Originally published in April 2016
Alexandra Aranovich is a Brazilian travel addict, blogger, foodie, writer and wine lover. She writes for a number of publications in addition to her blog, Café Viagem.
You may not imagine, but there is a small part of Brazil, that looks and feels like a piece of Europe broke off and lodged in South America. It is even know as Brazil’s “little Europe.” In this region, you will find a broad valley filled with vineyards, fantastic restaurants and hotels, beautiful mountains and stunning landscapes. I am talking about Serra Gaúcha, located in Southern Brazil, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, near to Uruguayan and Argentinian border. Despite the fact that I live only 100 kms away, in the state capital of Porto Alegre, and frequently visit the region, I always find Serra Gaúcha full of surprises.
The region can be characterized by its farmland, gaucho (cowboy) culture and the famous churrasco (Brazil’s signature barbecue), but Rio Grande do Sul offers one of the greatest wine destination of the world. In 2013, Vale dos Vinhedos in Serra Gaúcha (the main wine route) was chosen as one of the 10 Best Wine Travel Destinations by Wine Enthusiast Magazine.
Most of the people in Serra Gaúcha are of Italian and German descent. Their ancestors arrived during a huge wave of European migration that took place from 1830 to 1875. Part of their existence in this farming region included winemaking for family consumption. It not until 1970, that commercial production and tourism began to gather momentum.
MAJOR TOURIST CITIES TO VISIT IN SERRA GAÚCHA
Bento Gonçalves (Italian descendants)
Gramado (German descendants)
Nova Petrópolis (German descendants)
BENTO GONÇALVES – THE BRAZILIAN WINE CAPITAL
Today, the capital of wine in Brazil is Bento Gonçalves, surrounded by lush valleys. Its residents of Italian descent, many of whom speak an archaic Venetian dialect, is located 113 km from Porto Alegre in Rio Grande do Sul. Tourists from all over the country fall in love with the region. This is partly due to the wine and the Italian culture, but also because of the generous and charismatic people who make Bento Gonçalves a warm and a welcoming destination. In contrast to the rest of the country, where there is perpetual summer, this southern region has four, well-defined seasons. Although rare, it can also snow—the last occurrence came in 2013.
The quality of Brazilian wine has continued to improve over the last decade. The country’s terroir, which is home to many international grapes and American hybrids, is best known these days for its “working-class sparkling whites.” The sweet Moscato fizz is a typical wine from this area. Producers include Cave Geisse, Don Giovanni, Casa Valduga, Salton, Dal Pizzol, Perini, Lidio Carraro, Estrelas do Brasil, among other emerging wine producers. Most are family wineries.
THE 5 WINE ROUTES OF BENTO GONÇALVES
But guess what? It is not inside Bento Gonçalves where tourists find vineyards and many of the exciting attractions or hospitality. You will have to venture into the countryside. The best wineries are divided among several surrounding rural areas. Today, there are five must-see scenic routes, which include Vale dos Vinhedos ( the famous Valley of the Wineries), Caminhos de Pedra, Cantinas Históricas, Encantos de Eulália and Rio das Antas Valley.
VALE DOS VINHEDOS
The most important wine region in the country is known for its rolling hills, wineries, hotels and restaurants.
What to do
An afternoon at the Wine Garden at Miolo Winery and a picnic at the Larentis Winery should be high on your list. Other must visit wineries are Casa Valduga Winery and Lido Carraro , which produces the official wine of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Also stop in for the delicious Italian cuisine at Mamma Gema or have dinner at the Valle Rústico, where young Chef Rodrigo Bellora impresses with his creative gastronomy, which includes organic foods from his garden.
CAMINHOS DE PEDRA ROUTE
A scenic route with historic houses, restaurants and handmade products.
What to do
Take a guided bike tour with Que Tal de Bike along the wine route. Stop for lunch at the lovely Casa Vanni. Enjoy the sheep cheeses of Casa da Ovelha or the local sausages and specialty meats at Salumeria. A little further along you can climb 750 meter high in Pinto Bandeira and visit the spectacular wineries Don Giovanni and Cave Geisse that known for their sparkling wine.
CANTINAS HISTÓRICAS ROUTE
This area, known as the Faria Lemos District or Valley Aurora, is a major grape-growing region. Immigrants arriving from Veneto and Trento encountered ideal conditions for the cultivation of grapes and wine production.
What to do
Visit the beautiful property of Dal Pizzol Winery for a wine tasting. Known as the winery with the “world vineyard,” with 400 varieties of grapes, Dal Pizzol is considered one of the three largest private grapes collections in the world. You can also get lost in stunning view as you drive along the route. Be certain to make reservations for lunch at the small and charming Cristofoli Winery. If you intend to enjoy a meal served under the vines, an advance reservation at Cristofoli is strongly recommended.
ENCANTOS DE EULÁLIA
In addition to the many small boutique wineries, the famous Gasper Adventure Park is a major attraction.
RIO DAS ANTAS VALLEY
This region is filled with lush scenery along the Antas River, the Tuiuty district, the arched Ernesto Dorneles Bridge and other attractions.
What to do
Do not miss the wineries Salton and Cainelli. Stop in and try the local spirits, cachaça and caipirinha, made from sugarcane alcohol Casa Bucco. Finally, you will want to capture some photographs of the fantastic view of the river and surrounding hills from Tenda do Teco (Teco’s store). Also consider a river cruise with Capitano Brutus.
How to get there
The best way to visit the region is by car. The international airport in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul is your best bet for a car rental agency. A tourist information center is easily located on the main road into Bento Gonçalves.
When to Go
Brazil is south of the Equator, so the seasons are opposite the northern hemisphere. February is summer and the time that locals celebrate Vindima—the harvest period. Participation in the local celebrations can create a memorable wine tourism experience. The fall—May and June—is also a great period to visit Bento Gonçalves. It’s not so cold and the vineyard landscape colors are simply stunning.
Where to stay
Bed & Breakfast and Winery Don Giovanni | Pinto Bandeira
Pousada Borghetto Sant’Ana | Vale dos Vinhedos
Hotel Vila Michelon | Vale dos Vinhedos
Hotel and SPA do Vinho | Vale dos Vinhedos
Hotel Dall’Onder | City of Bento Gonçalves