Binational wine tourism

Argentina and Chile make a good combo.

By Antonella Romano / FST
In autumn, the Andes provide a splendid snow-capped background for the wine countries of the Argentine province of Mendoza and Chile’s 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th Regions on the other side of the Andes. The cities of Mendoza and Santiago, the Chilean capital, are separated by barely 340 km and a drive of six hours through some of the most spectacular high-mountain scenery on the continent — a good excuse to indulge in wine tourism in both countries. Snow won’t begin closing the Las Cuevas-Cristo Redentor pass between them until around June, and now is the time to go by bus to enjoy the views of Mount Aconcagua (6,959 m), highest peak in the Western and Southern Hemispheres. And when it snows, you can do Mendoza-Santiago by air in one hour.
Wineries have multiplied in this region during the past 20 years, to more than 450 in Chile and over 850 in just the province of Mendoza, the biggest Argentine wine producer. Hefty investments have been made on both sides of the border to expand and upgrade vineyards, and improve installations, processes and products. Multinationals that have started from scratch with new vineyards and wineries, or acquired well-known local wineries, co-exist with small family-run artisan establishments that have acquired modern technology.
The lodging of tourists in small luxury hotels installed in old family homes, or in new modern minimalist buildings in vineyards, the opening of gourmet restaurants that serve five-course meals paired to as many wines, and the organization of all sorts of tourist activities related to viticulture and enjoyment of wine and the good life are the most visible manifestations of a new tourist industry that adds value to wine-producing properties.
For the tourist unaware of these real estate-related considerations, it is interesting to note how grape varieties react to different soils and climates, taste blends produced by different wine-making philosophies, and observe how wine tourism is being developed on both sides of the Andes. Chile invented a Wine Train for one of its leading vineyard valleys. However, wineries that have their own gourmet restaurants and provide upscale lodging are more common in Argentina.
Several travel agencies in Mendoza and Santiago run bi-national wine tours.
Nowadays the wine tourism market in both countries caters to four kinds of visitors: tourists for whom a visit to a winery is a tour experience, young travelers who think that cycling through vineyards and tasting wines at different wineries along the way is cool, people who revel in the exclusive feel of accommodations offered by boutique hotels in or near vineyards, and wine connoisseurs who just want to taste a region’s best wines.

Wineries accept visitors all year round in both countries. Few are set up for spur-of-the-moment tastings, and reservations must be made in advance by telephone, or on the Internet.
An ordinary winery tour performed for a bus-full of tourists who may know little about wines, includes a look at the grounds and installations, explanations of the wine-making process and, usually, tastings that comprise small servings (“two fingers”) of one or more of the establishment’s most popular (i.e. “economical”) wines; if one wants something better, one pays extra.
Connoisseurs, who want to taste only outstanding products of top wineries, understandingly take a different approach. They may book a specialist tour, or hire a taxi for the day and head for two or three wineries recommended on the Internet grapevine, for the simple pleasure of sipping unique products in the places where they are made.
Those with little time to spare may also learn a lot just by staying in town and tasting a flight of wines recommended by the sommelier of a famous wine bar or a top restaurant with an outstanding wine list. Those with more time enjoy pairing wines with food at the gourmet restaurants at certain wineries.
Vineyard biking can also be done all year round, including winter if there’s not too much snow on the ground.
Remember that there’s a big difference between booking a guided vineyard bike tour, and getting yourself out into the countryside, renting a bike and pedaling about by yourself under the sun. The advantage of booking a guided tour is that it comes with in-out transfers between one’s hotel in the city and the point of departure in the countryside; medical insurance; mechanical assistance; arrangements for visits to wineries, olive oil factories and other establishments, and lunch, among other details.

In the province of Mendoza, the wine harvest takes place in different areas from mid-February to mid-April, depending on climatic factors.
During the first weekend of March, Mendoza City stages a National Wine Harvest Festival that has been one of Argentina’s greatest popular celebrations since 1936.
Mendoza’s main wine regions are Luján de Cuyo and Maipú near the capital in the north of the province, the Uco Valley to the south, and around the city of San Rafael further south still, in the center of the province. Its wine country occupies a variety of soils at different altitudes under an arid climate in an area that extends some 250km from north to south.

Wine tours
In Mendoza, 100 wineries offer wine tours. Some are free, others cost from 10 to 25 pesos.
Twenty years ago, the most famous wineries were López, Flichman and Weinert, all of them around Mendoza City. Now there are many more, among them Familia Zuccardi ( in Maipú, which in 2007 received the Global Net of the Great Wine Capitals “Relevant Experience in Wine Tourism” award; it offers everything from harvesting and pruning opportunities, to cooking classes and tours in a vintage car and a hot air balloon. This winery, Norton ( in Luján de Cuyo, and Bianchi ( in San Rafael are the ones that receive the most tourists.

Other well-known Mendoza wineries that offer tours are Bodega La Rural (, which has an important wine museum; Séptima (; Cavas de Weinert (; López (; Chandon (; Flichman ( and Lagarde (
The icons of wine critics at present are Salentein (, which has a spectacular visitors’ center with an art museum and gourmet restaurant; Catena Zapata (; Luigi Bosca (; Trapiche (, and Achával Ferrer (, among others.

Vineyard biking
Baccus Biking (0261-496-1975, operates guided bike tours in Chacras de Coria, Luján de Cuyo, and the Uco Valley. Indiana Adventures (0261-429-0002,, runs guided tours in Luján de Cuyo, Maipú and the Uco Valley. Bikes and Wines (0261-410-6686, offers both tours and rentals, which include motor bikes. City Bike in Mendoza City (0261-423-2103), and Mr. Hugo’s Mendoza Rental Bikes (0261-497-4067) in Maipú rent bicycles with maps.
Accommodation in vineyards
During the past ten years, several wineries have built accommodation for the growing numbers of foreign wine oenophiles who are visiting the country, encouraged as much by the quality of the country’s wines, as by a favorable exchange rate.
Among them are: Inti Huaco (Maipú), 0261-155652630,; Club Tapiz (Maipú), 0261-4900202,; Terrazas (Luján de Cuyo), 0261-4880058, 0261-4106001,; Nieto Senetiner (Luján de Cuyo), 0261-4980315,; Cavas Wine Lodge (Agrelo, Luján de Cuyo), 0261-4106927/28,; La Posada de Bodega Vistalba (Vistalba, Luján de Cuyo), 0261- 4989411,; Chateau D’Ancon (Tupungato), 02622-4235843,; Salentein (Tunuyán), 02622-423550,; Alto Cedro (San Carlos), 02622-4233314, Bodegas O. Fournier (San Carlos), (0261) 15-467-1021,; Finca La Celia (San Carlos), 02622-451012 or 02622-4610400,; and Algodón Wine Estates (San Rafael), 02627-429 020, or

Other activities in Mendoza
Rafting and kayaking are done around Mendoza City and San Rafael all year round, as are horseback riding, hiking and cycling – all of which can be half-day or full-day outings. Mount Aconcagua attracts mountain climbers, as well as hikers who explore its lower slopes, in the summer, and tourists who book day tours into the mountains to stare at its peak from afar all year round, weather permitting.

How to get there
Mendoza is 1,100 km from Buenos Aires via national routes 8 or 7. It is 340 km from Santiago, but the ride takes at least six hours, owing to the curves and the time needed to get through Customs.
The Andesmar, Ahumada and TAC bus companies also go to Mendoza from both cities.
LAN and Aerolíneas Argentinas fly there from Buenos Aires and Santiago. Sol Líneas Aéreas connects Mendoza City with Córdoba City and Rosario.

Casa de Mendoza in Buenos Aires (Callao 445): 54-11-4371-0835
Casa de San Rafael (same address): 54-11-4374-3408.
Until the 1980s, most of the Chilean wineries that produced fine wines were close to Santiago. During the past 20 years, the wine growing area has been extended to 13 valleys in four regions (Coquimbo, Aconcagua, Central Valley and Bío Bío) which stretch 1,000 km from the desert in the 5th Region in the north to the humid forests of the 8th Region in the south.
The wine harvest in the valleys around Santiago takes place in March and April. The Ruta del Vino wine festival held in San Fernando in the Colchagua Valley in mid-March claims to be the biggest in Chile.
Chile’s best-known wine estates are in the Maipo, Casablanca, Colchagua and Aconcagua valleys, which are nearest to Santiago. Concha y Toro ( in the Maipo Valley, Undurraga ( in Talagante, famed for its ceramics, like Pomaire, which is also on the road to San Antonio; and Cousiño Macul (, which tours tend to pair with a visit to the eponymous mansion in the metropolitan area, are traditionally the ones most visited by tourists. However, travel agencies nowadays are also combining visits to others in the Casablanca valley with tours of Valparaíso and Viña del Mar, and horseback rides in the coastal range. The star, however, is the Colchagua Valley with its picturesque Wine Train tour that is run from Santiago, and the Colchagua Museum of regional and universal history that is a unique experience for people interested in paleontology, archaeology, vintage cars and trains, among other specialties.
Wine critics speak well of Casa Lapostolle (, Montes ( and Neyen ( in the Colchagua Valley; Errázuriz ( in the Aconcagua Valley; Concha y Toro and Almaviva ( in the Maipo Valley; Altaïr ( in the Cachapoal Valley; Matetic ( in the Rosario Valley in the San Antonio area; and Echeverría ( and Alta Cima ( in Curicó, among others.

Vineyard biking

Bikes & Wine Chile (, a specialist in vineyard bike tours in the Aconcagua, Casablanca, Colchagua and Nilahue valleys, works with Grado Sur Expediciones (0056-2-209-1342, in Santiago. La Bicicleta Verde (, which became famous for its specialty bike tours in Santiago, works with Chip Travel ( in the capital and does the Maipo and Casablanca valleys. Paseos en Bicicleta, (, another Santiago bike tour specialist, does the Maipo Valley.

Lodging in vineyards
Lodging in and near vineyards in Chile is available, if not as advertised as in Argentina. Among the most visible options in the Colchagua Valley are Viña Casa Silva (, which also offers polo and Chilean rodeo shows on request and Casa Lapostolle with its luxury Residence and four bungalows for visitors.

Hacienda Los Lingues (, a 400-year-old ranch house 18 km from San Fernando — 125 km (1 ½ hours) south of Santiago — and 65 km from Santa Cruz, is also in the Colchagua Valley. It is near Rancagua, epicenter of the huaso (Chilean cowboy) culture. The owner raises pedigree criollo horses and provides a Chilean rodeo show on request. It is not in a vineyard, but it is a unique place to stay.
Viñedos Matetic ( has a guest house in the Rosario Valley between Santiago and Valparaíso. Their harvest lasts from the end of February to mid-May. They offer horseback rides.

The Wine Train
There are three to five Wine Train excursions per month, all year round. Oenophiles taste the produce of three or more wineries on board a vintage that takes them through the Colchagua Valley 125 km south of Santiago. The prices of the excursion have to do with the activities additional to wine-tasting on offer. One travel agency ( offers three 12-hour tours, and a two-day tour. All begin the same way: a bus takes passengers from Santiago to San Fernando, where they board the train that takes them through the valley. They disembark in Santa Cruz, where they have lunch in a winery. Before returning to Santiago, there is a choice of a gondola car ascent to a theme park of Indian villages atop a hill; a stop at another vineyard for an additional winetasting in the Cachapoal Valley; or a brief look at the Colchagua Museum in Santa Cruz. The fourth option lodges them for the night at a luxurious hotel so they can have plenty of time to see the Colchagua Museum the following day before returning to Santiago. The museum is large, comprehensive and fascinating, dealing with both regional and international history. It has one of the world’s best amber collections, complete with imprisoned prehistoric insects, and a truly impressive carriage collection. It takes a long time to see the museum’s 17 collections, and history enthusiasts should not miss it. The tour costs US$144 when the first two options are included; US$206 with an hour in the Colchagua Museum, and US$292 in the two-day version dedicated to seeing the museum at length.
The Wine Train itself offers other options, including a “Rosé” half-day tour which leaves passengers at the Santa Cruz train station at noon, after which they can tour the region and continue on to other destinations at their own pace.

You can also return to Santiago on board the Metrotren ( from San Fernando.
For some time now, the mayors of three cities near the capital of Mendoza have been wanting to set up an Argentine wine train, but have thus far been unable to interest national authorities in footing the bill for acquiring the train and replacing most of the tracks that disappeared when rail transport was discontinued in much of the country during the 1990s.

How to get to the Chilean wine regions
In winter, the best bet is to fly to Santiago from Mendoza City or Buenos Aires. During the rest of the year, it’s nice to do the Mendoza-Santiago trip by bus in the daytime and enjoy the landscape without having to drive, at least once in a lifetime.
For further information on wine tours in Chile, see:,, and

Posada Salentein, Mendoz
a: Bonnie Tucker. Wine casks, Bodegas López, Mendoza: Bodegas López. Restaurant, Bodega Lagarde, Mendoza: Bodega Lagarde. Vineyard in Mendoza: Bodegas Achával Ferrer. Rafting in the Atuel Canyon, Mendoza: Bonnie Tucker. Bodega Bisquertt, Colchagua Valley, Chile: Bonnie Tucker. Bicycles in vineyard: La Bicicleta Verde, Santiago, Chile. Huasos at Hacienda Los Lingues, Chile: Bonnie Tucker. Chile’s Wine Train: Tren del Vino.