Colchagua Valley, in central Chile, is one of South America's most promising wine regions. It forms the south-western half of the larger Rapel Valley region; to the north and east of it lies the less famous but equally promising Cachapoal Valley. Some of Chile's finest red wines are made in the valley, mostly from Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere and Syrah.
The Colchagua Valley boasts a textbook wine-growing climate: warm, but cooled by ocean breezes and dry, but refreshed by rivers and occasional rainfall. The region's desirable terroir, combined with persistent, focused marketing has made this one of Chile's most important wine regions, along with Maipo Valley in the north. Several of Chile's most prestigious wines come from the Colchagua Valley: 'Clos Apalta' by Casa Lapostolle, the 'Folly' Syrah from Montes and 'Altura' by Vina Casa Silva are obvious examples. And if there were any doubt that the valley is well regarded both in Chile and overseas, this is easily put to rest by the presence of the Los Vascos winery in Peralillo, a joint venture between Santa Rita and the Rothschilds of Bordeaux.
© Wines of Chile
The official Colchagua Valley viticultural area stretches south-east to north-west for 70 miles at its widest point. Its western boundary is formed by the coastal hills which seem to run the entire length of Chile's vast Pacific coastline. In the east, the vineyards are naturally limited by the foothills of the Andes, into which they creep further and further each year.
Colchagua is a little cooler than its northerly cousin Maipo, but still maintains a consistently Mediterranean climate. As with most areas of Chile, the Pacific Ocean offers a natural cooling influence – a saving grace at a latitude of 34°S, which is closer to the Equator than any European vineyard. The degree of cooling provided by the ocean varies from east to west in the Colchagua Valley, demonstrated by the distribution of red and white grape varieties. As a general rule, white-wine varieties benefit from cooler climates, while the reds prefer drier, warmer conditions. The dominance of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Malbec and Merlot plantings in the warmer east is mirrored by that of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc in the ocean-cooled west.
As with many of the world's wine regions, the steep slopes on the edges of the coastal mountains are proving to be the most desirable spots for viticulture in Colchagua. Here, vineyards can take advantage of the prevailing sunlight and also the free-draining granitic soils that stress the vines, leading to smaller yields of berries with a high concentration of flavor. These hillside sites tend to be slightly cooler than those on the valley floor, and often enjoy a more pronounced diurnal temperature variation than lower-lying vineyards, leading to grapes with an excellent balance of ripeness and acidity.
The Tinguiririca River is a key feature in Colchagua. It flows along the northern edge of the region and through the town of Santa Cruz, around which many wineries are based. The river brings clear meltwater down from the Andean peaks to the valleys and vineyards below, transporting silts and clays with it and creating ideal soils and terrains for viticulture.
Colchagua Valley is a fairly new wine-producing region in Chile when compared with the historical Maipo Valley. Most of the region's modern winemaking facilities have been constructed with wine tourism in mind, and as a result, Colchagua Valley is enjoying a growing reputation as Chile's 'Napa Valley'.