The wine region is a fertile basin of eight upland valleys between the Andes and the Pacific extending 950 km (600 mi) southwards from Santiago, Chile's capital city. The conditions are perfect for vine-growing - crumbly loam and volcanic soils, clear unpolluted air, and a balmy frost-free climate of hot sunny days and cold nights with a long dry season, allowing for slow, steady maturation of the fruit to produce wines of superb taste and texture. Vmes were first brought to Chile by 16th century Jesuits who, with a weather eye for potential converts, followed closely in the footsteps of the Spanish conquistadors.
They zealously set about their missionary task, introducing the indigenous farmers to their sacramental joys and teactring them the art of viticulture. The 120 km (75 mi) long Colchagua Valley produces the best world-class red wines of all and is Chile's first official Ruta del Vino. The route starts at San Fernando, heart of the country's Hispanic folk-culture, homeland of the rodeo and the huaso - the chic Chilean equivalent of a cowboy, kitted out in long leather silver-spurred boots, swirling poncho and broad-brimmed hat.
The Wine Train chugs through the scenic agricultural landscape of fruit orchards, wheat fields and wineries at a gentle 30-40 kph (20-25 mph), its 1920s German-built carriages pulled by a heritage Chilean steam engine. Passengers are treated to wine tastings as the train passes each beautifully tended vineyard. From the window, there are panoramic views of snow-capped Andean volcanoes, oak-forested hills, and huasos on horseback riding down country roads lined with slender poplar trees. Arriving at Santa Cruz, you find yourself in a charming traditional country town surrounded by wineries, where you can watch the production process and taste the new vintage direct from the vat.
WHEN TO GO
November to April
TIME IT TAKES
Train journey of 90 minutes plus a full day sightseeing.
Museum of colchagua - a beautifully curated collection.
Casa Silva - the oldest and most traditional winery in the Colchagua Valley.
Santa Cruz - picturesque rural town surrounded by lakes and vineyards.
Huasos - Chilean 'cowboys' in traditional dress.
YOU SHOULD KNOW
Chile is the only wine-producing country in the world free of the dreaded phylloxera pest that wiped out so many European vineyards in rs, the 19th century. This means the vineyards do not have to constantly renew their root stock; some of the vines here are more than 100 years old. producing wines of exceptional character.