In Chile, sip-and-swirl wine travel is becoming passé. Wineries in Chile’s Central Valley a few hours from Santiago, between the snowy Andes and the rugged Coastal Range, are stepping beyond tastings and pairing dinners with family-friendly pursuits. The change may spring from the character of Chile’s wine region: a genteel, “Europe between the World Wars” place where workers travel on horseback, polo is a hotly contested sport and many wineries are owned and run by founding families eager to share their personal pleasures such as horsemanship, astronomy, indigenous culture and local wildlife.
Chile’s Colchagua Valley wine region is horse country. This century-old winery, where vintage autos dot tree-shaded grounds that evoke The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, will put on a private rodeo for groups of four. Spectators in the small viewing stand may be showered with dust as gauchos in flat-topped chupalla hats gallop to nose a bull against the rails, then nudge their horses into a dance-like sidestep. Inspired guests may ride a winery steed along the vineyard trails and accomplished equestrians can jump hurdles in the shadow of the Andes at Casa Silva’s Polo and Riding Club. casasilva.cl
Sip: Purchase a three-course lunch with wine at the glass-walled restaurant overlooking Casa Silva’s polo field. Chefs grill local beef and Patagonia lamb in the open air and smoke salmon in wine barrels. Dining à la carte is mid-priced for the region.
Stay: The seven-room guest house converted from an old family homestead retains its rattan furniture, marble washstands, four-poster beds and crystal chandeliers. Rooms, from $275 (U.S.), include breakfast and winery tour. 56-72-717491.
VINA SANTA CRUZ
Across a meadow from the tasting room, pile into a ski-style funicular that sways high over the vine-clad mountains, rocking to a stop at a hilltop astronomy centre. An astronomer is on hand to tell the story behind each amusing piece of space junk and meteorites of uncommon beauty, some a billion years old. We leave the museum as dusk flushes the sky florescent pink, the last rays illuminating a replica of Bolivia’s sacred sun monument, Tiahuanaco. Winery owner Carlos Cardoen is passionate about preserving the local Aymará, Mapuche and Rapa Nui cultures and has rebuilt a clutch of traditional dwellings on this hillside. One is shaped like an overturned canoe and another has an expansive bar around a central fire pit where visitors can sip sweet cinnamon Espiritumoonshine from traditional pottery cups. When the sky turns black, it’s time to mount the observatory platform to peer through high-power telescopes for heart-stopping close-ups of craters on the moon. Visitors can also tour the vineyard grounds by carriage, horseback and bicycle. vinasantacruz.cl
Sip: One rustic dwelling overlooking the hills has been transformed into a bar where guests can sip gratis Licores Espiritu de Colchagua, the local spirit.
Stay: The winery’s 150-room HotelSanta Cruz Plaza sits on the central square of a traditional colonial town a few kilometres away. Rooms, from $220, includes breakfast. The hotel’s Inka spa offers local treatments using grapes, milk, chocolate and coffee. hotelsantacruzplaza.cl
At MontGras, guests are set loose in an oenologist’s lab to create their own signature blend. Winery workers help novices use measuring beakers and tasting tubes to calibrate three of the winery’s varietals to suit their own taste, then recalculate the formula to 750-millilitre proportions before corking, heat-sealing and hand-labelling the finished bottle. In the late afternoon, guests can ride horses through the vineyards reaching the open-air mountaintop bar in time to toast the sunset. After dark, MontGras chefs will greet groups of 10 or more with hors d’oeuvre around an outdoor fire (salmon ceviche the night we were there) and a white-tablecloth dinner of barbecued beef filet, sun-dried-tomato-stuffed chicken and sparkling salads of local greens slathered in the winery’s own olive oil. The winery also offers food pairings, blind tastings and grape-picking tours during the February to May harvest season. montgras.cl
Sip: After making your own wines, go for a barbecue dinner at nearby Los Encinos, Ninquén. From $74 a person, minimum 10 people.
Stay: Santa Cruz Plaza, a 20-minute walk from MontGras, see more details above.
THE GILLMORE ESTATE
With nearly 750 acres fed by curative mineral springs, Daniella Gillmore reasoned that her family’s vineyard could make room for a few itinerant fauna. Now, the Gillmore Estate is a refuge for more than 300 creatures – parrots, emu, foxes, guanaco llamas and 15 breeds of duck – all shepherded through the 2010 quake by the Gillmore family as their winery walls fell. Facing natural disaster with pluck, the Gillmores have transformed rusted farm machinery into a miniature golf course and rebuilt their lakeside guest houses, Mapuche style, around a central hearth. Basic tours of the vineyard are offered and included two product tastings. A technical tour takes visitors through the winery, vineyards and unlimited tastings. If winemaking is the family trade, hospitality is Ms. Gillmore’s singular gift: She will personally walk guests through the vineyards and host homey dinners of pastel de choclo, a creamy corn and meat pie topped with caramelized sugar, and rich chupe de jaiba, the regional crab chowder. gillmore.cl
Sip: Accompany your recently purchased Gillmore wines with lunch and dinner cooked by local women, $30 a person.
Stay: Tabonko Guest House has 15 rooms overlooking a pond within the Gillmore Estate. From $200 a night, includes breakfast and a vineyard tour. During harvest season, guests can take a grape-juice bath for $100. tabonko.cl
Special to The Globe and Mail