Viña Santa Rita is one of a number of aristocratic wineries founded at the end of the 19th century in Chile, situated around a magnificent house and gardens, which are pictured on the label of their top wine, Casa Real. It has developed into one of the biggest and best wineries in Chile, and now has more than 3,000 hectares planted to vine in the country's most highly esteemed valleys, including Maipo, Rapel, Limarí, Casablanca and Leyda. However, somewhat surprisingly, the company has managed to keep attention to detail in the vineyards a priority, and still has a committed focus on quality.
For instance, the company employs three experts whose sole job is to drive around Chile finding the best vineyard sites and parcels, and also benefits from the worldwide experience and expertise of its vineyard manager, Sebastián Warmier. As for the vineyards they already own, the viticultural team uses individual block farming, and the winery team vinifies these blocks separately to achieve a more precise and concentrated character.
The overall aim is to achieve a balance in the fruit, and Santa Rita's ethos is all about finding this balance in the vineyard, rather than manufacturing it in the winery.
Santa Rita has an impressive five wineries, all of which are packed full of the latest technological advances, and have the capacity to store around 90 million litres of wine in total. The main winery is at Alto Jahuel, which has been declared a national monument, and it is here that the super-premium Casa Real range is aged.
Minimal intervention is the order of the business here, with very little pumping over used, even in the company's more expensive wine ranges - the aim is to achieve the concentration desired by using good-quality grapes rather than over extraction. The team sometimes blends less expensive wines with excess left over from some of the better labels to achieve an added level of complexity.
Casa Real is made using old vine cabernet sauvignon from the foot of the Andes in the Maipo Valley. After fermentation, it undergoes malolactic fermentation in French oak barrels, before ageing in new French oak for around 14 to 16 months.
Santa Rita also produces Lascar, an everyday wine range blended exclusively for The Society, which consistently tastes more expensive than it is.
As well as environmental sustainability concerns, the company also has an admirable sense of social responsibility: workers are provided with healthcare, education, and entertainment like live music concerts.
At only a 45-minute drive south of Santiago, it makes a wonderful place to visit. There is a good restaurant and a world-class museum (entry is free), built by the now deceased millionaire owner, Ricardo Claro, to house his superb collection of pre-Columbian art gold jewellery, feather headdresses, textiles and carvings from Easter Island, clavas (Indian chiefs' symbols of power), among other artefacts.