In the last 20 years, Chile has become an international darling for producing wines of high quality at incredibly reasonable price points, regardless of category. Much of this is due to the fact that Chile stretches almost 3,000 miles (4,800 km) along South America’s western coast, providing a wide range of climates from arid desert in the north to cold, rainy maritime in the south. In between these two extremes, there are several major wine regions that take advantage of nearly ideal growing conditions: Atacama, Coquimbo, Aconcagua, the Central Valley, and the Southern Regions. Chile’s earliest vineyards were planted in the Central Valley, and Chile’s most established and renowned wineries are still located here. Within the Central Valley lie four sub-regions, Maipo Valley, Curico, Maule Valley, and the Rapel Valley.
The Rapel Valley lies in the South of the Central Valley and is flanked on both east and west by mountain ranges, earning it the designation of entre cordilleras or “between the mountains.” The western Coastal Ranges protect the Rapel Valley from moisture coming off the ocean and helps to prevent rainfall during the growing season, while cool air is able to filter through and provide relief to the vines under the direct summer sun. Cold air circulates down from the Andes Mountain to the east and settles into the valley, cooling the vineyards.
Within the Rapel Valley, two subzones provide very different conditions for grape growing. The Cachapoal Valley is further to the east, has fertile soils, warmer microclimates, and is home to many vineyards that are used for higher volume bottlings. In the west, closer to the Pacific Ocean, the Colchagua Valley is known for more balanced, elegant wines that boast more natural acidity and firmer tannins. Cabernet Sauvignon thrives throughout the Rapel Valley, and while Merlot is a very strong runner up for most widely planted grape, Carmenère has recently seen a surge in planting and usage in many blends and stand-along bottlings. Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay are all playing increasingly important roles in winemaking throughout the valley.