The Colchagua Valley is one of Chile’s premier wine regions. Located between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Colchagua boasts a unique microclimate ideal for the production of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Syrah and Carménère grapes. Colchagua is an apropos region to illuminate, as November is Carménère Month. November 24th marks Carménère Day, which celebrates the enigmatic tale of this varietal once deemed lost to time. The tale of Carménère, like the region of Colchagua, is a fascinating blend of history and culture.
Meaning “valley of small lakes” in the indigenous language, Colchagua marked the southern boundary of the Inca Empire. Winemaking did not exist in this ancient region until the arrival of the Spanish in the sixteenth century. In an attempt to convert the local people to Catholicism, Spanish Jesuit missionaries built monasteries and planted the first vineyards to accompany Catholic mass with red wine.
During the nineteenth century, grape varietals from Bordeaux, France were introduced onto the shores of Chile. These varietals included Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carménère. However, the Chilean Carmenère was simply referred to as Merlot, and, as a result, “Merlot” thrived in this new region.
Back in the Old World, a phylloxera epidemic was decimating countless vineyards, and the Carménère grape all but disappeared. Or so it seemed.
Carménère has flourished in Chile ever since. A rose by another name, Carménère was re-discovered in 1994 by Jean Michel Boursiquot, a French ampelographer who identified the grape. Carmenère emerged from its ostensible disappearance.
Today, Carménère is one of several varietals that can be found in Colchagua. With its Mediterranean climate ideal for growing grapes, the region has become a major tourist destination. Many of Colchagua’s wineries are modern, operating with wine tourism in mind. The Tinguiririca River flows through the region, where many popular wineries can be found.
Visit this enchanting region’s many wineries. Taste the Carménère of the region and imbibe centuries of history. During Carménère Month, we celebrate the unique landscape of the Colchagua Valley and the superb grape varietals it has always, and continues, to produce.