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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrChile’s 2,672-mile-long landscape includes many diverse features including rocky deserts, massive sand dunes; lush forests, rivers, waterfalls, dramatic mountains; smoldering volcanoes, glaciers; fjords, — and the landscape’s most recent addition— sprawling, fertile vineyards.
Wine making has exploded throughout Chile, and seemingly endless rows of vines now dominate the land throughout much of the country. Take a look at a map of Chile’s wine regions and you will see that viticulture spreads widely from the Atacama region down to Northern Patagonia, with a heavy concentration around Santiago. For any wine lover, this means easy, accessible trips to one of the world’s best wine regions, just a short hop out of the city.
The closest wine regions to Santiago are the Maipo Valley (which immediately hugs the city), the coastal San Antonio and Casablanca Valleys to the west, and Aconcagua Valley to the North. Chile’s extremely varied landscape, between the different regions, allow for the production of many different wine varieties. For example, the cool, foggy mornings and heavier rainfall of the Casablanca Valley produce Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay varieties. In contrast, the warm, dry Aconcagua Valley in the North specializes in reds, including Syrah, Carmenère, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Aconcagua Valley is situated in an optimal location for producing wine, in large part because it rests in the shadow of the highest peak in the America's Mount Aconcagua. This 22,828-foot giant plays a crucial role in the production of the region’s wine as its snow melt helps to irrigate, the otherwise, bone-dry vineyards. From the West, ocean winds sweep across the valley and cool the vines to a perfect temperature for the region’s signature red varieties.
The Aconcagua Valley vines have to work hard to survive in this arid environment, which renders more refined, higher quality wines. Still, they clearly flourish in these dry conditions; as far as the eye can see, the vineyards stretch through the valley and up along hillsides, often backing up to neighboring patches of avocado trees.
A visit to the Aconcagua Valley is a great way to learn more about Chilean wine as well as to escape the congestion of Santiago.
HistoryConquistadors from Spain brought with them the wine making traditions of Europe and introduced these traditions to Chile. Francisco de Aguierre planted the first vines in Chile during the mid 1500s, which led to additional vineyards being established in the Santiago area.
For many years it was believed that the hot, dry Aconcagua Valley could not sustain vineyards, a theory that Don Maximiano Errázuriz disproved in 1870 after his vineyards produced some of the region’s best Cabernet sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah wines. Today, Viña Errázuriz is respected as one of Chile’s best and continues to produce high quality wines from this arid landscape.
In the 1980s, Chile made significant investments in modernizing its viticulture industry and dramatically expanded its wine exports. It is now the leading producer of wine in South America, both in terms of quality and volume.
Interesting FactChile’s signature grape is the Carmenère, a variety that has undergone a fascinating journey during the last century or so. It originated in France but was believed to have been completely destroyed by phylloxera during the late 1800s. Unknowingly, some French winemakers who were looking for a fresh start in Chile, away from phylloxera-ravaged Europe, brought with them what they thought was Merlot but it was actually Carmenère.
It wasn't until very recently that winemakers finally discovered that much of Chile’s Merlot was actually “the long-extinct” Carmenère. This wine variety is a source of pride for Chileans and is very prominent within the local wine industry.
WeatherThe Aconcagua Valley, while arid and warm, has a distinct climate in which the cool Pacific air rushes through the valley during the hot afternoons. These ocean breezes moderate the temperatures in the valley and keep them fairly temperate. The sun can still be intense so be sure to keep this in mind, especially if touring a vineyard.
VisitThe Aconcagua Valley is about an hour-and-a-half north of Santiago. There are a number of wineries in the Aconcagua Valley and they are all worth a visit in their own right. Before visiting a winery, check if they allow walk-in visits or if tour reservations must be made in advance.
Some area wineries include:
- Viña Errázuriz - It is open to visitors Tuesday through Sunday, 10 AM to 5:30 PM. Tours are scheduled throughout the day.
- Viña San Esteban - Several tour packages are available and should be made in advance.
- Viña von Siebenthal - Tours and tastings should be booked in advance.
One option worth considering is booking a wine tour with a tour company, which includes a driver to and from your hotel and between several wineries—a good idea if you plan to taste various type of wines! The prices of these tours may seem like a splurge, but the overall experience and the comfort of having an easy trip back to Santiago after a day of wine tasting is worth the money.
A few companies that offer wine tours to Aconcagua Valley are Santiago Adventures, Ecotours Chile and Chilean Wine Lovers, among others.
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Author: SBoston. Last updated: Jan 31, 2015