A guide to the wine growing valleys to the south of Santiago, taking in the winelands you would expect to cover on a self drive holiday to Chile.
Chile’s Wine Growing Valleys
Because we assume that you are traveling north/south along Ruta 5 from Santiago south, we cover most but not all wine growing areas.
Notable exclusions are Casalanca to the west of Santiago, and Aconcagua to the north.
For information on a couple of other regions you might be likely to visit during a stay in Chile, see their excellent websites:
Casablanca Valley – www.casablancavalley.cl
Aconcagua Valley – www.aconcaguavinos.cl
Most famous wineries: Cousino Macul, Santa Carolina, Almaviva, Concha y Toro, Carmen, Santa Rita, Tarapacá and Ventisquero.
Wine tours information: www.maipoalto.com
The expansive and varied Maipo Valley is nestled between two mountain ranges, the Andes and the Coastal Range, and Chile’s capital city, Santiago, sits in the middle.
Due to the easy access to the surrounding agricultural areas, it comes as no surprise that many of the country’s best-known and most traditional wineries were established in close proximity to the city.
In the 19th century, many wealthy industrial families planted vineyards near their country homes to the east and southeast of the capital.
The city has now grown to engulf many of them and continues to spread out into the Maipo winegrowing region.
Winemaking in the Maipo Valley today ranges from tiny boutique efforts to large-scale multi-million litre production centres.
Although Chile’s appellations are defined from north to south, winemakers now generally agree that conditions vary much more widely from east to west, as the Maipo Valley clearly illustrates.
Winemakers unofficially divide the valley into three distinct sectors: Alto Maipo, closest to the Andes; Central Maipo, along the valley floor; and Pacific Maipo in the sector closest to the Pacific Ocean.
All three enjoy a winemaker’s ideal Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and cool rainy winters, but vary with respect to the degree of influence received by the mountains or the sea.
At more than 650 metres above sea level, the Alto Maipo sector (sometimes referred to as the Andean or Upper Maipo) rises ever higher into the foothills southeast of Santiago and is strongly influenced by the mountains. Vast differences between daytime and nighttime temperatures encourage complex, richly colored wines and firmly structured tannins that give rise to a number of Chile’s ultra-premium wines.
To the south and southeast of Santiago, Central (or Middle) Maipo ranges from 550 to 650 metres above sea level, while the easternmost Pacific (or Lower) Maipo sector nearest the coast comprises areas below 550 metres a.s.l.
These areas tend to have warmer temperatures and more fertile soils, giving rise to softer, fruitier wines.
Many winemakers blend wines from different Maipo vineyards to take advantage of the diverse qualities available in the three distinct areas.
Most famous wineries: Porta, Camino Real and Anakena.
Wine tours information: www.cachapoalwineroute.cl
Chile’s Cachapoal winegrowing region is just south of Santiago – about an hour and a half’s drive.
It sits within the rich agricultural belt of the Rapel Valley so you will see this name on wine labels probably more often than Cachapoal. The region is home to eleven of Chile’s most important wineries mainly specialising in reds, particularly Caremeneres.
The Cachapoal Valley Wine Route is particularly pretty with includes the Porta, Gracia, San Isidro, Anakena, Altaïr, Las Casas del Toqui, Chateau Los Boldos, Casa Lapostolle, Torreón de Paredes, Misiones de Rengo, and Morandé wineries, all makers of magnificent award-winning wines.
Also included in the Route is the attractive colonial Hacienda Los Lingues, which is a stunning colonial hacienda.
Most famous wineries: Cono Sur, Luis Felipe Edwards, Casa Lapostolle, Montes, Mont Gras, Montes Alpha, Caliterra, Errazuriz and Los Vascos.
Wine tours information: Plaza de Armas 298, Santa Cruz. (+56) 72 823 199 email@example.com
The southernmost portion of the Rapel Valley is Colchagua, one of Chile’s best known wine regions.
Colchagua has earned much acclaim for its full-bodied reds: Cabernet, Carménère, Syrah, and Malbec. Some of these wines regularly appear high on the world’s lists of leading wines.
The majority of the wineries are concentrated in the centre of the valley, although new vines are now making their way onto the hillsides towards the western, Pacific, edge of the region.
The Colchagua Valley was the first in Chile to really get its head around wine tourism, it is therefore the most developed and sophisticated. In addition, the wines here are some of the best the country produces ‘ particularly the more robust Cabernet Sauvignons and Carmenéres.
Colchagua has 500,000ha under vine, making it the second largest behind Maule though it has the largest area planted to fine varieties (23,000ha).
It is therefore the home most of the oldest and most famous vineyards in Chile and you should really try to fit in a visit or two while you are here.
If you want to just peel off Ruta 5 then you might visit Cono Sur. For the other vineyards you are going to have to head west off the main road towards the town of Santa Cruz around which are clustered most of the following vineyards.
You can visit a large number of the vineyards in this area and the infrastructure is excellent. You can buy vouchers for vineyard visits at the head office in Santa Cruz (address above). You will need to book ahead for any of these.
Viña Casa Silva: open year round, 7 days a week, 10:00-17:00. Tour the old cellars, winery and enjoy a tasting. Tours last around an hour and should be booked ahead. There is also a restaurant on site.
Viñedos Orgánicos Emiliana: open Wednesday to Sunday, 10:30-12:00 & 15:00-16:30. Guided walk through the (organic & biodynamic) vineyard and winery ending in a tasting of some of their reserva wines.
Viña Viu Manent: open year round Tuesday to Sunday, 10:30-12:00 & 15:00-16:30. Restaurant on site. Bilingual tours starting with a horse drawn carriage ride through the vineyards. Stop off in the bodega where you can taste wines directly from the barrel.
Viña Montes: open 7 days, 09:30-12:00 & 15:00-17:00. Vineyard tour with one of the most modern and efficient wineries of the valley. This vineyard produces some outstanding wines, not least the Montes Alpha.
Viña Casa Lapostolle: open 7 days, 10:00-12:00 & 15:00-17:00. Another winery producing some fantastic wines. The architecture of this place is alone worth the visit. Tours last 1.5 hours and take you through the 5 stages of the process from grape to bottle.
Viña Laura Hartwig: open 7 days 08:00-13:00 & 14:00-18:00. Interesting for being a real boutique winery. Just 80ha producing 300,000 litres of wine a year, this vineyard only produces reserva wines. Quality not quantity is the order of the day.
Viña Montgras: open Tuesday to Friday 10:30-12:30 & 15:00-16:30. Saturdays & Sundays 10:30-12:30. Wine Disney. This place has a range of tours and visits to suit anyone ‘ pick your own, make your own, ride horses through the vineyard, etc. Having said that, playing at wine making for a day is quite fun. Montgras also manages to produce some fine tasting wines.
Most famous wineries: Valdevieso, Miguel Torres and Los Robles.
Wine tours information: Ruta del Vino Curicó, Merced 341, Curicó. (+56) 75 2328 972. www.rutadelvinocurico.cl
Curicó appears to be the weakest link in the route through the vineyards. The town itself is a pleasant place to wander, you can pop your head into the Ruta del Vino Curicó offices at Merced 341 to see what is on offer ‘ they do have half day guided tours available.
Probably the best known wineries in this valley are. All are very close to Ruta 5 but you pass the town of Curicó so you may well want to stop in to see the main office and make a choice there.
Most famous wineries: Carta Vieja, Casa Donoso.
Wine tours information: Ruta del Vino Valle Maule, km7 Camino San Clemente, Talca. (+56) 71 246 460. Wine tasting centre on site.
The best way to navigate your way through the choice is to head to the Ruta del Vino head office near Talca and discuss your options with staff there.
Maule is Chile’s largest producing valley, with 43% of the country’s total planted area concentrated here at the southern end of the long Central Valley.
Once predominately planted to the rustic variety Pais many of the older, head-trained vines have now given way to vertically-positioned Cabernet. Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Carmenére follow close behind.
This is one of Chile’s most geographically diverse valleys, and it can be divided into the Pacific, Inter-Andes-Pacific, and Andes regions. The climate is Mediterranean sub-humid throughout, with variations in the different sectors.
The Pacific section, closest to the Coastal Mountain range, has higher temperatures and lower rainfalls (700 mm / 28 in per year), while the opposite is true when moving toward the Andean piedmont with average annual rainfalls of up to 1,000 mm (39 in). Add to this a broad range of soil types and it is easy to see why there are a diversity of flavors and styles being developed in the Maule.
Several large international investors (California’s Kendall Jackson amongst others) have been attracted to this region. It also has many small boutique style independents. Chile’s first organic wines were produced in this area in Cauquenes.
This is really the most recent player in the winelands. Though there have traditionally been vineyards near the port city of Concepción, nowadays these spread right up towards the Andes.
The region is divided into three areas: Itata, Bio Bio and Malleco.
Winemaking in this part of Chile requires a little more patience than is generally true elsewhere.
Warm days and cold nights make for a long ripening season. Along with higher rainfall and stronger winds, this is one of Chile’s more adventurous wine growing areas.
What is coming out of here are some great cool-climate varietals such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The latter in particular can be really quite special. ”