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Sauvignon Blanc from Coastal Chile

Pablo Morande (photo courtesy of Nash Wines)

In 1982, Pablo Morande, one of Chile’s most influential winemakers who was then the chief oenologist at Concha y Toro, discovered the potential of Casablanca Valley as a viticultural region.  Located 30km from the coast, Casablanca Valley had been allocated to roaming cattle and no one then believed that the region had the potential to become an agricultural area.  But after a trip to California’s Carneros, Pablo noticed the similarities between the two regions: the coastal proximity, the rolling hills and the cooling oceanic breezes.  He conducted air and soil studies in Chile, but he was alone with his convictions.  Every winery that he approached believed the area was too susceptible to cold and frost, and much too dangerous for planting.

Joining forces with his brother, Pablo rolled the dice and purchased the coolest land that he could find, which he planted to Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.  Three years later, he shared the fruits of his labor with others, including Franciscan in Napa Valley, and soon enough others started planting.

As of the mid-2000’s, Casablanca Valley had 4,000ha under vine, including the vineyards that source the fruit for our three Sauvignon Blanc wines from the region: Casa Julia, La Mallorquina and Mahu.  And because Pablo was a close witness to the region’s growth, he knows and has access to all of the local key players.

Produced by Morande, with fruit that he sources from three small plots in Casablanca Valley, these three wines are value driven and excellent representations of the potential of the region.  Fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel, Casa Julia Sauvignon Blanc comes from a vineyard that’s sustainably farmed, with soils of calcareous clay and sand with alluvial deposits.

Termed for its namesake, La Mallorquina, is produced with fruit that’s grown by a woman from Majorca.  Seeking a place in Chile that was similar to her home,  this producer is referred to as “Mallorquina” by the locals. From vines that are 10-20 years old, the fruit here yields an aromatic crisp Sauvignon Blanc–a result of the cool breezes and temperatures of this maritime climate.

Also crafted at the hands of Pablo Morande, Mahu is made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes that are sustainably grown and vertically trellised.  And because of the region’s low water supply, the roots of the vines here dig deep, stressing the vines during Casablanca Valley’s mild winters for the duration of their long growing season.

In the 1990’s, inspired by Pablo’s success in Casablanca Valley, growers considered the possibility of moving closer to the coast, which led to the birth of San Antonio Valley, where vines were first planted in 1997.  In closer proximity to the ocean, this region, which gained official recognition in 2002, is subjected to cooler, more extreme temperatures, than Casablanca Valley.  And because it has even less access to water, the Garcés Silva family, who produces Amanya, invested in the pipeline that now carries water from the Maipo River to the Leyda sub-appellation.  Practicing sustainable farming, the Garcés Silva family employs a mobile chicken coop for pest control and sheep to weed the vineyards that sit 8.5 miles from the Pacific Ocean.  Planted in alluvial soil that is rich in clay, with gravel and round stones, the Sauvignon Blanc vines here are 5-10 years old.

Produced by Casa Marin, Cartagena Sauvignon Blanc is a family owned winery that’s located in Lo Abarca, another sub-appellation of of San Antonio Valley.  Founded in 2000 by Maria Luz Marin–the only female owner and winemaker of a Chilean vineyard– this estate is home to some of the country’s steepest vineyards.  Planted to calcareous soils with granite, these 11-year old vines are sustainably farmed, and the wine sees skin contact for 4-6 hours and is cold-fermented for 20 days.

With access to such variety of a single varietal from two coastal appellations, there’s much reason to follow the steps of Pablo Morande, to buy now when the ship comes in, before the masses descend and swallow-up the small plots of available land.

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