Commercial Chilean wine production occurs almost as far south as Temuco , but only recently have fine wines shifted southward at vineyards such as the Italo-Swiss Tierra y Fuego, in the Itata valley south of Chillán . In business only since 1999, it produces standards such as sauvignon blanc and cabernet, but also oddities including a white carmenere (probably not to everyone’s taste).
Tierra y Fuego is open not only for drop-in tours but, even better, for meals at its cheerfully airy restaurant. There’s a choice of fixed-price lunches, ranging US$15–28 per person, with each course accompanied by a suitable wine; the à la carte menu is more diverse and also reasonably priced, with meats, fish and seafood, and especially outstanding pastas. Portions are substantial, but diners can ask for half portions of ravioli, for instance, if they care to sample more than one entrée. The service is exceptional and knowledgeable.
Seven kilometers west of the Panamericana via the Bulnes exit, just west of the village of Tres Esquinas, Viña Terra y Fuego (Camino Tres Esquinas s/n, tel. 042/1971573, www.tierrayfuego.cl ) also has an appealing six-room guesthouse (US$47 d with breakfast), with a swimming pool. It’s hard to imagine that rates won’t rise as the guesthouse becomes better known (and the rather barren landscaping around it matures). Vintner Michele Ruefenacht, the host for tours, represented Switzerland in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics decathlon.