Chile is a country that is blessed by its geography. It counts with a a beautiful mountain range of the Andes to the east and a long coastline to the west that originate fertile valleys that are crossed by rivers. This is ideal to cultivate different strains of wines that are currently recognized for their quality and taste.
In these valleys we can find many vineyards and wineries where you can see the process of wine making and enjoy the tastes of different varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, syrah, pinot noir and Carmenere in red wines, and cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay in white wines.
The journey through these valleys are called Ruta del Vino (Wine Route), which focuses on five areas located in the center of the country: Valle de Maule (Maule Valley), Valle de Maipo (Maipo Valley), Valle de Colchagua (Colchagua Valley), Valle de Casablanca (Casablanca Valley) and Valle de Aconcagua (Aconcagua Valley), in the V region, and Valle de Cachapoal (Cachapoal Valley). Here we find not only vineyards but also hotels, restaurants, museums and hiking trails for walking, riding or cycling, plus many other attractions.
Although the history of wine in Chile is from the colonial era, it was not until a couple of decades ago that the country's wine production became recognized worldwide, especially cabernet sauvignon
It is estimated that the first vine plantings in Chile were done by the Spaniards in La Serena, IV Region, in 1548. The grapes were harvested in 1551 in the Valle de Elqui (Elqui Valley) and Valle de Limarí (Limari Valley), both considered ideal for this crop by the characteristics of its soil, air temperature and water irrigation from the Elqui River. These conditions also produced very sweet grapes, which were then used for the production of aguardientes (spirits), later known as pisco.
It was especially in the Coquimbo region where conditions of the crops were grown optimally, because of its climate with rainy winters and hot summers. Chilean wine became so popular that in the early nineteenth century it was banned in Europe because it was considered as a competitor to the prices of the wines produced in Spain.
However, in the mid-nineteenth century, wine began to be considered as an important source of export earnings and the French Claudio Gay was hired to work on improving the vineyards and scientifically evaluate its quality.
It was Silvestre Ochagavía, around1850, who introduced the malbec, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, pinot, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc strains to name a few in Chile. This led to other entrepreneurs like Luis Cousiño, José Tomás Urmeneta, Melchor Concha y Toro, for example, who founded their own vineyards, starting a successful winemaking tradition that continues to the present day. On the other hand, Alberto Valdivieso ventured with the export of white strains from the Champagne region in France such as pinotnoir and chardonnay, creating sparkling wine.
Another important milestone was appearance of the phylloxera plague in 1863 in France that spread throughout Europe, damaging much of the strains developed in Europe, Australia, California and South Africa. However, Chilean vineyards remained free of contamination, allowing them to use their strains for the recovery of the industry in the world.
The favorite wine consumed by the people in Chile are the country strains, in varieties such as chicha, which corresponds to fermented grape juice, and the pipeño; raw wine directly from the barrel.
Since the 1980s, companies began to invest in facilities with more technology and new legislations, which began to position the country as an important producer of wines in the international market.
That's why in the mid-90s, at the height of wine companies, began the development of the “Ruta del Vino” (Wine Route) to centralize tourism around wine or wine tourism, offering tours, activities and accommodations, among many other alternatives.
Where to go
Valle de Colchagua: (Colchagua Valley)
The Valle de Pequeñas Lagunas (Small Ponds Valley), according to mapudungún language, was used as a southern boundary of the Inca Empire, known for its fertile lands that were used for agricultural crops. It is bathed by the waters of the Tinguiririca River.
In the Valle de Colchagua (Colchagua Valley) we find 17 wineries producing red and white wines. The syrah, Carmenere, malbec and cabernet sauvignon strains are the most considered. Some of the most important vineyards of the area are Bisquertt, Cono Sur, Lapostolle, Montes, Santa Helena, Santa Rita, Santa Cruz, ViuManent and Montgras, to name a few.
One of the most important cities in the area is Santa Cruz. Here you can find the Colchagua Museum, the largest private museum in the country, with major collections of jewelry, colonial objects, among others. Here we find high-class hotels, a casino, a tourist office that offers traditional activities like horseback riding, restaurants and much more.
In Santa Cruz the traditional Fiesta de la Vendimia (Harvest Festival) takes place on the first days of March, where you can learn about the culture and traditions of winemaking.
In this area the great mansions of the first families of the oligarchy in Chile were also established, so we can also observe a sample of the beautiful colonial architecture. The provincial capital, San Fernando, is an example of this, with its folkloric and historical museum Casa de Lircunlauta (Lircunlauta House), among others.
Valle del Maipo: (Maipo Valley)
It is located in the heart of Metropolitan Region in the surrounding of the capital Santiago. They are watered by the waters of the Maipo River. Because of its geography, surrounded by mountains, it can produce strains at different heights, with different characteristics and flavors. This is the valley that produces the cabernet sauvignon, a Chilean wine that is recognized worldwide.
Among the vineyards that we can find in this area are Concha y Toro vineyard and the ones that are grouped in the Ruta del Vino del Alto Maipo (Wine Route of Alto del Maipo), such as Viña Haras de Pirque, Viña Huelquén and Viña la Montaña, among others. There are tours, outdoor recreation, tastings and wine sales.
Other places that can be visited in the Valle del Maipo (Maipo Valley) are Isla de Maipo and Calera de Tango, where you can try typical food, see houses of colonial architecture, know the Pucará de Chena, Inca fortress that is located nearby, and enjoy the tranquility and relaxation of the countryside.
Valle de Casablanca: (Casablanca Valley)
It is located in the 5th region, just 41 kilometers from Valparaiso. Since it lacks waterways, reservoirs and dams water the dozens of vineyards dedicated to the production of white wines in particular.
It is named after the town of Casablanca which is characterized by its traditional festival and its Chilean traditions. From here starts the Ruta del Vino de Casablanca (Casablanca Wine Route), where you can see some vineyards such as Casas del Bosque, Matetic, Indómita, Viñamar, Quintay, among others.
Within the tour, you can also enjoy the best Chilean food in their restaurants and enjoy accommodations of high standards and excellent service. There are also shops where you can buy wines and other related souvenirs related to this experience.
Valle del Maule: (Maule Valley)
This valley has three million acres, the largest area of vineyards in the country with plantations that have existed since the colonial era. It is located in the region of the Maule, between the provinces of Talca, Linares and Cauquenes, being the most productive wine region of Chile.
It has routes so you can see its vineyards, including Viña San Rafael, Viña Gillmore, Vina Corral Victoria and Viña Balduzzi, with tastings, lunch with traditional Chilean food and guided tours of the vineyards, gardens and beautiful surroundings.
In addition, the Maule region has significant natural areas such as Reserva Radal Siete Tazas (Seven Cups Radal Reserve) and Reserva Altos del Lircay (Lircay Altos Reserve), also you can do ecotourism activities like hiking, mountaineering, observe flora and fauna and horseback riding.
Las Termas de Quinamavida (hot springs) are another attraction of Maule, with a full resort and spa to relax and enjoy the healing properties of its waters, as well as other treatments that include clay, and of course, wine.
Maule has important locations such as the city of Talca, noted for its tradition and historic sites, including the O'Higginiano Museum and the Museo de Bellas Artes de Talca (Museum of Fine Arts in Talca).
Valle de Cachapoal: (Cachapoal Valley)
It is located in the basin of Rancagua and is watered by the waters of the Cachapoal River and it extends to the Rapel Lake. The vineyards are located in the lower elevations of the Cordillera de la Costa, in a climate of hot summers and rainy winters, providing strains such as merlot, cabernet sauvignon and notably Carmenere.
Some of the vineyards that are located in the Cachapoal are Viña Chateau Los Boldos, Viña Anakena, Viña La Rosa, Viña Altair, among others, where you can take tours, wine tasting and eat traditional food, buy wines, horseback riding, cycling and other activities.
Among its attractions is the town of Doñihue, offering a particular craft in chamantos, mantles used for riding and are woven in silk and wool sheep.
Besides this, in the Cachapoal Valley you can taste traditional Chilean food like barbecues and the famous pipeño wine directly from the barrels.
Valle de Aconcagua: (Aconcagua Valley)
Within the Valle de Aconcagua we find the Provinces of San Felipe and Los Andes. Due to its characteristics of climate and soil fertile lands that are watered by the waters of the Aconcagua River, they are privileged for all types of crops, especially slow ripening vineyards.
In addition, the valley offers beautiful natural areas like the Serranía del Ciprés (Highlands of Cypress), which features a picnic area, trails and camping areas. Another alternative is the San Francisco de Los Andes private park, where you can do outdoor activities such as paragliding and horseback riding.
In Aconcaguayou can find vineyards such as Viña Errazuriz, Viña Mendoza, Viña San Esteban, Viña Agustinos, Viña El Almendral, among others.
Activities in the Ruta del Vino:
The Ruta del Vino (Wine Route) runs between the 5th and 7th regions of the country called the "transverse valleys" that have rivers and fertile land located at different altitudes, providing ideal conditions for the cultivation of various types of wine strains recognized for their taste and quality worldwide.
From north to south, the tour of the Ruta del Vino (Wine Route) can begin in the Aconcagua Valley, about 100 kilometers from Santiago, visiting the towns of San Felipe and Los Andes, located within the 5th region of Valparaíso. Here you can enjoy outdoor activities, nature reserves available in the area; you can try flavors of traditional Chilean food and of course visit the most renowned vineyards of the sector such as the Viña Errazuriz. It is famous for the production of syrah strain.
As we continue we find the kingdom of white wine in the Casablanca Valley. It is located 41 kilometers from Valparaiso and is famous for its chardonnay and SauvignonBlanc strains. You can also enjoy traditional food and folk activities in the traditional Casablanca festival that takes place during the first week of October.
The closest wine valleys from Santiago are the Maipo Valley which is located south of the capital, where you can visit the towns of Isla de Maipo and Calera de Tango, in addition to tours of the Concha y Toro vineyard and Ruta del Maipo Alto, through the towns of Buin, Paine and Pirque, to sample their iconic red wines.
Continuing south we find the Cachapoal Valley, in the basin of Rancagua and next to Rapel Lake, one of the main tourist destinations in the area, where you can enjoy water activities, camping, horseback riding, mountain biking and other types of tours. Another alternative is to know the Sewell camp, a mining town in the early twentieth century that is considered a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The vineyards of the area have attractive routes so you can see the instalations and processes of winemaking and tasting varieties like Merlot and Carmenere.
The Colchagua Valley in the 6th region is one of the most famous and renowned Ruta del Vino (Wine Route) destinations. Here you can find the cities of Santa Cruz and San Fernando, which have excellent wine-oriented services, such as specialized hotels and restaurants of fine dining.
In this area we can try all kinds of wines because of its excellent growing conditions, including the following strains: merlot, cabernet sauvignon, malbec, merlot, syrah and Carmenere.
The Maule Valley is the northernmost of the transverse valleys, with a distance of 260 kilometers south of Santiago. It is located in the 7th region and is the seventh-largest in acres of the vineyards that grow the most important strains of red wines, such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec and Carmenere.
By having the presence of large bodies of water, it produces strains with a fruity taste such as rosé and late harvest.
All the valleys of the Ruta del Vino are located next to major cities or towns, so that you can use credit cards and find ATMs. It is recommended to change money in Santiago and travel with Chilean pesos.
Depending on the valley you want to visit, the transportation alternatives are different:
Aconcagua Valley: To get here you can take a bus to San Felipe and Los Andes. If you are driving from Santiago you must take Rota 57. From Valparaiso you can get there taking Ruta 60.
Casablanca Valley: By bus, you must take a shuttle bus to the town of Casablanca. By car, it is accessed via Ruta 68, camino a Valparaiso.
Colchagua Valley: By bus you can get to the towns of San Fernando and Santa Cruz, where there is transportation and tours that reach the most famous vineyards. By car from Santiago you can take Ruta 5 Sur to arrive there.
Maule Valley: By bus, taking a bus that arrives in Talca or Linares. By car you must take Ruta 5 Sur.
Cachapoal Valley: Take a bus to Melipilla or Rancagua. By car, take Ruta 78 and Ruta 66, through the cruce Las Arañas.
Maipo Valley: You must reach Pirque, southeast of the city of Santiago. By car through Vicuña Mackenna Avenue, which changes name to Concha y Toro Avenue as you drive along it. There are also buses that are taken in the subway station Bellavista de la Florida that reach this valley.
To get to Isla de Maipo there are buses from Estación Central in Santiago, or by car via Ruta 78. To Talagante through Ruta 5 Sur.
In the Maipo Valley, the code used is 2, which corresponds to the telephone code of Santiago.
In the Casablanca Valley, the area code is 32, which is the country code for the 5th region.
In the Aconcagua Valley, the area code is 35, which corresponds to the towns of San Felipe and Los Andes.
In the Colchagua Valley, the area code is 72 for Santa Cruz and San Fernando.
In the Cachapoal Valley the code Rancagua is 72.
In the Maule Valley, the telephone code corresponding to Talca is 71, while the telephone code in Linares is 73.
Remember that if you are calling from abroad you must always precede the code 56, which corresponds to Chile, then the area code and the zone code.
Where and what to eat
Since the wine valleys are found in the central region of the country, they are representatives of traditional Chilean food with dishes including red meat, to try with red wines, white meats, to try with white wines, seafood, and other typical foods like empanadas, humitas, pastel de choclo, cazuela, charquicán, among other alternatives.
While each of the locations around the vineyards you can enjoy the traditional Chilean food, there are some vineyards that are famous for their fine dining restaurants. They seek to keep the traditional flavors but with mixtures of different flavors, with signature cuisine dishes.
Some restaurants that are worth visiting are House of Morandé, located in the Morandé Vineyard within the Casablanca Valley. Here you can sample fish and seafood such as sea bass and tuna from Easter Island; meats like Serrano ham, lamb, and desserts that have a unique style, including frozen cheese.
Also in Casablanca we find Tanino, which belongs to the Casas del Bosque Vineyard. Here you can pair the wines with dishes like lamb chops, ostrich, cheeses, pastas and more.
A good alternative is the restaurant Viña Indómita, also in the Casablanca Valley, with dishes that are highlighted by their preparations of fish and seafood such as ceviche, mackerel, scallops, grouper, sea bass and mussels, all with exotic sides like Asian seaweed, dates, sweet potatoes, soba noodles and more.