The southernmost regions of Chile and Argentina have low temperatures, heavy rainfall, strong winds and frost. And yet, in these extreme regions situated along the hemisphere’s 38–45th parallels, winemakers are crafting vibrant, flavorful Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs.
Some producers use these difficult conditions to their advantage.
“They are challenges, but they are also positive things,” says Ricardo Baettig, head winemaker at Viña Morandé. “Without them, you wouldn’t achieve the character, the acidity and tension these wines have.”
Searching for new terroir in Chile
Founded in 1996, Viña Morandé is considered a trailblazer in the region, and is said to be the first producer to plant vines in Casablanca, Chile. Their team has also explored new wine regions in Chile, including Southern areas like Itata and Bío Bío. In 2020, they started to source grapes from the cool-climate region of Traiguén, Malleco, located at 38 degrees south latitude.
Frost is one of the biggest threats here. Last October, about two-thirds of the yield was lost due to a deep freeze that affected the vines.
“The frost was so intense that it killed all the first buds,” says Baettig. Thankfully, since all the primary buds were damaged, “only secondary buds were developed, avoiding the problem of having some grapes ripening earlier than others.”
Still, Baettig believes these challenging conditions give the wines character. Compared to Chardonnay from Casablanca, wines from Malleco have fewer sweet fruit notes due to less exposure to the sun, making them more elegant, he says. “[Our] Chardonnay shows more grape typicity and longevity due to the climate conditions.”
To successfully craft balanced wines in such an extreme region, proper harvest timing is essential. Sugar and pH levels may create an impulse to harvest early, “however, in this region, we might have to wait a little bit longer to do so,” says Baettig. He also prefers limited contact with oak to allow the identity of Malleco to show up in the glass.
The effects of climate change
Farther south in Chile, some 21 miles from the Pacific Ocean, lies the Osorno region. Miguel Torres Chile planted about five acres of Sauvignon Blanc on volcanic soils here in 2010. The vines grow on terraces facing north to capture more sunlight and reach ripeness. They are protected by the coastal mountain range from heavy rainfall and cold breezes coming from the Pacific.
However, “less rainfall due to climate change is what makes growing grapes possible in this place,” says Eduardo Jordan, head winemaker at Miguel Torres Chile.