Even if you missed out on the spirited Vendimia wine festival in March, Chile’s outstanding Colchagua valley full of fragrant wineries, charming lunch spots and 16th century haciendas remains open all year round, a mere two-hour drive from Santiago.
Photo by Charlotte Mountford
Los Lingues Hacienda
Eternally serene Hacienda Los Lingues near San Fernando comes recommended by Chileans, not just guidebooks. You feel as if you’re stepping into a movie if you arrive after dark, cruising through tall entrance gates, over fine gravel and up a driveway lined with sweet smelling pines.
Lights flicker, the pungent aroma of flowering jasmine spills from high archways and in a central courtyard a fountain splashes while diners sit at white tables drinking wine under the stars.
However, Los Lingues is no film set. Built as the private home of Chilean aristocratic family del Águila in the 16th century and passed down through the female line, the hacienda is now run by Felipe, whose own wife is a del Águila.
You can ride out from history onto the foothills of the Andes on horseback. The long, low 18th century stables are covered by handmade pink stones, one of the finest breeding stables for Aculeo horses in the Americas. Smells of hay, oats, fig and horses from the stables mingle with those of jasmine and pine in the driveway below, so getting into your parked car is an olfactory treat.
The grand, comfortable, slightly faded yet charming bedrooms open out onto long open-air corridors. Along with the romantic courtyard eating area, an interior dining room sits splendid, complete with a long polished table, crested wall hangings, ancestral paintings and silver-plated cockerels.
Driving away from Los Lingues through the very charming countryside towards Santa Cruz is a pleasant way to take in the scenes, but if you don't have a car, the sleek, early 20th century wine steam train is a fun way to see the views. It leaves from San Fernando every Saturday and travels the 40 kilometers to Santa Cruz, providing snacks and wine tastings along the way. Tourist companies offer shuttle transport to the train from Santiago, along with tours of the many alluring wineries on arrival.
Wineries and Lunch
If you prefer to visit the wineries independently, your hacienda or hotel should phone ahead to book a tour time, or to request a table for lunch. If you are day tripping or befuddled after a morning of wine tasting, the info center in the lobby of Hotel Santa Cruz in the town plaza can oblige.
Montes winery sits up a quiet county road a 15-minute drive from Santa Cruz, very close to fellow wineries Clos Apalta and Las Ninas. For CP$12,000 (US$20) the tour escorts you around large silver and wooden tanks and then into the tranquil cellar, where barrels of Montes wine are serenaded by a CD of chanting Gregorian monks on loop. The entire cellar was designed to feel like a monastery; the owners of the winery are very spiritual, hence the angel printed on the Montes wine label.
The wine tasting includes a soft 2008 pinot noir with grapes from the Casablanca valley and the Montes merlot, which the winery claims to be the best in Chile. The glasses are a generous size and the tour ends in a bumpy but scenic tractor ride up the hillside for wine-hazed views of the rolling vines and fruitful valley.
Afterwards the tantalizing smells of cooking waft from a very attractive little restaurant available for lunch, with pastoral views out across the hillside and apparently very good food, if you have time to munch before your next wine appointment.
The Viu Manent winery tour (around US$20) carries you in a horse-pulled cart through vines to see the tanks and cool dark cellar. The tasting takes place in civilized fashion around a large table, where participants can taste one of the vineyard's signature whites, the full-bodied Secreto viognier, with tones of honeysuckle and 15 percent a secret ingredient.
The Manent restaurant stretches comfortably out beneath a high wooden beamed roof, the tables made of solid looking upturned wine barrels.
Edible delights include carpaccio, stuffed squid, spinach and cheese ravioli and seared lamb or congrio, and the staff is happy to pare wine with your food (US$8 for a starter and US$11 for a main course).
On the way out of Viu Manent lies a far-reaching field of hanging vines, perfect to wander beneath for a spot of general grape-communing. Around harvest time in March the vines are laden with fat, purple table grapes, taut with juice and ripe for a sneaky taste.
Casa Silva & Laura Hartwig
Another almost too debonair lunch spot in the valley is Casa Silva, a modern, chic-looking hacienda-hotel, decked out in super-distressed silver wood from the window shutters to graceful courtyard pillars. Lunch in the minimalist courtyard feels rather sophisticated, and tours of the thriving winery are also available.
The wineries of Colchagua are newer and lack the ancient, musty, mold-encrusted cellars that may charm a wine tourist in Europe. At the same time, they lack the “boutique” atmosphere of many European vineyards, aside from the small Laura Hartwig winery, independent of Ruta del Vino, which is closed on weekends.
Though the wine tourism industry here tries hard to look smart, visiting the wineries remains a down-to-earth, friendly experience. The valley is lush, wine is excellent and the rural roads beg to be driven down in the harvest heat of late March, or indeed any other time of year.
Clos Apalta Winery and Casa Lapostolle
Phone: (+56-2) 426 9960
Laura Hartwig Winery
Phone: (+56-7) 282 3179
Phone: (+56-72) 825 417, Ext. 108, 101
Viu Manent Winery
Phone (+56-2) 379 0020
Many of the wineries in the valley are listed in the Ruta Del Vino.
Phone: (+56-7) 271 0180
Hacienda Los Lingues
Phone: (+56-2) 431 0510
From about US$240 per night, including three-course dinner. Ask about full-board and half-board deals.
Hotel Santa Cruz
Phone: (+56-7) 220 9600
Wine Train: San Fernando to Santa Cruz
The following companies and many others offer full-day and overnight trips to Colchagua valley. Tours include bus transport from Santiago to the wine train in San Fernando. They can also organize tours of vineyards and places to stay if necessary.