Vale dos Vinhedos, Rio Grande do Sul: the best of Brazilian wine
There are many good places around the world to do wine tourism and I intend to visit each one of them. I just managed to check Vale dos Vinhedos (Vineyard Valley), in southern Brazil, off my list. Of course, we are in the middle of a pandemic, and the experience was not the same as it would have been before 2020, but it is still worth the trip, as long as you are careful and take the appropriate precautions.
Why did we choose Vale dos Vinhedos? Despite the fact it was a decision we made almost on an impulse, it was also a logical choice.We knew it would be relatively safe to visit during the pandemic, since we would be able to do private tours and meals in our small group of five friends, respecting risk mitigation guidelines.
It was easy! Taking time off work this time of the year, in a year like 2020, was an easy sell. . We managed to travel in 2020, and we made great memories that we will cherish for a lifetime. As if that was not enough, we came back home with wine, olive oil, craft beers, liqueurs and jams from the region. The trip is over, but each new bottle I open transports me back to the house overlooking the Valley.
With a strong Italian influence, Vale dos Vinhedos is located 130km from Rio Grande do Sul's capital, Porto Alegre, and spreads across the more famous municipalities of Bento Gonçalves, Garibaldi and Monte Belo do Sul. Other nearby cities also produce wine, such as Pinto Bandeira and Flores da Cunha. There are more than 50 wineries in the region, which is also packed with small and large producers of beer, coffee, olive oil, jams, cheeses, and other products.
WHERE TO STAY
The region has several accommodation options, for all budgets, but due to the pandemic, we chose to rent an Airbnb where our group could be together, instead of being divided into hotel rooms, and enjoy our own shared spaces. It was the right decision. We woke up to vineyard-lined mountains framed by our windows, we drank coffee by the pool enjoying the scenery by day and tasted local cheese and wine in the evening, paired with hours and hours of good conversation. Totally worth it, I definitely recommend it.
The modern AlmaÚnica winery offers tastings in its store
There are 50-plus wineries in the region, so how do you choose the ones to visit? It's really hard! Define your criteria: price, distance to your accommodations, mouth-to-mouth recommendations, and keep an eye on visit availability. All wineries have restricted visits at the moment. Make sure you get in touch with them for info and reservations (more about this below).
I suggest doing different types of visits in each one of the wineries you pick: from wine tastingto 4x4 tour through the vineyards to factory visits… there are several different ways to experience the different wineries and learn about winemaking. Choosing different experiences allows you to cover a lot of ground, and the tours won’t seem repetitive.
WHERE TO EAT
Several wineries have excellent restaurants. It’s a good idea to have lunch or dinner in one, and do the wine tasting along with your meal. This will allow you to cross another winery from your list and save some time. I recommend Clô Restaurant, at Luiz Argenta Winery.
Outside the wineries, there is no shortage of good eateries,, ranging from rich colonial breakfasts to the PANCS (unconventional food plants) menu from The Rustic Valley, also excellent.
Dessert from the spring tasting menu at Valle Rústico
Colonial breakfast is a gaucho tradition that includes coffee, chocolates, juices, breads, sweets, sweet and savory pies, and a number of other delicacies that combine the influence of the early 20th century European immigrants to Brazil with the traditions and habits of the people who already inhabited the extreme South of the country when those arrived (Indigenous, Portuguese, Spanish and Black). Here is a list of trendy cafés in the region (in Portuguese).
HOW TO GET AROUND
The best option is to rent a car to travel from Porto Alegre to Bento Gonçalves. The road is beautiful and an experience in itself, for those who like driving. Once you arrive at the Valley, it’s better to hire a driver to take you from winery to winery. You don't want to get in trouble for DUI. Here you can find options for car rentals. Uber seemed to be available, but we didn't test it.
NOT TO FORGET!
Remember that pandemic or not, it is always required to schedule all tours and meals in advance. Not all establishments monitor and respond to contact forms on the websites, so it is better to call (or message - whatsapp?) and talk to them if you want to make sure there will be a spot for you and your group.
I advise not to try to cover a large number of wineries.. Don’t get stressed out! The beauty of this trip is to slow down and enjoy. Eat well, taste some of the best wine in Brazil, enjoy your friends' company and marvel at the green fields sprawling as far as the eye can see.
Yes, I left the best to the end.
Did you like the wine and want to take a few bottles home? You don't have to worry about making room in your suitcase. Most wineries ship to other Brazilian states and, depending on the purchase price, shipping is free.
Another good shopping tip is the Tramontina factory store. A local hallmark, founded by Italian immigrants more than a century ago, the factory became one of the largest manufacturers of furniture, also manufacturing tools and kitchen gadgets in Brazil. If you want to take home quality gear to add to your kitchen or barbecue area, this is a great option. The factory store is located in Carlos Barbosa, between Porto Alegre and Bento Gonçalves.