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Touring the Wine Country & The Rural Heartland

Be sure to pick up Turiscom's excellent English-language Guía de Vinos wine guide series sold at bookstores and wine shops (also sold in the Vinoteca wine store in the airport), which comes with a detailed map of the entire Chilean wine region. Or purchase a copy online at www.turistel.cl. Many of these routes combine nature, culture, and historical attractions as part of the tour.

Established Wine Routes

The Aconcagua, Cachapoal, Casablanca, Curicó, Colchagua, and Maule wine valleys and their corresponding wineries have banded together to offer travelers organized "wine routes," with maps, a reservation center, bilingual guides, and transportation, and a few extra road signs to navigate independent travelers. However, the concept is still in its infancy, and really the only truly well-established wine route is in the Colchagua Valley, and it is recommended above all others.

Half-day wine route tours include visits to two wineries, and full-day tours include a visit to a third winery and lunch either at a winery or a local restaurant. Visitors may either rent a vehicle and visit wineries on their own, having made reservations through the wine route office, or pay an additional fee for transportation from the route's meeting point (in the case of Colchagua, in Santa Cruz), and a bilingual guide. This guide simply leads the group and is an additional cost; tastings and tours are provided by winery staff members, so you may want to forego the guide unless you'd like to learn about the regional culture and history.

Given the growing popularity of wine-tasting in Chile, the wine routes now divide their tours into "wine lovers," "connoisseurs," and "fanatics" tours, which essentially refers to the cost and the caliber of wines offered for tasting: varietals and reserve wines; grand reserve and premium; and ultrapremium/icon wines. Of course, prices vary with "fanatics" tours costing more than three times the basic tour. The cost for tours without transportation and lunch are per person, regardless of the group size; the per-person cost for tours that include transportation and lunch drops as the group size grows.

  • Ruta del Vino, Colchagua Valley, Plaza de Armas 298, Santa Cruz (tel. 72/823199; www.colchaguavalley.cl), incorporates some of the most important wineries in Chile, including Viña Montes, Viu Manent, Casa Silva, Emiliana Orgánica, and Casa Lapostolle's Clos Apalta. Reservations are required 24 hours in advance. A bilingual guide costs an additional $55 (£37) for a half-day, $96 (£64) for a full day. Tours are as cheap as $32 (£21) per person for a half-day without transportation and lunch, or $300 (£200) per person (based on two guests) for an all-inclusive fanatics tour. The full-day tour can be three wineries, or two wineries and a stop at the Museo de Colchagua. The included lunch for the full-day tour is at the Hotel Santa Cruz, Casa Silva, Pan Pan Vino Vino, or Hacienda Lolol.
  • Ruta del Vino, Valle de Casablanca, Av. Portales 90, Casablanca (tel. 32/274-3933; www.casablancavalley.cl), is a new wine route with the perk that they provide round-trip transportation to and from Santiago. Still, they've yet to embrace the wine route concept, and are often disorganized -- better to visit this region on a privately organized wine tour or on your own, especially when headed to Valparaíso. The Casablanca Wine Route includes the wineries William Cole, Morandé, Casas del Bosque, Emiliana Orgánicas, Viña Mar, and Indómita. Half-day tours include two wineries, a guide, and transportation for $75 (£50) per person; full-day tours visit three wineries and include lunch for $95 (£63) per person. Prices are for a minimum of five people and require reservations made a week in advance.
  • Ruta del Vino, Valle de Aconcagua (tel. 9/479-0278; www.aconcaguavinos.cl) is the least visited wine route and not as organized as Colchagua. However, they do offer a full-day tour to two wineries via bicycle: They pick you up in Santiago and transport you to the region, provide the bicycles and a guide, and include lunch at the Casa St. Regis. The cost is $100 (£67), with a minimum of five guests. Half-day tours cost $75 (£50) per person, based on four guests. Wineries that are part of the tour include Errázuriz, Von Siebenthal, San Esteban, and Sanchez de Loria; reservations must be booked 48 hours in advance.
  • Ruta del Vino, Alto de Cachapoal, Calle Comercio 435, Requínoa (tel. 72/553684; www.cachapoalwineroute.cl), is relatively unconsolidated as a whole, so arm yourself with a good sense of adventure. The wineries below the Andes (known as "Alto Cachapoal") have more paved roads than their counterparts on the western side of the Pan-American Highway. Guided tours are "Basic," with a visit to two wineries; "Classic," which adds lunch at Hacienda Los Lingues (including a horse show and tour of the hotel); and "Gastronomy," with one winery visit and a full country-style lunch at Viña Gracia or a Chilean-style barbecue at Chateau Los Boldos (barbecue minimum is 11 guests). The costs, respectively, per person and based on four people, are $33 (£22), $95 (£63), and $54 (£36) or $70 (£47) for the barbecue. Another winery here is Altaïr, a state-of-the-art winery with glorious views.

Private & Independently Planned Tours

Guided tours make a lot of sense if you want to leave the headache of planning a tour to someone else, or if you'd like a personalized tour tailored to your interests. Private tours open a lot of doors to an "insider's" view, including visits with a winemaker and visits to wineries that are otherwise closed to the public. Wine fanatics seeking to only visit wineries that "matter" will need a private tour.

Before you book an expensive trip through an international wine tour operator, remember that many wine tour companies outside of Chile subcontract local operators and charge you extra, or take you to the biggest wineries for basic tastings. For a tailored experience, go directly to the local source. Liz Caskey Culinary & Wine Experiences (tel. 904/687-0340 in the U.S., or 2/632-2015 in Chile; www.lizcaskey.com) specializes in custom-made gastronomic and wine tours to the region's wine-growing valleys, including Mendoza, Argentina. Wine connoisseurs can build a tour according to their tastes; for new wine enthusiasts, the tours are a perfect way to taste and learn about both premium wines and local culture. The founder, an American expat and sommelier, combines winery explorations with visits to artisan olive oil plants, colonial bakeries, sea salt beds, cheese makers, and handicraft stores; tours can include active and wellness options such as hiking, biking, horseback riding, and yoga. They also offer trip extensions to such destinations as Patagonia, San Pedro de Atacama, and Easter Island.

If you're the more independent type who savors hitting the open road alone, but are loathe to make the reservations or are nervous planning your journey in a foreign land, contact Santiago Adventures (tel. 2/244-2750; www.santiagoadventures.com). Santiago Adventures specializes in self-drive tours: You provide them with a little information about what you're looking for, they build the itinerary and book the car rental, hotel, and winery reservations for you. Upon arrival in Santiago, the company gives a meet-and-greet to review the itinerary and supply you with a map and driving instructions, a wine guidebook, your hotel reservations, and your rental car, plus a 24/7 emergency number. Santiago Adventures also offers guided trips with transportation that either focus entirely on wine, or that combine cultural visits, to places such as Valparaíso, with wine-tasting.

Reservations at Wineries

Only a few wineries are open to anyone who walks through the doors between 9am and 5pm. Most wineries require reservations for English-speaking tours, or even just to pay a visit. Call to confirm if you have your heart set on visiting a certain winery; unfortunately some Chilean wineries still lack professionalism, and reservations are occasionally canceled at the last minute, or private tours are not honored and visitors must join the regular group tour. More popular wineries such as Concha y Toro can accommodate tour groups of up to 30 people, yet other wineries limit the number of guests to create a more intimate experience. If you'd like a personalized tour, ask to have one set up for you; it will cost extra, but it is usually worth it.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.