Colchagua Valley, Chile
Colchagua is an oasis of rural calm with just enough sophistication to whet the wine traveler’s appetite.
Published on Dec 27, 2011
By Michael Schachner
Colchagua Valley, Chile
Chile’s Colchagua Valley is a historic agricultural hotbed located roughly 100 miles south of the capital city of Santiago, beginning at the foothills of the Andes Mountains and reaching west to the Pacific Ocean. It looks much like Napa Valley with its ubiquitous vineyards, valley floor river and tree-studded foothills. Though the majority of its vineyards lie in the center of the valley, new plantations are extending into the hillsides and west towards the sea. Overall, Colchagua is an oasis of rural calm with just enough sophistication to whet the wine traveler’s appetite.
Where to Dine:
The Viu Manent winery recently opened Rayuela Wine & Grill for classic asados (grilled meats) and accompanying wines, and Pilar Rodriguez, one of Chile’s top chefs, runs her Food & Wine Studio from the winery. Cristóbal Squella’s La Casita de Barreales, in Santa Cruz, is a valley favorite for its Peruvian-style ceviches, grilled fish and relaxed corkage policies.
Where to Stay:
For a full-service hotel in Santa Cruz, the Hotel Santa Cruz Plaza remains the best bet, with its restaurant, bar, casino and easy access to the town’s main plaza and the Museo de Colchagua. An upscale lodging option is the Lapostolle Residence at Lapostolle’s Clos Apalta Winery, a Relais & Châteaux property comprised of four private casitas. Within the vineyards of central Colchagua, you will find the well-liked Hotel TerraViña.
Andrea Leon, communications manager and a winemaker with Lapostolle, is fond of the trilla a yegua suelta (“loose mare threshing” of the wheat), a summertime tradition in the small villages. “In each town the locals celebrate with street parties with local food and wine. They do the threshing in the old colonial system using only mares (no male horses allowed; it is bad luck for the next year’s harvest). It is beautiful to see.”
Situated in the Andes Mountains is Tumuñan Lodge, which specializes in heli-skiing in the winter and horseback riding, trekking and fly fishing during the warmer months. In Santa Cruz, the Museo de Colchagua offers an in-depth look at Chile’s pre-Columbian inhabitants, the Spanish conquest of South America, Charles Darwin’s travels through Chile and more.
The affordable, family-run Hotel Casa de Campo is on the way into the heart of the valley from the Pan-American Highway and San Fernando.
Where to taste:
Lapostolle, Montes, Casa Silva, Viu Manent, MontGras, Estampa, Laura Hartwig, Neyen and Viña Santa Cruz (best known for its night visits and observatory), among others, welcome visitors to their tasting rooms, or by appointment. The perfect clearinghouse for setting up a series of winery visits is the Ruta del Vino de Colchagua. For a fee, the Ruta’s staff will arrange visits and transportation, and tours are geared towards wine tourists of varying levels, including a basic two-winery tour or a full-day connoiseur’s package. For visitors who want to drive themselves, a package without transportation is also available.
Prominent Grape Varieties:
The valley’s diverse soils and microclimates are hospitable to numerous quality varieties but extra attention has been paid to Bordeaux varieties introduced in the late 19th century before Europe suffered its phylloxera crisis. Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère, Syrah and Merlot yield oftentimes excellent, always very concentrated wines, with red fruit focus and ripe tannins. The valley’s hot climate makes it a natural for producing powerful reds, but experimentation in cooler areas in the west is resulting in lighter-style varietal wines, particularly Sauvignon Blanc.
When to go:
November to April. Some special events include Harvest Festival (March); Colchagua Jazz Festival (November); and the Santa Cruz Arts & Crafts Market (November).
Viu Manent: viumanent.cl
Casa Silva: casasilva.cl
Hotel Casa de Campo: hotelcasadecampo.cl
Hotel Santa Cruz Plaza: hotelsantacruzplaza.cl
Hotel TerraViña: terravina.cl
La Casita de Barreales: lacasitadebarreales.cl
Lapostolle Residence: lapostolle.com
Laura Hartwig: www.laurahartwig.cl
Museo de Colchagua: museocolchagua.cl
Pilar Rodriguez Food &Wine Studio: pilarrodriguez.cl
Rayuela Wine and Grill: viumanent.cl/wine-tourism/restaurant
Ruta del Vino de Colchagua: rutadelvino.cl
Tumuñan Lodge: tumunanlodge.com
Viña Estampa: estampa.com
Viña Montes: monteswines.com
Viña MontGras: montgras.cl
Viña Santa Cruz: vinasantacruz.cl