are some favorites:
The Viña MontGras winery is centered around a large Chilean-style villa where guests can do tastings, spend the night, or take a tour of the vineyards. Their tasting rivals the best of Napa Valley and consists of fresh appetizers paired with four MontGras wines that are sipped while sitting on the veranda overlooking the grapes. Their Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2009 is a real treat with currant, fruit, and vanilla notes.
The wines from Viña Estampa are particularly noteworthy, especially their new 2012 Del Viento Sauvignon Blanc, which has a juicy palate of pink grapefruit and passion fruit. You can partake in an Estampa tasting in the barrel-lined tasting room or take your glass out onto the large patio to drink overlooking the vines.
At Laura Hartwig’s boutique winery you can do a horse-drawn carriage ride around the vineyards and end your journey sipping a rare Laura Hartwig Carménère Reserva wine. Chile is known for its Carménère; it is one of the only countries that can still produce it after the phylloxera vine pest destroyed most of the world’s Carménère crops in the 1860s.
Where to Eat
In between tastings, there are a few great restaurants in the Colchagua Valley that can satisfy even the most particular foodie.
Viña Montes’ Café Alfredo is a charming little restaurant that serves fresh salads, grilled sandwiches, and a small selection of entrees. The best part of the dining experience at Café Alfredo is that you can do it on their large patio surrounded by vines, blooming trees, and local artwork. Be sure to stop in for a tasting on your way out!
It is hard to find authentic Italian food outside of Italy, but family-owned Vino Bello has made the cut. Nestled in the vines of Laura Hartwig’s winery, Vino Bello’s outdoor patio and courtyard seating encourage luxurious three-hour lunches and sumptuous pasta-filled dinners. If you are a meat eater, their Osso Bucco is mouth-watering and goes perfectly with a bold red wine from the surrounding valley.
Peruvian restaurant La Casita de Barreales serves up dishes packed with flavor and loaded with culture. Their Aji de Gallina -- a famous Peruvian dish of chicken, garlic, and cream will leave you satisfied and wanting to visit Peru.
What to See
There are tons of sites to visit in the Colchagua Valley mainly centered around the charming town of Santa Cruz, Chile. Driving through the valley is a wonder itself -- the lush hills, numerous vineyards, and groves of olive trees make you think you are in California one minute and Italy the next.
In the heart of the small town of Santa Cru,z you will find a delightful little plaza surrounded by artisan shops, a large church, and a few small museums. Take a stroll through the town and be sure to visit the Colchagua Museum, which has some unique Chilean artifacts from both mining and wine.
The Viu Manent Winery has horseback riding, wine tastings, a café, and a fine dining restaurant, so there is no shortage of things to see and do on the property. If you are lucky enough to go to Chile during harvest (their autumn, our spring) you can horseback ride through the vineyards as the grapes are being hand-picked.
Las Ninas winery is run by nine French women and has expansive grounds filled with grapes, olive trees, and a flock of geese. If you visit Las Ninas, they will give you a hiking map of the property where you can walk along the edges of the hills overlooking the vineyard.
Where to Sleep
Even though Santa Cruz is a small town, there are quite a few places to stay. Here are a few great options in different price ranges:
The Terra Viña, bed and breakfast hotel, is a hidden gem. Located right outside of Santa Cruz in the middle of a vineyard, this hotel has 19 charming rooms overlooking surrounding wine country.
If you want to splurge, Lapostolle is the luxury hotel in the Colchagua Valley, ranging from $500 to $1,000 per night depending on the time of year. Their winery, gourmet restaurant, and grounds are breathtaking, if you can afford the nightly rate.
Hotel Santa Cruz is located right in the center of town and has easy access to restaurants and the casino. Its charismatic old building makes you feel like you have stepped into Chile in the 1850s!
Making a trip down to Chile’s Colchagua Valley will be a trip wine lovers will never forget. From the boutique wineries to the gourmet meals, this trip is a connoisseur’s paradise.
Photos are courtesy of the author except 2nd photo by Lourdes Cardenal.