If you’re interested in a guided wine tour in Chile, but not sure about taking a predictable, repetitive tour that follows the pattern: sit, tour facility, sip, repeat, and you even sort of like to ride a bike, then La Bicicleta Verde has got your number. The small business turned Santiago sensation offers a few different bike tours in the city and now the region, including a few that eschew their signature green bikes for well-maintained mountain bikes with the Bicicleta Verde plaque on the back for a little on-and-off-road riding around the Alto Maipo valley.
I was recently invited to go an a bike and wine tour by Peter Lewis and Joel Martinez, the owners of the company. We had a reasonable-hour morning pickup (past nine, plenty of time for breakfast and coffee beforehand) and about a 50-minute drive to the Maipo valley, driving through the smaller towns of Buin and Paine to a few different vineyards to get the lowdown on how the thought-to-be-extinct carmenere grape was rediscovered in Chile, for lots of grape tasting, gorgeous views of the coastal range and pedalling down long rows of grapes, and even a lesson on why you so often find both roses and eucalyptus trees near the grapevines.
We tooled along on our bikes, through vineyards, over easy terrain and one irrigation puddle which we all enjoyed splashing through, and on quiet back roads, interrupted by the cloppity clop of the occasional horse-drawn carriage. This is agricultural Chile, a short drive from Santiago, but a world away. We stopped at three vineyards, none of which do pop-in visits, and which can normally only be arranged in advance and through a company. We opted not to get the full lesson on how the grapes are processed into wine, as all of us had been on wine tours before, but still got enough of a peek into the processes and bottling plant to satisfy our curiosity.
In all, it was about 12 km of fairly easy riding, with small uphills, a tiny bit of terrain and the aforementioned puddle. En route we tasted grapes and several other fruits growing along the side of the road, prickly pear cactus fruits, figs, and even almonds, though that would vary by season. Our guide, Mac Mitchell was knowlegable and personable, answering questions and giving useful information, but not scripted and definitley not cookie-cuttter.
We visited one vineyard just to pedal through, giant Pérez Cruz (with its architecturally unique bodega), and finally, Viña Huelquén, which uses only organic grapes for their wines, and also provides grapes to other winemakers where tehy are incorporated into conventional (non-organic) wines. Here we met with winemaker and co-owner Mario Ravenna and tasted their bottled wines, and also several still in the tanks, and Mario explained to us which characteristics of the wine from the tanks would mellow before bottling. We also had a snack, and packed up the bikes, later heading to a local restaurant where Mac, our guide, made recommendations for traditional Chilean dishes. The carne mechada, pastel de choclo and cazuela de res were big hits. The wines on the tour and at the restaurant were plentiful, and we tasted several different varieties including Q 2003 Cabernet Sauvingnon from Viña Huelquén which I bought a bottle of while on the tour. If you want more pedalling, contact La Bicicleta Verde and they can put together something longer, including a fairly thrilling descent from a vineyard higher up the valley. They’re also soon to open routes in Casablanca and other wine-producing valleys not far from Santiago.
Full disclosure: I was a guest of La Bicicleta Verde for this tour. All opinions are my own. If you would like me to review your Chile-based product or tour, leave a note in the comments, or contact me through my personal blog.