This weekend I had the pleasure of staying at the house of a Chilean family near the rural village of Chépica. Chépica is a ‘pueblo’ close to Santa Cruz, a town south of Santiago in Colchagua, IV Región.
Chile is famous for its wine, and this region one of the most famous of all. Wine lovers will have plenty to occupy themselves with here, with vineyard tours and exceptional wines on offer. Even for non-wine lovers, this beautiful part of Chile has plenty to offer a Santiaguino looking for a quiet weekend away.
We took a bus from Terminal Sur, at Universidad de Santiago metro. The bus you need is the Expreso Santa Cruz and costs $5.000 per person, the journey lasts about 3 hours.
From Santa Cruz, we took a 20 minute ride on a micro to Chépica and there met with our friend. After stocking up on fresh huevos del campo (country eggs) and steak, we had lunch in her self-built wooden house, surrounded by cornfields.
The day was blisteringly hot so I took a siesta. It was a relief to escape for a while from the noise and bustle of Santiago, and simply be surrounded with shimmering heat and… pure silence.
Later on, at about 4pm we took the micro back to Santa Cruz. This town has a famous and very old hotel called (unsurprisingly) Hotel Santa Cruz. In this hotel you can book tours of the Viñas (vineyards), this service is available both to guests of the hotel and to other tourists. The hotel seemed very civilised, but at $180.000 per person per night, we were perfectly happy staying with friends instead.
For those who aren’t fortunate enough to have friends to put them up, don’t worry – there are plenty of cheaper hostels and camp-sites available in and around Santa Cruz.
We booked a tour of Viña Santa Cruz in Lolol. You are expected to organise your own transport, but luckily we met another couple who were also doing the same tour, and who had a car so they kindly offered us a lift.
The tour was in Spanish, but our tour guide was very energetic and chatty and I understood about 70% of her well-intentioned explanations. We had the opportunity to see how Chilean wine is made from grapes on the vine through to wine in the bottle, as well as seeing the sorting process, brewing tanks and ending with a wine-tasting session.
On offer at Viña Santa Cruz are Malbec, Carménere, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and Petit Verdot, each variety named after it’s parent grape.
Out of this selection we were offered Carmenére, Malbec and Petit Verdot to try – my personal favourite is still definitely the Carmenére, the others were a little too dry for my taste, but still excellent. However, I am by no means a wine connoisseur, and I have to admit to not being able to detect any trace of the hints of “bell pepper, oak and raspberries” that our lively guide assured us were present in the wines.
Carménere has an interesting history. Originally a variety of grape grown in France, it is almost impossible to find Carménere wines in France today, as a Phylloxera plague in 1867 nearly destroyed all the vineyards of Europe, afflicting the Carménere grapevines in particular such that for many years the grape was presumed extinct. When the vineyards were replanted, growers could not replant Carménere as it was extremely hard to find and more difficult to grow than other grape varieties common to Bordeaux.
In recent years however, the Carménere grape was discovered to be thriving in several areas outside of France. In Chile, growers almost inadvertently preserved the grape variety during the last 150 years, due largely to its similarity to Merlot. Thanks to Chile’s minimal rainfall during the growing season and the protection of the country’s natural boundaries, growers produced healthier crops of Carménere and there was no spread of phylloxera. Today, Carménere grows chiefly in the Colchagua Valley, Rapel Valley, and Maipo Province.
As well as information and wine-tasting, the tour also included an opportunity to buy wines produced on-site, as well as a lift in a small cable-car to the top of the nearby hill, Cerro Chamán, which offered spectacular views of the surrounding valley as well as some ancient Mapuche sites and reconstructions. There was also a small observatory which is apparently accessible at night.
The Viña tour costs $17.000, which I think is a little overpriced, but if you are interested in wine then it’s certainly worth a look.
The next morning we took a walk in the country, and then returned via bus to Santiago. Sadly we didn’t have time to visit the famous Museo Colchagua in the plaza of Santa Cruz next to the casino, although if you are ever in the area, it would be worth going. Entry costs $3.000 and it is supposedly one of the largest and best museums in Chile.
Buses from Santa Cruz back to Santiago leave regularly all day and cost between $4.000 to $5.000.