With the Atacama Desert to the north and the desolate ice-fields of Patagonia to the south, the scope for winemaking in Chile is confined to a small central belt of the country with a more moderate climate.
Wine has been made in Chile for centuries, beginning in 16th century when the Spanish conquistadors brought vines with them as they colonized the region, but it was not until the early 1980s that the production of quality wine really began and as a consequence wine exports started to grow very quickly. Today, over twenty grape varieties are grown in Chile, mainly a mixture of Spanish and French varieties; the most common grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carmenère.
Today Chile has many wine regions, some are old and well established while others still are developing wine regions. Among the top Wine Regions are: Elqui Valley, Casablanca Valley, Rapel Valley, and Maipo Valley.
Maipo Valley is the birthplace of Chile´s wine production. It stretches east from Santiago to the Andes, and west to the coast in the Central Valley. To this day, it is the best known wine region of Chile with 30,000 acres of vineyards. The region is best known for its well-balanced reds, and produces some of Chile’s premiere Cabernets. The Maipo River, which runs through the valley, is a popular destination for rafting, horseback riding and nature treks to hot springs.
Casablanca Valley is located about 60 km from Santiago at the main road to the Pacific seaside town of Valparaiso. Given that Casablanca’s wine production first took off in the mid-80s, most wineries have a modern feel and wine tourism has been established quickly with wineries such as Morandé, Concha and Toro, Santa Emiliana or Santa Carolina open to visitors, offering wine tastings, traditional coach tours, or lunch in selected gourmet restaurants.
Rapel Valley is located about a hundred km south of Santiago; it is home to two of the best-known and internationally recognized wine regions of Chile: the Cachapoal Valley and the Colchagua Valley. In the Colchagua Valley there is the colonial town of Santa Cruz, a major stop on Chile’s “Wine Route,” with restaurants and shops that sell local handicrafts. The Cachapoal Valley and in particularly Alto Cachapoal has been the center of attention among French investors and wine lovers. Many famous winegrower families from Bordeaux, Alsace and the Loire region have either merged with long-established Chilean winemakers or have built up their own wineries to produce quality red wine of French character. The wine route Alto Cachapoal is easily accessible and lined with many famous wineries.
Elqui Valley is a popular wine-tour stop at the southern edge of the Atacama Desert. Vineyards spread out from the Pacific coast to high in the Andes, producing a distinct cool-climate Syrah. Valle del Elqui is one of Chile´s most beautiful natural areas. Due to a very dry climate, the sky is clear all year through and several international astronomy associations operate observatories in this region, such as the one on top of the mountain Tololo, in La Silla, or on top of the Pachón, one of the most important observatories in the southern hemisphere.