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Enjoying tapas on the terrace at Lapostelle Winery, Chile. Photos by Paul Shoul.
Tapas at Laposalle, Chile. Paul Shoul photos.

Drink Up! A Tour of Chile's Wineries and Vineyards

It is 12:00 noon on a warm day in the Colchagua valley in Chile, one of the country's premiere wine producing regions. I am seated with a group of new friends at a long table on a porch in the heart of the Casa Silva vineyards. The air is filled with the smokey aroma of merkin-spiced grass-fed beef grilling nearby.

Thomas Wilkins of Casa Silva is pouring a bottle of 2009 Cool Coast Sauvignon Blanc while telling stories about the earthquake that rocked this region on Feb 27th. There is a sense of pride in his telling about the Chileans who came together to help each other rebuild.

He says that they were all scared but cannot help laugh when he gets to the part about when a million gallons of wine spilled out into the street, and people, thinking the world might end, drank it by the bucketful.

In the field to our left is a family walking horses out in a meadow. Endless manicured vines stretch off into the the distance toward the Andes mountains that tower far off. As the conversation and the meal moves on, so does the wine. We have moved on to the rescue of the 33 miners the week before.

It was so good for the country he said that "next month another 66 of them are going down there." He decants a bottle of Microterroir de los Lingues Carmenere, 2006. It is a gold medal winner, smooth and deep, the perfect accompaniment to the local beef.

The Good Life

Wine culture encompasses so many aspects of the good life that whether you are just a person who loves good food and conversation, a novice wine enthusiast such as myself, a true oenophile or someone looking for a family vacation, there is something for you to learn and experience.

It is a an opportunity to step into into a culture that is civilized, big picture and by nature holistic. To produce great wine is to be aware of ecology, the passage of time, the particulars of the vines and the local environment.

Casa Silva vino
Casa Silva vino. Paul Shoul Photo.

To truly enjoy great wine, pair it with great local food on a 100-year-old estate, on the same earth where it was grown.

Casa Silva

Casa Silva has a beautiful boutique hotel with only seven rooms in a restored family home. It offers tours of the winery, tastings and the food is fantastic. They have over 150 horses on the estate to ride and a rodeo by the master horsemen. We watched while munching on Serrano ham and drinking a 2009 Rose, come on, life does not really get a whole lot better.

Chilean wine cultivation dates back to the 16th century with vines brought by the Spanish conquistadors. Over time French varieties and methods were introduced and heavily influenced wine production.

Lapostolle Winery
Lapostolle Winery.

The country is blessed with perfect conditions for growing grapes. Good soil, warm days and cool nights. Chile was spared from the phylloxera epidemic that destroyed vine root systems around the world and in the late 1970's when restrictions on new plantings were removed.

Chilean wine production increased significantly to where it is now the fifth largest producer in the world. Casa Silva was just the first of six winery's I was to visit in Chile.

Lapostellole Clos Apalta Winery

Driving up to the residence through the vineyards of Lapostolle, we're all all thinking the same thought: If James bond were to spend the night at a vineyard in Chile it would be here.

The futuristic residence, made of hardwood arches reaching to the sky and carved into side of a mountain, is breathtaking, edgy but with a natural feel. Established by the Marnier-Lapostolle family of Grand Marnier fame, their wine is superb.

Lapostolle is forging a new and higher standard for bio-dynamic wine production, They are under process of CERES, German organic certification by 2011. Their goal is to be completely self sustaining. Unique to Chile, the winery is gravity fed. All grapes are hand harvested and de-stemmed.

Horseback riding at Lapostolle
Horseback riding at Lapostolle

We were met by the winemaker, Andre Leon, for a tour ending at the bottom floor with a tasting amongst rows of French oak barrels. The ultra modern glass table we gathered around shocked us all when with the flip of a switch on one end opened to reveal a hidden stairway down into a wine vault.

Descending into this holy room of great wines, we made our way through the secret back door to begin a horse and bicycle ride though the vineyards. Laposolle has three estates of a total of 350 hectares that produce more than 200,000 cases a year.

Clos Apalta was opened to the public in 2006. There are three luxurious Casitas that can be rented, all with amazing views. After our ride and tapas by the pool with their Rapel Valley 2009 Savignon Blanc. I am a huge fan of this wine which I regularly get at home, and it's even better here at the source.

The Hotel Santa Cruz
The Hotel Santa Cruz

At lunch on the veranda overlooking the valley, we were treated to the Clos Apalta, a rich full-bodied blend of Merlot, Carmenere, and Cabernet.

Everything about being at Lapostolle gave me more respect than I already had for them. The organic commitment, the scenery, the residence and winery, the food and simply really nice people makes this one of sweet spots on the planet.

Vina Santa Cruz

This is the 3rd most visited winery in Chile. Located in the Lolol region of the Colchagua valley just 25km south of the the town of Santa Cruz where I stayed in the lovely Hotel Santa Cruz. Are you sensing a pattern here? Santa Cruz is a small town in the heart of the wine route that is being developed by its majority owner and native son, the notorious Carlos Cardoen.

Biscquert Family Vineyard
Biscquert Family Vineyard

He does things on a grand scale. The wines of Santa Cruz are very good, I had their Caramenere Gran Reserve, an impressive wine, but what stands out to a visitor to the town and the vineyards is the Disney-like spectacle of Cardonen's imagination.

Not only does he own the Hotel, and the enormous sprawling Colchagua museum, at his vineyard you can take a cable car to the top of the mountain where a a replica of Mapuche, Rapa Nui, and Aymara tribal dwellings. Further up the hill in the super cool observatory is one of the most powerful privately owned telescopes in Chile.

There is a collection of meteorites found around Chile and the rest of the world and a slide show presentation of the heavens followed by the chance to gaze through one the many other ultra powerful telescopes on the terrace. Kids will dig the Cardoen Santa Cruz experience since it is a family place. Some of us adults will love it and some may raise their eyes to question how over the top it is but neither will be able to stop looking at it.

Bisquert Family Vineyards
Bisquert Family Vineyards

Bisquert Family Vineyards

This is what you would hope a Chilean winery would be. Winemaker Joana Pereira is committed to the concept of micro-terroir environments focusing less on volume and more on producing unique superior wines.

Of the three levels of tastings they offer you can arrange a technical tasting with the winemaker The residence was formally only open for commercial clients.

The majestic old house built in 1865 survived the earthquake and additional rooms have been built for the public. The new guest rooms are done in similar historic style to the master house but they have added a stand-alone mini spa shower in the bathroom that is rivaled in options only by mechanised Japanese heated toilets.

Miguel Torres Maczassek
Miguel Torres Maczassek

The main house is like stepping back in time. Meals are taken in the family dining room adorned, as is the rest of the house, with family antiques. In the afternoon on the grounds we had a fire pit barbecue of pork, beef and chorizo sausages serenaded by a local Huaso singers dancing the cueca.

Late night was spent drinking more La Joya reserve playing pool at the slate table and laughing into the night as a small tremor ever so slightly slightly shook the chandelier mysteriously into motion. Bisquert is a classy yet comfortable estate where I wish I could spend more time. They are serious about their wine and it shows.

Miguel Torres

The name Miguel Torres is synonymous with wine. The Torres Family has been producing wine in Spain for the past 100 years. In 1979 they began their winemaking venture in Chile's central valley and have acquired over 450 hectares of vineyards in various regions around the country. It is run by Miguel Torres Maczassek with whom I had the pleasure of dining at his Curico Vineyard restaurant.

Like so many other vineyards Torres was heavily damaged in the 2010 earthquake, losing 10% of production. He spoke of walking on top of mountains of broken wine bottles. Twelve families who work on the estate lost their homes.

Miguel Torres tapa
Miguel Torres tapa

Aid from the government was slow in coming and supplies were scarce, so Miguel gathered materials and they all built them together. Realizing that he had essentially set up a small factory, they went on to raise over $100,000 in donations to help other homeless families in Chile.

He built over 57 homes. Miguel is a man on a mission; last year he moved his family to live full-time in Chile. He was passionate not just about great wine but about the environment from which it is born. He is concerned about climate change and has begun an organic line of wines, along with strong efforts in ecological sustainability and is a champion of fair trade practices.

Changing temperatures have caused many challenges but have also opened up new possibilities to grow in places they never would have thought possible 15 years ago. He was excited about a new project in the Chilean mountains that would mimic the conditions of the steep rocky slopes off the Duro region of Portugal.

The winery at Curico is surrounded by vineyards lined with endless huge stainless steel tanks. Torres is famous for being the first bring them to Chile. The restaurant was fantastic. Chile has bountiful natural foods, but leave it to the Spanish to make the most of them.

Via Wines
Via Wines

From the starter of a tapa of quinoa topped with turkey and a balsamic reduction and basil infused oil was a perfect fusion of Spanish and Chilean cuisine. Of course the wine was amazing. we tried a refreshing Santa Digna Cab rose, an old vine Manso de vasco 2007, and a gorgeous bottle of Pinot Noir Brut.

Via Wines Valle de Maule

I only had a short time at Via wines. Just enough for lunch and a quick tour of the vineyards. They are are a large enterprise with over 885 hectares and are seriously pursuing complete sustainability.

They are gearing up to expand wine tourism with tours and tastings, hiking the vineyards along marked paths and a varietal garden.

A river runs through their property and we dined on the deck of one of their ultra modern meeting/event house. The food was superb with a fresh take on Chilean classics such as empanadas and a seafood stew baked in a black clay pots, but what stood out to me was the very unusual Oveja Negra Savignon Blanc Carmenere Reserva. Deep red Carmenere has become the signature Chilean red. The Via winemakers are thinking outside the box turning it into a white. We were all blown away by this wine.

Daniella Esturillo of Gillmore Winery and Vineyards
Daniella Esturillo, of Gillmore Winery and Vineyards

Gillmore Winery and Vineyards

Daniella Esturillo, the general manager of Gillmore and daughter of its founder Francisco Gillmore told us funny stories at dinner. She is one of those super enthusiastic people with a child-like bright smile and wide open eyes that find a silver lining in even the darkest of times.

When the earthquake hit destroying much of their winery and their home, her favorite part was not about how her family ended up huddling together in fear after she and her husband ran back inside a crumbling house to save their son, it was when she confessed how much she laughed at herself afterwards when she remembered that at first she picked up her television and held on to it for dear life.

When she talks about the vineyard it is always in the context of history and family. An author friend of mine and I were talking recently about how magical realism still lives in South America. You find that here in Gillmore... and a slight touch of Dr. Moreau.

Aside from producing what may have been the best wine I tried in Chile, they also have a private zoo with no fewer than two mountain lions, a few emus, llamas, horses and assorted endangered birds.

The guest rooms are large comfortable with Whirlpool baths and decks overlooking a fish pond. On the magical side is a church on the property that, although damaged in the earthquake, still stands in memoriam to her father's dog that has sat for a year at the altar stuffed and waiting for her master's plans for eternity.

Daniella tells the story with a touch of amusement but neither she nor I find anything strange about her father's wish to buried along with his favorite dog, both sitting in the front seat of a green 1992 Mercedes.

It is the stuff of legends and children's books, the kind of magic that still exists here in Chile and makes a trip through the wine regions about so much more.

As a family Danella and her husband have brought a new and younger sensibility to Gilmore's labele, reaching out to a broader audience, but the wine is still based on her father's uncompromising standards.

They make only reds in small production from old vines in traditional ways. Good conversation, a whole lot of laughter and outstanding wines made this one of my most memorable winery visits in Chile.

Where to stay in Santa Cruz

The Hotel Santa Cruz is in the center of town across from the central park. It is a complete facility with conference capability great restaurants and a huge pool. It is the epicenter for wine travelers in the valley.

Where to stay in Santiago

W Hotels, Santiago
W Hotels, Santiago. photo by Paul Shoul.

Hotel W Santiago

The worldwide W Hotels are always the coolest kid on the hotel block. They are over the top luxurious and hip, very hip. They want to be the place to be. The design of the W Santiago is avant guarde and creative. The rooms are comfy and their "anything anytime attitude" makes this one of the hot spots to stay in Santiago.

They have ample different environments to eat and drink, from the sprawling rooftop club to the ground floor bars and restaurant. My first evening there was spent drinking with travelers from all over the world and other media people some just coming back from covering 2009's miners rescue. A very cool hotel.

The Aubrey Santiago

The Aubrey is a true boutique hotel, the kind that can only happen once on a small scale. Born from the obsession of one man, Australian owner Mark Cigana, He devoted his savings and good part of soul to renovate this 1927 mansion. A huge project, it is beautifully restored.

With only 15 rooms, each is an individual statement of artistic interior design. There is a small swimming pool, terraces and what many say is the city's best restaurant, the Pasta E Vino, run by executive chef Veronica Alfageme.

The pool at the Aubrey Hotel
The pool at the Aubrey Hotel

The Aubrey is an oasis located in Bellavista, the center of Santiago's art and night life scene. The night before I left, my friends and I headed out after dinner for a drink. At 2:00 am I found myself on stage at Bar 2, a small blues club, sitting in with the band.

By 4:30 in the the morning, all I had to do was walk one block and I was home at the Aubrey. Location is half of a good hotel, but the Aubrey is just nice enough that sometimes you may just want to stay inside.

More info on Chile wine travel:

Wines of Chile:

How to get there:
American Airlines

This trip was made possible with assistance from Wines of Chile.


Paul Shoul of

Paul Shoul
is a GoNOMAD staff photographer and writer. Read his blog and visit his photography website


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Tags: storySection: Wine Tours
Location: Chile,South America
author: Paul Shoul
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