Beyond traditional guided tastings and a new breed of chefs transforming local dishes into refined wine-friendly cuisine, vineyards in Chile’s Central Valley between the snowy Andes and the rugged Coastal Range are offering unusual enticements. Personal rodeo demonstrations, high power telescopes trained on the moon and a lab where visitors can blend their own bottles are just a few of the many attractions raising the bar on wine tourism.
In Colchagua Valley, Casa Silva offers an up-close view of their gauchos’ rodeo skills: From the front row of a small grandstand, guests can watch horses execute a dance-like sidestep and practice nosing the bull into a corner. After a ride along scenic trails through the vineyards, or hurdle jumping for more accomplished equestrians, visitors can lunch at the glass walled restaurant where chefs grill local beef and smoke salmon in wine barrels. Personal rodeo demonstration are $40 per person (minimum of four people) and the seven-room guesthouse converted from an old family homestead is $180 per night.
After 10 exhilarating minutes on the funicular at Viña Santa Cruz, guests land at a hilltop astronomical center where high power telescopes peer into moon craters and a private museum displays meteorite fragments of uncommon beauty. Winery owner Carlos Cardoen holds the indigenous Aymará, Mapuche and Rapa Nui cultures in such high esteem he names the Chamán release to honor tribal shamans and dots the mountaintop with traditional dwellings, where guests can gather around a central fire pit to sip local Licores Espiritu de Colchagua. In the nearby town of Santa Cruz, Cardoen also built the sprawling Colchagua Museum that showcases daily life in the region during prehistoric times. Colonial-era stagecoaches, train cars, even bales of hay emit an authentic fragrance. The winery’s 90-minute basic tour includes a tasting, winery visits, the cable car ride and a visit to the indigenous village ($30).
The Ancestral Tour, also 90 minutes, includes a wine tasting, a cable car ride, a visit to the indigenous village, an expert tour of the astronomy museum and telescope viewings. It kicks off at 9:30 pm ($32). Visitors can request a combination of both tours, and stay at the Cardoen’s Hotel Santa Cruz Plaza—a full service, 150-room property ($340 per night, including breakfast).
Visitors can hone their winemaking skills at MontGras winery in a cellar lab set up for blending, bottling, sealing and labeling their handiwork. This family-oriented establishment also allows children to graffiti the barrels and leads small groups on horseback to a mountaintop bar for sunset drinks. For groups of 10, winery chefs will serve drinks around a crackling bonfire and host a white tablecloth barbecue. Make your own wine ($40), take a horseback ride and enjoy drinks at Ninquén Mountain Vineyard ($50 for 2–6 people), then indulge in a barbeque dinner at Los Encinos, Ninquén ($72, minimum of 10 people).
Bisquertt winery workers spend their off-hours perfecting Chile’s enigmatic national dance, the Cueca. At sunset near the winery’s inn, a folk group, Trilahue, made up of member of all ages from a 3-year-old guitarist to 60-something grandparents, arrive with white handkerchiefs on to sing and dance until after sunset. Las Majadas de Colchagua—the 20-room inn built around a 19th-century hacienda—offers breakfast in the mansion’s dining room with a stay ($240 per night).
In the nearby Maule region, Gillmore Estate has established an animal reserve. In a compound between vineyards and the guest house, visitors can spend quality time with emu, wild geese and even a pair of puma. Gillmore Guest House, is a 15-room inn built on a pond surrounding a central hearth. A stay here includes a breakfast and vineyard tour ($200 per night).
The region’s most extravagant accommodations may be the four hilltop casitas at Lapostolle with fireplaces, decks and expansive views from the Apalta vineyards to the Andes. Overnight visitors can indulge in massage, horseback rides and mountain biking, as well as lavish wine dinners and tastings in the futuristic bowed cellar. Each cottage is named for a variety used to blend Clos Apalta: Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Merlot and Carmenère. All-inclusive price for two: First night $900, additional nights $800. Open January 1–July 15th and September–December 31.