Midway between Valparaíso  and Santiago , several wineries have united to promote the Casablanca valley, one of Chile’s fastest-growing and most accessible wine regions. Best known for its whites, the Ruta del Vino de Casablanca (www.casablancavalley.cl ) enjoys a cool oceanic climate, though afternoons can get warm. As nearly all the wineries are on or near Ruta 68, they are convenient to public transportation; several have accommodations and restaurants.
Immediately west of the Zapata tunnel, Veramonte is a 1,000-hectare vineyard surrounded by a 10,000-hectare greenbelt. Run by the Huneeus family, who also operate the Napa Valley’s Franciscan Vineyards, it produces sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon, carmenere, and merlot, but its pride is the Primus premium blend of the three reds.
Led by well-informed guides, Veramonte’s tours (not always available in English, US$10 pp) visit the production facilities and vineyards, but also its museum of antique presses, corkscrews, and other wine technology. They end with a generous tasting, at shaded picnic tables, that includes several varietal and reserve wines, including the Primus, as well as goat, parmesan, and sheep cheeses, with crackers and nuts to accompany them. In addition, Veramonte’s on-site wine shop carries, books souvenirs, and other premium agricultural products.
On the north side of the highway, Viña Veramonte (Ruta 68, Km 66, tel. 0322/742421, www.veramonte.com ) is open 9:30 a.m.–6:30 p.m. daily except Sunday for visits to its cellars, bottling plant, and wine shop.
While the Morande winery is not open for tours and tasting, its vineyard restaurant has become a landmark for both its eye-catching contemporary architecture and its cuisine. With an arching roof and clean Scandinavian lines, this luminous restaurant offers panoramic vineyard views on two sides and wine-barrel porthole peeks through a third wall. In reality, the line of demarcation between interior and exterior seating is a fluid one (though the interior dining room can get a little noisy when full).
Having succeeded Puerto Varas  chef Richard Knobloch, Christopher Charpentier has created a menu of nouvelle Chilean cuisine, including versions of standards such as pastel de jaiva (crab casserole, US$8) and game dishes such as ñandú (rhea) steak (US$14), and desserts such as chirimoya mousse with a chardonnay sauce. The wine list includes not just Morandé but other area wineries. Fresh — not bagged — herbal teas are available.
Immediately west of Veramonte, House of Morandé (Ruta 68, Km 64, tel. 0322/754700, www.morande.cl ) is open 10:30 a.m.–6 p.m. daily except Monday (when it’s closed) and Friday (when it stays open until 12:30 a.m.).
On the south side of the highway, Viña Mar took over the unsuccessful Cuvée Mumm champagne plant in 2002 and has begun to produce fine varietals and blends from cabernet sauvignon, carmenere, merlot, pinot noir, chardonnay, and sauvignon blanc. While it’s not what it once was — it’s much better — it still makes sparkling wines via champenoise and charmat methods.
On the south side of the highway, Viña Mar (Ruta 68, Km 72, tel. 0322/754300, www.vinamar.cl ) is open for tours 10 a.m.–2 p.m. and 3–5 p.m. daily except Sunday, when hours are noon–5 p.m. There is a branch of Viña del Mar ’s Italian institution, Ristorante San Marco, on the grounds.
Its kitschy turret towering above the valley from a flattened hilltop site just east of Viña Mar, Indómita is Casablanca’s most conspicuous winery. It cultivates 200 hectares of its chardonnay and sauvignon blanc whites here, but also has 400 hectares of reds — cabernet sauvignon, carmenere, and merlot — in the Maipo valley. All are processed here, however.
In addition to its wines, Indómita’s becoming well-known for its namesake restaurant, with spectacular valley views and a creative menu that’s strong on seafood but also includes game dishes such as leg of wild boar (US$19) and regional Chilean specialties such as Patagonian lamb (US$19).
Viña Indómita (Ruta 68, Km 64, tel. 0322/ 754400, www.indomita.cl ) is open 10 a.m.–6 p.m. daily for tours and tasting (US$6 pp, but applicable to lunch at the restaurant). The restaurant is open daily for lunch and, from October to April, Friday and Saturday 7:30–10:30 p.m. as well.
One of the route’s westernmost vineyards, Casas del Bosque produces a diversity of varietal and reserve versions of whites (sauvignon blanc and chardonnay) and reds (merlot, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, syrah, and the occasional blend). The winery itself is a visitor-friendly place combining contemporary technology with its Tanino wine bar/restaurant, wine shop, and café that make it suitable for spending an afternoon, rather than just tasting and running.
To reach the winery, take the main Casablanca exit south off Ruta 68 and follow the signs through town. Casas del Bosque (Hijuela 2, Ex-Fundo Santa Rosa, tel. 0322/744742, www.casasdelbosque.cl ) is open 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m. daily except in winter, when Sundays are by appointment only.
One of Casablanca’s newest wineries, discreetly built into a hillside in the San Antonio valley southwest of Casablanca, Matetic is a glisteningly modern winery that produces organic pinot noir and syrah, a merlot/malbec blend, sauvignon blanc, and chardonnay. Sprawling over the coast range, the scenic grounds contain a crumbling early winery bursting with antique equipment that should become a museum.
Viña Matetic (Fundo El Rosario, Lagunillas, tel. 0322/741500, www.mateticvineyards.cl ) is open for guided tours and tastings (starting at US$13 pp) at 11 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. daily except Monday; make reservations 24 hours in advance. In addition to the winery, it has a stylish adobe guesthouse with palm-studded gardens (US$300 d) and a new restaurant Esquilibrio (tel. 098/9202066), open daily except Monday for lunch.
It’s not really part of the wine circuit, but the ranch at Puro Caballo (Lagunillas, Casablanca, tel. 0322/740156 or 099/3346524, www.purocaballo.cl ) is close to the Matetic winery. Throughout the year, it offers riding excursions for aficionados and rodeos for spectators, as well as a crafts fair. On-site there is an independently run restaurant, El Estribo (tel. 099/4385788, cmichaeli [at] hotmail [dot] com), which specializes in Chilean country cooking such as parrillada and pastel de choclo.