Wednesday, December 22, 2010

An introduction to Leyda Valley, Chile.

Leyda is a fairly new wine region (founded in 1997) located about an hour west and a little south of Santiago. It is technically a sub-region of the San Antonio region. The great potential for winemaking here was recognized by Pablo Morandé before he founded Casablanca Valley, but was not utilized: this region was extremely dry prior to man-made irrigation.

The nearby Maipo river drains into the Pacific just 8 kilometers from Leyda, but the soils in the area were under drought conditions until water was brought from the river via pipelines. This was a very costly project involving four wealthy founders. Once soil and climate studies were complete and irrigation was in place Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay were planted. Experimentation with trellising systems and vine density are still underway. Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Syrah, and Sauvignon Vert have joined the original varieties, with more perhaps to come.

Soil in Leyda is extremely poor in organic matter. The soil of its rolling, gentle hills is fairly homogenous due to the lack of water presence. There is a slight variation throughout the region, but in general a layer of loamy clay about 20 cm thick lies atop a 35-cm layer of 45% clay, 55% granite. Below extends granite and a laminar structure of calcium carbonate (limestone). This profile provides excellent drainage.

Leyda’s climate is mild. A long, cool growing season allows production of cool-climate grapes for refreshing wines with a snap of acidity. The dominant climate-related factor here for grape growing is the cool ocean breeze off the Pacific due to the Humboldt Current. Starting around 10am, this breeze is crucial in temperature moderation and brings a freshness to the air throughout the day while keeping the grape bunches dry and free of botrytis. Some say the wines of Leyda owe their characteristic minerality and “saltiness” to this light wind… others claim the ferrous clays in the soil give rise to these qualities. Interestingly, the same saltiness or minerality can be found in the wines up the Pacific coast in Ensenada, Baja California.

Leyda began with only 4 producers; now many more have come to the region and have planted a total of 2000 hectares with grapes. Vineyards tend to be planted with respect to the elements, as each varietal has specific requirements for sunlight exposure to achieve good ripening. For example, Syrah in this region is typically planted facing north in the higher altitudes. An interesting fact: many producers claim where there is cactus, Syrah will flourish. This is put into practice in Leyda.

Wines from Leyda tend to have a very ripe fruitiness while maintaining good acidity. Minerality is strong here. The region is great for whites… Pinot Noir and Syrah are doing well, but reds have yet to be planted in earnest. Leyda is certainly an area to watch. If you see any wines from Leyda in your local wine shop definitely give them a try. There aren’t many producers yet, but the elegance and delicacy of the wines will certainly make an impression in the future.

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