Chile is a long, beautiful country that offers visitors a variety of experiences. You can visit the southernmost regions to see penguins in Patagonia; you can visit gorgeous Pacific beaches in Viña del Mar, which are much farther north. In between you can visit numerous vineyards and wineries.
The country is 2,650 miles long but only about 110 miles wide. It extends down the Pacific coast of South America like a long ribbon. Beginning in the middle of the continent, it ends at the very bottom – Cape Horn, which is directly above Antarctica. Easter Island – with those wildly amazing statues – is also part of Chile. The country also claims Antarctica, but that claim is widely disputed.
Before you can explore the bounty that is Chile, you first have to get there. That’s not the best part of the trip. From New York the only direct flights are on LAN, the Chilean airline. You leave JFK at 8PM to arrive in Santiago at 7AM. Coming home you leave at 9:30PM and get to JFK at 8:15AM. It’s pretty far away, but if you can sleep on the plane it’s not too bad.
There are a variety of ways to get to and from Santiago from the airport depending on your needs. I stayed at the Radisson Hotel, which was far superior to the hotels in the US Radisson chain.
Visiting wine country requires quite a bit of planning. Unlike many California wineries, most Chilean wineries are open to guests by appointment only. Some have lovely restaurants and hotels where you can stay overnight without leaving the property. There are many styles of wine in Chile, so there’s something for everyone. The wineries mentioned below all offer tastings of excellent wine.
Some of the vineyards closest to Santiago are in the Casablanca and Maipo Valleys. Casablanca Valley is known for its unoaked Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. These wines are generally bright and crisp with focused and lovely fruit. The Maipo Valley is the oldest and best-known wine-producing valley in Chile. A variety of wine grapes grow there, but it is known mostly for its reds.
Veramonte Winery is located on Ruta (highway) 68, Km 66 in the Casablanca Valley, situated on the north side of Ruta 68. The winery is approximately 41 miles from Santiago. The new facility is beautiful, and they offer a variety of tours, which are available seven days per week. You can spend the morning here and get back to Santiago for shopping and dinner.
The Maipo Valley lies about 20 miles south of Santiago, and is home to Chile’s best-known winery Concha y Toro. Located in Pirque, this is one of the most beautifully landscaped properties in the area. Their tour is available for about $12US per person and lasts about 1-½ hours. It includes a spooky cellar tour that tells the legend of Castillo del Diablo (the Devil’s Cellar). They also have a lovely wine bar where you can drink a variety of their wines and pair them with food.
Located in Peñalolén, Cousiño Macul offers a basic tour for about $11US per person. There is also a two-hour “gastronomy” tour that includes lunch. Both tours highlight unique examples of the tools and machinery that were used in ancient times in the winemaking process. It’s interesting to see the changes that have occurred in winemaking over the past 150 years.
In Alto Jahuel, you’ll find the beautiful Santa Rita winery. Here they offers tours, have a wonderful restaurant and a gorgeous hotel. This is the place to spend the night in this area. They also have a museum of artifacts from pre-Colombian and post-Spanish-conquest Chile.
Colchagua is primarily a red-wine region about 93 miles south of Santiago, and about 70 miles south of Maipo. You’ll find a range of overnight accommodations in this region, so you can visit at your leisure. The main town here is Santa Cruz, and the Santa Cruz Plaza Hotel is a lovely place to stay and have dinner.
If you spend your morning at Montes, a new winery designed around the principles of feng shui, you can visit vineyards, taste wines and have a casual lunch. Montes has an extremely wide range of wines from the lightest whites to big iconic reds and even dessert wine.
When you’re in Colchagua, you can visit Lapostolle, a winery that makes Chile’s best known icon wine – Clos Apalta. They have a super- luxury hotel and spa, which would be a great, albeit expensive, way to enjoy a day. Lapostolle just received its organic certification in April 2011.
Another fabulous winery, restaurant and hotel combination in Colchagua is Casa Silva in San Fernando. While Lapostolle is sleek and modern, Casa Silva’s hotel is a manor house from old Chile. The rooms are grand in scale (my bathroom was large enough to hold meetings with a small table and two arm chairs). They also offer horse-drawn carriage rides, and you might even catch a polo match.
About 130 miles south of Santiago and 25 miles south of Colchagua is Curicó. Planted with both red and white grape varieties, Curicó is best known for its Chardonnay.
Miguel Torres, the well-known Spanish wine company, has a property here. The winery is dedicated to sustainable, organic and fair-trade production, and has different lines of wine certified in each. There is also a lovely restaurant for lunch or dinner. Their wines range from sparkling rosé to big iconic reds.
When you’re in Curicó, you should also visit San Pedro in Molina. They have a lovely property and offer three tour options – including horseback riding and a picnic – with or without lunch. You can also arrange to stay overnight in their hacienda. San Pedro is the producer of Castillo de Molina and 1865 wines.
This is just a short list of the wineries you can visit in Chile. There are many others that accept visitors, and many that don’t. Click here for more information about Chile, its wines and wineries.
*I visited these wineries as a guest of Wines of Chile.