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The pioneers of Chile’s Leyda and Lo Abarca Valleys

Photo by (c)MattWilson.cl for Wines of Chile

Photo by (c)MattWilson.cl for Wines of Chile

Under the influence of cool Pacific breezes and thanks to a group of innovative winemakers, two of Chile’s newest wine regions are changing the way Chilean white wines are perceived.

In a country renowned for having the world’s most varied terroir, Chile’s Leyda and Lo Abarca valleys stand out as some of the most remarkable.

Located within the larger San Antonio wine region, Leyda’s vineyards sit at an altitude of around 590 feet, located just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean, where natural pasture lands and crops like wheat and barley once reigned.

Cold winds generated along this stretch of the coast by the offshore Humboldt Current, combined with the granite soil and rolling hills of the area, ensure the perfect environment for Pinot Noir grapes, as well as white strains like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

Viña Garcés Silva’s chief winemaker, Francisco Ponce, told Departures Magazine that the valley’s combination of granite soil and proximity to the ocean “breaks all the rules.”

Yet in Leyda, at least, rule breaking works. Wine Advocate named the vineyard’s Amayna Chardonnay one of Chile’s best, and neighboring wineries have received similar accolades. Amaral’s 2010 Sauvignon Blanc won gold at the 1st Concours Mondial du Sauvignon Blanc, and Leyda’s Loica Vineyard Pinot Noir Rose 2010 won best rose at the 9th Annual Wines of Chile Awards.

The pioneering spirit that brought a new generation of wine producers to “settle” the region has propelled a renaissance of white wine in Chile, a country traditionally known for its reds.

María Luz Marín, founder of the prize winning Casa Marín vineyard in nearby Lo Abarca, epitomizes this innovative spirit.

The first woman in Chile to found and run a vineyard, Marín broke the taboo which for many years held that Chilean wine, and especially Chilean white wine, had to be cheap to sell in foreign markets.

“When we had the first harvest, in 2003, our first Sauvignon Blanc cost 18,000 Chilean pesos [US$36]. The closest to ours in price was 8,000 Chilean pesos [US$16],” Marín told La Tercera. “It wasn’t easy and, in the beginning, we caused a stir.”

Marín recounted an anecdote from a trade fair in England where she was met with similar reactions.

“They told me I couldn’t offer a wine for more than eight pounds, because nobody would buy it. In the fair, writers and journalists questioned me about the price – the wine we took cost 14 pounds – and looked at me as if I were crazy,” she said.

But the pioneering winemaker was undeterred: “It was hard, but now we sell it for more than 18 pounds.”

Seven years later, the Casa Marín Riesling took the gold medal at the 2010 Sommelier Wine Awards. That same year, Casa Marín’s Sauvignon Blanc topped local producers at the 2010 Concours Mondial de Sauvignon Blanc awards in France to capture the golden trophy.

Thanks to vineyards like Casa Marín, the Leyda and Lo Abarca Valleys are quickly gaining an international reputation as a producer of white wines of perfect acidity, with mineral touches and a crisp, refreshing flavor.

Photo by (c)MattWilson.cl for Wines of Chile

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