Rapel Valley is a large wine-producing region in Chile's Central Valley. Made up of the Colchagua and Cachapoal valleys, the area produces roughly a quarter of all Chilean wine. The warm, dry region makes a wide range of wine styles, ranging from everyday wines to some of Chile's most expensive and prestigious offerings. Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Carmenere are the most important grape varieties planted here.
Rapel Valley runs directly south for 60 miles (100km) from the edges of Maipo Valley to the furthest edge of the Colchagua province. Flanked on both sides by mountain ranges – the Andes and the Coastal Range – Rapel Valley is sheltered from the cold influences of the Pacific Ocean. The region takes its name from the Rapel River, a confluence of the Tinguiririca and the Cachapoal, whose courses divide the valley into two sub-regions, Colchagua Valley in the south and Cachapoal Valley in the north. As is the case in most Chilean wine regions, the river is a vital resource, bringing fresh, mineral-rich meltwater down from the upper Andes.
Rapel Valley's two sub-regions are quite distinct from each other. In Cachapoal Valley, the best vineyards can be found primarily in the east, where the Andean foothills provide a well-drained, sheltered location for viticulture. In contrast, Colchagua Valley's vineyards are concentrated in the west of the valley, where some cooling Pacific Ocean influences give the grapes – and consequently the wines – a more elegant balance of fruit and structured acidity. While Cachapoal is one of Chile's workhorse regions, producing fairly high quantities of good-value wines, those from Colchagua are attracting a lot of international attention.
In recent years, Colchagua Valley and Cachapoal Valley have become better known than their parent, Rapel Valley, as a result of the Chilean wine industry's drive towards commercially attractive regionalisation. Wines not covered by either of these names are often labeled simply 'Valle Central' – a broad-stroke term referring to the entire 560 miles (1000km) between the capital city, Santiago, and Puerto Montt. Additionally, the Colchagua and Cachapoal Valleys are each broken down into independent sub-regions, making the notion of a Rapel Valley wine region less and less relevant.
Unlike many of Chile's wine regions, Rapel Valley does not cover a specific administrative area. Rather, the Cachapoal and Colchagua Valleys are part of the larger O'Higgins region, named after Bernardo O'Higgins, one of Chile's most famous leaders during the War of Independence from Spain in the early 19th Century.
In general terms, Rapel Valley wines are produced primarily from red varieties, but there are some plantings of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Malbec plantings are also on the rise, presumably in an attempt to share the success enjoyed by Mendoza, which lies to the north-west across the Andes in Argentina.