Ruta del Vino de Colchagua
West of San Fernando, Colchagua is the best organized of all Chile’s emerging wine routes. Working out of a common office in the town of Santa Cruz, the Ruta del Vino (Plaza de Armas 298, tel. 072/823199, www.rutadelvino.cl) now comprises 14 different wineries, many of them open on a drop-in basis or short notice. Others can be visited by reservation by only.
Some of the country’s most prestigious winemakers have located here; the area is best known for its reds, especially but not exclusively carmenere. Starting around 10:30 a.m., full-day tours organized by the Ruta del Vino usually visit two or three wineries in the vicinity; in addition to lunch at one of the vineyards, they may also visit either Santa Cruz’s Museo de Colchagua or the Casa de Huique, north of town. Rates vary depending on the number of guests — US$120 per person for 2, US$93 per person for 3–5, US$70 per person for 6–10. Half-day “express tours” range US$46–85 per person, again depending on the number of clients.
Several Colchagua wineries now have their own restaurants and accommodations along the so-called “Carretera del Vino,” which runs west from San Fernando. In addition, this is the first Chilean wine route to enjoy a Tren del Vino, a steam train that leaves from San Fernando and stops at one or more wineries before returning to its starting point. Tours range US$33–170 per person, depending on whether the excursion leaves from Santiago, how many wineries it visits, and whether it includes meals. For details, contact Tren del Vino (San Antonio 65, Oficina 106, Santiago, tel. 02/4707403, www.trendelvino.cl).
Viña Casa Silva
Santa Cruz is the hub of Colchagua’s wine route, but Casa Silva is its gateway — barely off the Panamericana, it makes the otherwise forgettable city of San Fernando an ideal break for north–south sojourners without the time for a longer detour. Only a small percentage of its grapes come from these vineyards — most grow nearer the coast or closer to the Andes — but some come from vines nearly a century old. The winery itself is a capacious colonial-style building with contemporary technology.
Casa Silva produces most of the usual Chilean reds and whites, including carmenere, but also less common varietals such as shiraz and the whites sauvignon gris and viognier. Blends, both red and white, are also on the list.
Viña Casa Silva (Hijuela Norte, Angostura, San Fernando, tel. 072/716519, www.casasilva.cl) charges US$11 per person for tour and tasting. In addition, it operates the next-door Casa Silva Hotel (tel. 072/913091. US$70/110 s/d); dating from the 1820s, it’s a handsome adobe with traditional furnishings but modernized baths. Its restaurant has become a popular dining option — easily the best in San Fernando — but the service can be erratic.
A short distance northeast of Viu Manent via a gravel road, Viña Montes is the work of Aurelio Montes, one of Chile’s best known winemakers. Only Montes, probably, could get away with planting syrah on south-facing, 45-degree slopes with thin soils, but his “Montes Folly” label has been a resounding success.
In addition to syrah, Montes produces diverse wines including merlot, malbec, pinot noir, chardonnay, and a late harvest blend of gewürztraminer and semillon. Grapes for the pinot noir and the whites come from the Casablanca or Curicó region, however.
Viña Montes (Parcela 15, Millahue de Apalta, tel. 072/825417, www.monteswines.com) is about 6.6 kilometers northwest of Santa Cruz. It offers 1.5-hour tours and tastings (US$17 pp) in either Spanish or English at 9:30 a.m., noon, and 3 p.m. daily, with later schedules in summer; if possible save the best for the last — the tasting takes place on a deck in the uppermost vineyards, to the accompaniment of spectacular sunsets over the Colchagua valley.
Viña Viu Manent
A short distance east of Santa Cruz on the highway from San Fernando, Viu Manent produces almost as great a variety of blends and varietals as Casa Silva, but focuses on reds, including carmenere, malbec, and merlot. Tours include a horse-carriage spin through the vineyards, followed by a tasting at its La Llavería wine shop and visitor center.
In addition to the winery, Viu also operates a Club Ecuestre (tel. 099/8471751), which offers riding classes (including polo preparation, US$19 per hour) and more traditional horseback rides through the vineyards (US$30 pp).
Viu Manent (Carretera del Vino, Km 37, tel. 072/858751, www.viumanent.cl) is open for tours and tastings (US$15 pp) that take place at 10:30 a.m., noon, and 3 and 4:30 p.m. daily except Monday. Open noon–6 p.m. daily except Monday, its restaurant La Llavería (tel. 072/858350) makes an ideal lunch break; with both indoor and outdoor seating, it’s part of a restored 19th-century building decorated with artifacts from Cunaco’s rural past.
West of Santa Cruz on the Pichilemu highway, dating from 1992, MontGras is a modern winery that exports almost all its production; focusing on reds such as carmenere, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, as well as blends, it also produces an outstanding sauvignon blanc. It was among the first Chilean vineyards to plant mountaintop wines, a technique that others have since adopted.
Like Viu Manent, Viña MontGras (Camino Isla de Yáquil s/n, Palmilla, tel. 072/822845, www.montgras.cl) uses horse carts for vineyard tours (US$11–13 pp) at 10:30 a.m. and 12:30, 3:30, and 5 p.m. weekdays, and 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 3 p.m. weekends. Tasting follows in its modern production facilities.
West of Santa Cruz, Bisquertt is a contemporary winery with a diversity of reds, whites, and blends; its shiraz and gewürztraminer are relatively uncommon in the Colchagua valley. Dating from 1991, it’s a young winery, but one of its highlights is a spectacular set of carriages, restored to mint condition by a German craftsman from Santa Cruz. One of these belonged to President Federico Errázuriz Echaurren (1896–1901).
Viña Bisquertt (Carretera del Vino, Km 50, tel. 072/821792, www.bisquertt.cl) is open on a drop-in basis; professionally organized tours cost US$13 per person including a tasting of two reserve wines.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition