Casablanca as a name may conjure up images of Humphrey Bogart in far flung Morocco but although Chile´s own Casablanca has none of the black and white romance, it does hold its own intrigue. Bathed in a cool white fog every morning, Casablanca Valley 100kms west of Santiago is quite unique to drive into. Coming from the smog of Chile’s capital city, green hills emerge and sunlight is ubiquitous until you hit Casablanca. The valley is literally swamped in white fog which rolls in from the Pacific sea 30kms on the West and doesn’t usually clear up until the afternoon.
This unusual microclimate along with dangerous frosts, a water shortage and little vegetation at first scared off many Chilean winery owners who usually plant in the sunny flat plains. Visionaries like Pablo Morande took the risk to plant there in the early 1980s believing that the cool mornings would add greater complexity to wines while maintaining good sugar and acidity. When they started producing good wines the rest of the industry took notice and now Casablanca has over 2,500 hectares of vines. It is best known for its cool climate Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
A trip through wine country in Casablanca is full of variety from big industrial wineries to small, boutique operations. As you drive through the valley there are a handful of big wineries on the main Route 68 (all very well signed) including Indomita, a large white Hollywood style castle on top of a hill overlooking the valley. This is a big producer in the area and a visit to the winery shows you the large production scale. Tours start on a platform overlooking the vineyard below learning about the vines and unique microclimate of Casablanca, carry on through the winery and finish with a tasting on the blindingly white patio. An attached restaurant specializing in Chilean delicacies is another attraction for tourists. (www.indomita.cl, Ruta 68, km 64)
Another winery that is popular with tourists is El Cuadro further into the countryside up winding lanes through steep hillsides. Even though there isn’t actually a winery on the property yet, this vineyard draws in an impressive number of visitors and rightly so with their well honed tour and professional staff. You could easily spend an entire day here and there is plenty to keep the entire family happy with varied activities. A full day visit starts out with a tour through the cava with its enormous barrels and homage to Bacchus then through the incredible wine museum which is decked out with old machinery and life size models demonstrating how wine was made in years gone past. Next you move out to the vineyards in a horse drawn carriage for a very informative tour through the vines and a walk through a specially planted vine garden where you can see, learn about and taste (in growing season) 26 different varietals. The wine tasting is accompanied by chocolate, cheese and fruits and to top it all off you end with a rodeo show learning about the traditions of Chile and watching gauchos run with cattle on horses. That’s not even mentioning the peacocks, royal carriage from Versailles, chapel, restaurant and fantastic Sauvignon Blanc Sour! At times it can be a little cheesy, but El Cuadro does without a doubt offer one of the best eno-tourism experiences in Casablanca. (www.elcuadro.cl, Camino La Vinilla km 14)
Smaller wineries shouldn’t be overlooked either and they offer some of the best wine in the region. Casa del Bosque ought to be on your list for its beautiful wines and picturesque setting. A state-of-the-art winery set on sloping hillsides, Casa del Bosque was built in 2000 and is one of the leading producers in the region with many international accolades behind it. A tour of the winery reveals its modern approach to precision winemaking and there is an attractive restaurant attached where you can enjoy the great wines with organic and locally sourced, contemporary Chilean cuisine. Their part barrel fermented Pequenas Producciones Sauvignon Blanc is outstanding and the Late Harvest Reisling has just scooped a Decanter International Trophy. (www.casasdelbosque.cl, Hijuela 2, Ex-Fundo Santa Rosa)
Two other stand out wineries in Casablanca are Emiliana and Matetic which both produce biodynamic and organic wines. Matetic is set on a beautiful rolling estate farmland with vines as far as the eye can see. The new winery is built into the side of a hill in order to naturally control the temperature and the glistening modern facility has a stunning barrel room with atmospheric natural light illuminating the rounded cava. Tours include an explanation of what biodynamic means and you finish with a tasting of their impeccable wines. (www.mateticvineyards.cl, Fundo El Rosario, Lagnunillas)
A visit to Emiliana is actually a visit to the vineyard (the winery is in Colchagua) but the vine management is undoubtedly the most interesting part of any visit to a biodynamic producer. A pastoral setting, the small visitors’ centre is well equipped for tasting and picnics in the garden. Tours begin with a walk around the vines learning how winemaking really begins in the vineyard and guides teach you about the principles of biodynamics as different farm animals wander around the property. Interestingly you can visit a small underground chamber where they make special preparations for the vines such as chamomile, flower extracts and quartz. Social Responsibility is also a big part of Emiliana and a visit includes seeing the local workers’ own vegetable patch where they can grow their own food while working on the vines. The best way to finish with the tasting is to try out their organic cheese and chocolate pairing option where explosive pairings such as chocolate dusted ginger with a Chardonnay, and Marsanne blend; and Merken spiced cheese with a Syrah and Carmenere blend give you a memorable experience in flavor pairings. (www.emiliana.cl, Ruta 68, km 60.7)
As one of the newest wine regions in Chile, the great infrastructure of the wine route is truly impressive. Wineries are easily accessible by car with many open at the weekends, almost all offer tours in English.
By Amanda Barnes
Published in the December 2012/January 2013 edition of Wine Republic