In northern Chilean Patagonia, surrounded by mountains near the Argentine border, the scenic village of Futaleufú has become a world-class adventure destination – primarily because of the Class 5 wild whitewater of its namesake river, which has led several international operators to set up operations here for weeklong (or longer) rafting and kayaking holidays. Chilean operators have followed suit, and all of them also offer day trips on the “Fu” and other nearby rivers. It’s even possible to paddle over lakes and rivers all the way to the Pacific Ocean – a genuine Patagonia travel expedition.
Futaleufú is a couple hours east of the Carretera Austral in Chile – the emblematic adventure highway – but is well worth the detour. I’ve been down the river – hiked parts of the valley and rafted the “between the bridges” segment that’s suitable for less experienced folks like myself – and always look forward to my nearly annual visits. In a thinly populated region, the town itself has a youthful vigor, and improving accommodations and food in a setting comparable to the Rockies or the Alps, but without the crowds. There’s also horseback riding and, to a lesser extent, hiking (because the surrounding mountains have relatively few foot trails).
The area’s latest surprise, though, is the appearance of a new wine district just across the border (where the river’s headwaters are). Most of Patagonia’s wineries are farther north on the Argentine side, where warmer weather and the rain shadow effect of the Andes make the climate more suitable for vineyards. Here, though, Viñas del Nant y Fall is probably the world’s southernmost winery, though the property also provides soft fruits and preserves.
Over the past couple years, I’ve made brief stopovers at Nant y Fall – which owes its name to the Welsh immigrants who arrived in Chubut province in the late 19th century – and I’ve just learned that they held their first harvest festival this year. Planted six years ago, this season’s yield from hardy Pinot Noir vines will become a sparkling wine.
Sergio Rodríguez, the property’s owner, acknowledges that this is a marginal area for wine – the growing season is relatively short and unexpected frosts can be a challenge – but seems committed to the project. But, at a time when climate change is testing the limitations of traditional wine grape cultivation – you can’t transplant mature vines north or south to maintain or improve production – perhaps the area has more potential than first glances might suggest.
I look forward to my next visit, probably in November, and soon enough rafters and kayakers may enjoy cross-border excursions to sample the wines.