You could spend a few days pre- or post-cruise on excursions to the Andes, Easter Island (a five-hour flight from Santiago) or even visiting Machu Picchu in Peru. But my experience with Chile back home has been with Chilean wines, and so I decided to see Chile — a country that has been making wine since the 1500s — vineyard by vineyard.
Leaving Vina del Mar, my first stop was the William Cole Winery (www.williamcolevineyards.cl). Situated in Casablanca Valley, not more than 30 minutes from Vina del Mar, the winery is principally noted for its whites, namely Sauvignon Blanc, as the strong influence of the Pacific Ocean makes for a better climate for white grapes than for red ones.
For red wines, my driver (yes, you need a driver if you’re sampling wines) pointed the van to Colchagua Valley, Chile’s equivalent of Napa Valley (www.colchaguavalley.cl).
The two-hour drive from Santiago took us past immense fields of grapes and fruit-producing trees, family-owned ranches and bodegas, or wineries. Our destination was Santa Cruz, a small, unremarkable town that is in the heart of wine country.
On the way, we stopped for lunch at Hacienda Las Lengues (www.loslingues.com), a 450-year-old estate that is both working ranch and museum, with accommodations and a gourmet restaurant. Built in the late 16th century, the old estate houses have been meticulously restored and furnished.
After lunch, where I sampled the estate’s private label Grand Reserve Merlot, we continued on for another 30 to 45 minutes to Hotel Santa Cruz, where I dropped my bags and headed for Montes Estate Winery (www.monteswines.com), an award-winning vineyard known for its reds.
Vineyards you’ll want to visit include: Bisquertt Winery (www. bisquertt.com), whose Casa La Joya Merlot Reserve 2000 was designated the best Merlot worldwide in the International Wine & Spirit Competition, London 2002; MontGras Winery (www.montgras.cl), with its beautiful, Spanish-style guest center and shops; and Viu Manent (www.viumanent.cl), a restored hacienda-style house from the early 20th century. While at the latter, feast on a gourmet lunch at the restaurant on premises before boarding a horse-drawn cart to the winery, where you’ll sample wine directly from the barrels. — Ralph Grizzle, The Avid Cruiser
Next stop, Santiago.