When wine lovers talk about their dream destinations, they always hail the famous Chiantis of Tuscany, the warm Cabernet blends of Napa or the crisp Sauvignon Blancs of the Loire Valley.
Too often, Chile is merely a whisper. The lush, vine-covered hills of the Casablanca Valley have remained mostly under the radar. However, Chile’s superb wine climate, rich soil and booming economy have turned the region into an untapped wine lover’s paradise.
As an avid wine lover and viticulture destination hopper, I had heard about Chile’s young, but vibrant, wine culture and had tasted their oaky Chardonnays and dry Pinot Noirs here at home, but I decided I had to visit the source myself.
Could Casablanca Valley be the next Napa? I decided I was going to find out.
Chile, a sliver of a country on the western edge of South America, is like an upside down California. It is bordered by Argentina, Peru and Bolivia, and extends into Antarctica and the Drake Passage in the south.
I was lucky enough to fly during the day into Santiago and got a a slight glimpse of Chile’s unique topography. From volcanoes to fertile valleys to inlets of icy fjords and tropical islands, Chile has many different areas to explore.
However, I was headed straight for the large expanse known as the Casablanca Valley. Casablanca Valley is actually part of the Aconcagua Valley, Chile’s third designated viticulture region, and is located about an hour west of Santiago towards the coastline.
The Central Valley Characteristics
Chile’s unique geography and location is the reason it is one of the only places left in the world that can grow the elusive Carmenère varietal. The Carmenère grape grew abundantly in Bordeaux, France, producing dark red wines until 1867 when it was hit by the phylloxera plague. These tiny, sap-sucking pests wiped out Carmenère crops all over the world. Chile’s grapes were protected in the east by the cold Pacific Ocean air, in the north by the barren Atacama Desert, in the south by the frigid Antarctic glaciers and in the west by the Andes.
Driving out of the airport into the Casablanca Valley, I was struck by how similar parts of it look to California’s wine-producing regions. Even though the vineyards of Chile have the South American equivalent latitudes of North Africa, the climate is classified as Mediterranean. I had read that the climate of Casablanca is comparable to the Californian wine region of Carneros. This was welcome news to me, as I was a fan of both Chardonnay and Pinot noir — popular varietals from both regions.
Local wine expert and tour guide Ines Wiegand told me the climate and soil are why Chile produces such delicious wines. “Our soil is formed by clay and a little bit of sand, which helps with the humidity to form the exact combination to get our delicious varieties of wine.”
I planned my journey during the early April harvest — Chile’s early Fall, which meant that I experienced the airy sunlight and comfortable 70-degree weather as I curved through the sloping hills along Ruta 68, the Autopista Del Pacifico. The Casablanca Valley is one of the few wine regions that does not depend on irrigation from melting snow in the Andes due to its proximity to the coast.
However, when I stopped to buy some local olives, a farmer warned me that the Pacific’s Humboldt current can sometimes blanket vineyards in a cold marine layer. “Always have your jacket with you,” he advised me in his thick Chilean Spanish, a slightly different variant of the Castilian Spanish I had learned back in school.
I continued driving through the amazingly expansive valley. In total there are over 3,531 acres planted in the region and grow. In order of quantity, they are as follows: Chardonnay (5,607 acres), Sauvignon Blanc (4,819 acres), Pinot Noir (1,787), Merlot (966 acres), Syrah (277 acres), Gewurztraminer (161 acres), Viognier (121 acres), Pinot Gris (84 acres), Riesling (82 acres), Cabernet Franc (32 acres) and Malbec (15 acres).
Wine lovers have a large variety of choices in the area. Here are some of the most popular wineries that pair superb tastings with picturesque views that you can check out.
Matetic winery specializes in making organic biodynamic wines. Located on the border of Casablanca Valley and the Rosario Valley, Matetic boasts a new state-of-the-art winemaking facility designed by architect Laurence Odfjell.
During the tour of the stunning facility, you will learn how their 300,000-liter capacity tank relies on a gravitational flow design to optimize storage of the fermenting grapes. During a tasting, be sure to try their famous “EQ” Sauvignon Blanc, which has a spicy bouquet of fresh pear and tangerine, perfect for a warm afternoon. In addition to their Sauvignon Blanc, they also produce Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and Syrahs.
Veramonte is one of the largest vineyards in Chile, with over 1,000 acres in the Casablanca Valley. Its California-style facility by Chilean architect Jorge Swinburn is nestled in forest-filled hills, home to more than 24 species of birds.
This is a great vineyard to visit for families, as the Veramonte property not only has an antique winemaking exhibit hall filled with old barrels and wine contraptions, but also boasts picnic and game areas among the vines and olive trees. Their most popular varietals are Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Merlot. Their Veramonte 2012 Syrah Rose is a deep pink, raspberry-scented summer wine, which is wonderfully crisp on the palate.
The Indómita castle-like winery floats on top of a vine-covered hill right at the start of Casablanca Valley. Their Casablanca Valley location focuses on white wine. Their Duette Chardonnay 2009 is particularly delightful with a hint of pineapple and boasting a buttery texture. Wine is not the only treat at Indómita: in-house Chef Oscar Tapia serves gourmet Spanish Chilean lunches daily at Restaurante Viña Indòmita on the property.
4) Casas del Bosque
Indómita isn’t the only place to get a decadent lunch in the valley. Casas del Bosque is a family boutique winery that offers premium wine and terrace dining at their Tanino Wine Bar & Lunch. Here you can get Chilean delicacies and sip their unique Syrah created in this cool coastal region. Their Gran Estate Selection Private Reserve 2007 is particularly noteworthy with its intense violet color and bouquet of blackcurrant, blueberry and anise.
5) Vina Morandé
Pablo Morandé planted Casablanca Valley’s first vineyard in 1982. Over 320 acres of vines make up the Belén Estate in the Casablanca sector known as Lo Ovalle. The sleek, glass-and-wood building is surrounded by vines, most of which produce Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Another superb restaurant on the vineyard, House of Morandé, serves up an international menu by Chef Christopher Carpentier. Be sure to try their sparkling wine, Morandé Brut Nature, which is 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir, and has a delicate sweetness.
Could the Casablanca Valley be the next Napa or Sonoma? While both the wine and views are more than comparable, it’s nearly impossible to squeeze all of the sites and tastings into one weekend. Perhaps that makes it better than either of those American wine regions. In reality, the most difficult part of my trip, if anything, was simply the act of having to leave.
Casas del Bosque
By Vanessa Van Edwards
Vanessa Van Edwards of ScieneOfPeople.com is a published author and behavioral investigator. She is a professional people watcher—speaking, researching and cracking the code of interesting human behavior for audiences around the world. Vanessa’s groundbreaking workshops and courses teach individuals how to succeed in business and life by understanding the hidden dynamics of people. Vanessa is a Huffington Post columnist and Penguin author. She has been featured on NPR, the Wall Street Journal, the Today Show and USA Today. She has written for CNN, Fast Company and Forbes.