Reading Time: 10 minutes

Colombia is not one of the South American countries known for its wine. It has a tropical climate and is more famous for producing coffee, flowers, sugar and drugs. But a number of wine estates have been springing up in Colombia’s Andean mountains as a national consumer demand for wine has been steadily increasing since the 1980s.

The History of Colombian Grapes

Wine and vines followed the Spanish conquistadores. Jesuit missionaries first brought vines to Colombia and started making wine for religious ceremonies 400 years ago. Wine was also a staple of the colonies ’civilized class’.

But vine cultivation and wine making became so successful in the new world that by 1595 wine producers in Spain conviced King Philip II to impose limits on wine production in the colonies. When trade restrictions were lifted at the end of the colonial period, French, Italian and Spanish wines flooded the market.

Colombians continued to cultivate grapes but didn’t start to make wine again until the early 1980s more than 200 years after Bolivar liberated Gran Colombia from Spain.

While Colombians cherish their national beverages, wine has never been their alcoholic beverage of choice. Mostly beer drinkers, they also relish their aguardiente (an anise based liquor) and locally produced rums. Grapes have been grown mostly to eat, make fresh fruit jugos and to distill into brandy. A wine culture has been practically non existant.

In the 1990s the Colombian government added a 20% value tax on wines made in countries outside of the South America continent. This made imported wines expensive for the average consumer.

But a growing curiosity in wine and steady growth in consumption by the country’s middle class has seen an expansion in Colombia’s wine production. Supermarkets and liquor stores around the country now carry aisles of wines. The supermarket chain Exito sells more than 60% of the wines sold in Colombia.

Dominating the market are wines from Chile followed by Argentina, Spain, France, the USA and a slim selection of Colombian wines – most of them inexpensive sweet wines. But Colombian wineries may soon be changing that pecking order.

High Altitude Wine Production in the Tropics

They say the wine industry in Colombia has never really taken off due to the country’s tropical weather conditions and a lack of defined seasons which impede quality wine production. A problem countries in the cooler climates further south, like Chile and Argentina, don’t have.

But Colombia is a very geographically diverse country. The hot, tropical climate along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and Colombia’s Amazon jungle are poorly suited for wine grapes. Meanwhile, the cooler climates at higher altitudes in the Andean mountains, which traverse the country north to south through three distinct mountain chains, offer interesting climates, soils and prospective wine appellations. Altitudes range from sea level to 5,775 meters (18,947 feet).

In the last 40 years wine grapes have been planted and wineries built. Small, boutique wineries are springing up in cool, high altitude locations in the Colombian Andes, run by well traveled maverick winemakers.

They’re buying land, planting vines and investing in cellars wih modern winemaking equipment. And taking a page from from wineries in Europe and California, they’re investing in agricultural tourism by building hotels, restaurants and tasting rooms. And the tourists are coming.

Wines are being produced around the capital of Bogota and in the provinces of Valle de Cauca, Antioquia, Santander and Boyaca.

The Premier Wine zone – Valley of the Sun

The best wine zone is considered the Valle del Sol (Valley of the Sun) in the higher Chicamocha canyon in the Boyaca province near the towns of Villa de Leyva, Nobsa and Paipa. Here the soils resemble the terroir of the best wine growing regions of the world. These are high altitude wines being produced at elevations over 2,000 meters (6,561 feet) from in one of the driest regions in Colombia, an area already a fruit producing powerhouse growing pears, cherrries and peaches for the country.

Wineries High in the Andes in Boyaca

Just a half a day’s travel from the capital city of Bogota the wine estate Vinedo Ain Karim sits at 2,010 meters altitude (5,858 feet) near one of the most beautiful villages in Colombia – Villa de Leyva. The estate is dedicated to producing high quality wines.

They are the producers of the Marques de Villa de Leyva wine brand. The property has an ideal micro-climate with chalky soil, high altitude solar radiation and cool nights. They produce a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Merlot from Bordeaux clones, a Chardonnay from Napa clones and a Sauvignon Blanc on a 10 hectare (25 acre) vineyard producing 50,000 bottles a year.

They have been producing wine for the last 30 years. The produce a couple of reserve Cabernets, and have won several international wine awards. One can visit the winery. There are tours every hour in Spanish with a wine tasting and wines available for purchase.

The neighboring wine estate of Umana Dajud is located near the village of Sachica. With vineyards above 2,000 meters (6,561 feet) they have 6 hectares (15 acres) planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and a Chardonnay all with vines from France.

Marques de Punta Larga winery near the village of Nobsa is a area compared to Dijon in Burgundy due its soil and climatic conditions. With just 4 hectares (10 acres) Marco Antonio Quijano produces a white wine made with Riesling grapes and a Pinot Noir all from vines cultivated in French nurseries in Burgundy. They also produce a Boyaca Nouveau – a young wine in the style of a French Beaujolais.

Quijano works with a consortium of 70 nearby farmers who have planted another 40 hectares to wine grapes as he is working to increase production.

Colombia’s Largest Wine Estate Siezed as a Drug Cartel Asset

Casa Grajales in the village of La Union in the province of Valle de Cauca is the largest wine producer in Colombia. The estate was founded in 1977 by 6 brothers brothers of the Grajales family.

The estate and the family’s properties and businesses were confiscated by the Colombian government in 2005 after the family was implicated in the notorious North Valle drug cartel, an infamous narco-trafficking cartel in southern Colombia. The wine estate had also been targeted by the U.S. Department of the Treasury for its drug cartel assets and as an off shore haven.

Story has it one of the brothers was very active in the paramilitary movement in the 1970s and 80s and through violence and intimidation forced a lot of small farmers off their land and seizing their properties. The Grajales estate grew to over 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) of which 1,600 (4,000 acres) hectares were planted in grapes.

Until the 1970s the estate produced and exported table grapes and in 1978 they started ramping up production to 1 million bottles a year. The founding Grajales brothers, since deceased, saw the government confiscate their vineyards, cellars, hotel and other family properties and businesses. The government took over the winery operations to save the jobs of some 1,300 estate workers.

Since the seizure the government went on to create a wine museum and a national park dedicated to recreation, tourism and the education of wine production. Called the National Grape Park, Nacional Parque de la Uva, it’s located in La Union 150 km. (93 miles) from Colombia’s third largest city Cali. The vineards are located at an altitude of 975 meters (3,198 feet) with and average temperature of 23 degrees C. (74 degrees F.).

The wines are made from two local varieties: Italian and Isabella. Being at a lower altitude these grapes come in at 15% alcohol. The wines are then blended with concentrated musts from Chile and Argentina (Cabernet, Malbec, Tempranillo) to lower the alcohol and round out the flavors. They produce 4 million bottles of wine a year.

The vineyards produce grapes several times a year and there are continual harvest. Heavy producers, these vines only live 12-16 years before they die and have to be replanted.

Grajales makes 5 wines under the Valtier brand – 2 whites including Vino Blanco Semi-Seco and a Vino Blanco Seco. The have a blush wine called Vino Rose Semi-Seco and a red – Vinto Tinto Semi-Seco. Under a Reservado brand they make a white – Vino Blanco Seco and a red Vino Tinto Seco. They have a generic Tinto brand called classic red table wine and a rose.

The company also makes a sparkling wine, cooking wines, sweet, sacramental wines and sweet fruit wines from apples and pears. Their best wine is their Don Geraldo Tinto Secco Riservado which can age for up to 10 years.

One can visit the wine museum. Tours run every hour, last 45 minutes and cost 23,000 cop or $6. The tour includes a tour of the winery’s 107,000 liter capacity stainless steel tanks, barrel rooms of French barriques, cellars of old vintages and museum of antique wine making equipment. The tour concludes with a tasting of 2 wines and all of the estate’s wines can be purchased at the winery. There’s also a restaurant at the museum for a nice sit down lunch before or after the tour.

The park is at the entrance to the town and it takes 4 hours to tour. There are vineyards, vegetable gardens and groves of papaya, sugar cane and lemons in the park. There’s also a zoo, zip-line, restaurant and a 41 room hotel – Hotel Los Vinedos which has a pool. Rooms at the hotel go for around 400,000 cop ($100) a night which includes admission to the park and museum.

The small village of La Union is also famous for paragliding which one can experience with the group Parape La Union with an office in the village.

Vina Sicilia – Antioquia

In Antioquia, an hour and a half north of Medellin, a destination village of Santa Fe, lies the smaller village of Olaya where the winery Vina Sicilia overlooks the Cauca River. Over 20 years ago an agronomist came from Italy, traveled around Colombia and picked the area near Olaya for its climate, soil and slopes. The property sits at an altitude of 550 meters (1,800 feet). The Cauca river creates a unique micro-climate and has given the property rich sedimentary soils.

The owner, Carlos Bravo, planted 30 grape varieties. The Italian varieties Nebbiolo, Nero d’Avola, Zibibbo, Frappato, Grilla, Cattaratto were planted along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Syrah. The estate produces 13,000 bottles a year. Their wines have won 64 international prizes over year and cost from $95,000 cop to 135,000 cop ($25-$35).

The winery does a tour of the facilities which includes lunch at their restaurant and access to the pool on the estate for 135,000 cop ($35 per person). Shuttle service is available from Medellin. There is a boutique hotel on the property offering romantic spa weekends.

Wineries in Santander

And in the province of Santander there is the Vinedo Sierra Morena. A family owned estate located near the village of Zapatoca. They produce a red wine called Vinos Peru de la Croix. Wine tours are available.

Nearby there is the small estate of Vina Aldana which combines red wine making with a rustic, 20 room eco-orientated hotel. Located in Los Santos, it’s close to Parque Nacional del Chicamocha (National Park of the Chicamocha Canyon).

Wines of Mompox

There are many villages in Colombia with a busy tourist industry selling arts and crafts and making mostly sweet and semi-sweet wines wines from locally sourced grapes and fruits.

Mompox is a historical town, a colonial jewel sitting on Colombia’s Magdelena River. Here everyone in the historic center seems to be selling locally made wines. They sell wines in all the tourists shops, arts and crafts shops and even have guys hawking wines from soap boxes on the streets.

Most of the wines are made from corona, a grape that grows wild along the riversides. They make a semi-dry and sweet version. They also make fruit wines, with 12% alcohol, from tropical fruits like carubula, palms, mangos, tamarind and oranges.

Colombian Wine Fair and Somm Association

There is an annual wine, fair called Expovino, held every year in the Conferias exhibition center in Bogota. It is one of the largest wine shows in Latin America. Here conferences are held and exhibitors from Colombia and around the world showcase their wines, hold tastings and educate the public. This year Expovino will be holding its 16th wine fair October 21-31.

There is also a sommelier association in Colombia called the Associacion Sommeliers de Colombia (ASC). The help promote the wines, beers and spirits of Colombia and regularly taste and rank all the wines and spirits available on the Colombian market.

It’s doubtful Colombia will ever become a wine producing power house like Argentina and Chile. But small producers are discovering new micro climates at the higher altitudes. Wine is being produced, showcased and the market is hungry for more as in interest in wine grows in Colombia and wine lovers around the world continue to seek out exciting wines from unusual regions.

One Response

  1. !Excelente! gracias por darnos información de algo que sin duda alguna, muchos colombianos no conocíamos.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.