Chile’s a pretty eclectic place, geographically speaking. It’s got a bit of everything going for it. Modern technology and today’s enologically pioneering spirit have enticed winemakers into seeking out new frontiers to give the different varieties just the combination of sun, soil, and temperature that makes them sing.
To prove that point, Colchagua based Viña Casa Silva decided to launch its latest wine-Cool Coast Sauvignon Blanc-by inviting a small group of wine writers to visit their young vineyards near the coast of Colchagua. This is a big deal. They literally broke new ground-new terroir-with this project by daring to plant this close to the so-cold-it’s-cool coast in a region where no one has ever grown wine grapes before.
So they ordered up an absolutely gorgeous day and put a dozen of us on a little 12-seater and flew us to the Colchagua coast…
We left the Santiago airport and headed south, with the Andes to the left and the Coastal Mountains to the right. August is still winter in the southern hemisphere, and last week’s heavy rains dusted the Coastal Mountains with snow for a special treat.
The layers of fog that accumulate between the irregular Coastal Mountains moderate temperatures and provide moisture for an area that is otherwise quite dry. The greenery is the result of winter rains; at other times of the year, the hills are dry and brown.
When we reached Colchagua 110 miles south of Santiago, we turned west toward the coast, following the tongue-tangling Tinguiririca (Ting-geer-ee-REE-ka) River to the sea for a better-than-birds’-eye view of the valley from the Andes to the Pacific.
The mountains start to smooth out and the land flattens near the coast.
Farm lands start to give way to pine forests that cover the rolling hills near the coast.
It’s hard to imagine a more breathtaking coastline. Just a few miles north is Pichilemu, one of the surfing capitals of the southern hemisphere.
Casa Silva’s 4-year-old vineyard near Paredones, just 5.5 mi (9 km) from the sea. 40 hectares (99 acres)-half Sauvignon Blanc and half Pinot Noir-have been planted on the sandy-clay hillsides that ring the reservoir and on the lower-lying lands that surround it. The Sauvignon made its debut today; the Pinot-ever the diva-will hold out another year to make its grand entrance.
Viña Casa Silva’s Chief Winemaker, Mario Geisse, met the group at the vineyard, where he explained the characteristics of the coastal vineyard. Sandy-clay soils–typical of the ancient Coastal Mountains–provide good drainage and easy root development, but also make erosion an issue, so plant cover between rows is a must. Humidity is also an issue this close to the coast, where morning fogs are common, but a continuous gentle breeze and good canopy management protect the grapes from fungal problems. “I highly recommend this climate for anyone,” jokes Geisse, “It never gets below 9º-10ºC in winter or above 25ºC in summer.”
Viña Casa Silva has 20 hectares each of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot planted here. The first vintage of its Cool Coast Sauvignon Blanc 2009 is now on the market, but Pinot–ever the prima donna–needs another year to primp before making its debut.
Westward (and lunchward) bound, we headed straight to the coast to Buculemu, with a dramatic weather change just a couple of miles up the road from the sea. This fishing village had been clear all morning and the cloud cover rolled in just before we got there. Though the coastal air was still thick and soupy when we left a few hours later, the sun was still shining just a couple miles away from the coast itself.
By Margaret Snook for Wines of Chile