Chile’s Southernmost – The Malleco Valley

Chile MallecoChile’s Malleco (pronounced mah-YAY-ko) Valley, located near the 38th parallel, is currently the southernmost “official” viticultural region of Chile. The terrain is rugged, and growing grapes here is challenging – but the area has potential, and since 1994, has been growing a small quantity of grapes that are made into crisp, refreshing wine.

This is an up-and-coming wine region if ever there was one: just shy of 30 acres in total are planted. It’s a bit out of the way – over 300 miles south of the Capital city of Santiago. The area’s main town, Traiguen, has less than 20,000 inhabitants. And, as if that weren’t enough, the climate is marginal, the rainfall is high, and the growing season is short.

The cool climate skirts the limits of what is suitable for viticulture, and defines the grape varieties to that can be cultivated here. The varieties currently under vine include Chardonnay (7 acres), Pinot Noir (10 acres), Sauvignon Blanc (7 acres) and Gewurztraminer (2 acres).

Being so far south, however, has its advantages, just as the northerly latitudes of Washington State and Germany work to their advantage. The southerly (remember, this is the southern hemisphere) locale means the vineyards enjoy more hours of daylight than those areas closer to the equator, and the nights cool down considerably, lending a good diurnal temperature fluctuation that slows down the ripening of the grapes.

The soil in the Malleco Valley is mainly volcanic in origin, and consists of red clay, sand, and alluvial matter. Such well-drained soils are essential in an area that sees so much rainfall, and as a result, the vines become somewhat stressed in the quest for water and nutrients, resulting in concentrated, flavorful grapes with great wine-making potential.

Las Raíces Tunnel - photo by Miguel Millan

Las Raíces Tunnel – photo by Miguel Millan

This is not, by any means, the semi-arid Maipo Valley, and the wines have a fresh, lively acidity to show for it. Most of the grapes grown in the Malleco Valley are currently owned by the Viña Aquitania Winery, which produces their Malleco Valley Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir, under the brand name “Sol de Sol” at the winery in the Maipo Valley.

The area around the town of Traiguen is not without its charms, and a good deal of adventure-seeking travelers come to the area for hiking, skiing, and camping. One local attraction is the Las Raíces Tunnel (Túnel Las Raíces), the second longest tunnel in South America. At just shy of 3 miles long, the tunnel, built in 1939, was originally intended to be part of a highway linking the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, however, the rest of the highway was never finished. The tunnel does, however, link the Chilean city of Temuco with the Pino Hachado Pass, and the highway continues towards Argentina.

This tunnel allows only one-way traffic, and averages about 450 vehicles a day. Cyclists must take their chances at finding a kind-hearted truck driver to give them a lift through the tunnel.  Click here for a very cool youtube experience of riding through the tunnel!

The Malleco Viaduct (Viaducto del Malleco), another local landmark, is currently on the tentative list to be named as a Unesco World Heritage Site.   The viaduct was opened by President José Manuel Balmaceda on October 26, 1890. At that time, it was the highest railroad bridge in the world and is still considered one of the largest works of metal engineering in Chile. The bridge was built in France, in the workshops of Schneider et Cie. Interestingly, the workshop of Gustave Eiffel also submitted a bid, but was not selected to complete the project.

The Malleco Viaduct - photo by Marcelo Reston

The Malleco Viaduct – photo by Marcelo Reston

The finished sections of the bridge were transported first by ship and then by railroad and assembled on site.  The bridge is 1,200 feet long and 250 feet high – that’s about as high as a 20-story building – pretty impressive for 1890!

Cool tunnels, towering bridges, beautiful country and (a little bit of) excellent wine – it sounds like the Malleco Valley is an interesting place!

Note: It was not easy finding information on the Malleco Valley – and, as such, I had to (gasp!) veer off the internet and go old-school and use books (remember those?) in addition to a few websites in order to find the information I wanted. As such, I’d like to acknowledge the following resources used to research this post:

The Bubbly Professor is…”Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas

The Southern Alps, Mount Cook, and the Nor’westers

Mount Hood Hiking Path

Mount Hood Hiking Path

Students of New Zealand wine are familiar with the mountain range known as The Southern Alps. They can probably tell you that the mountain range extends along much of the length of New Zealand’s South Island, forming a rain shadow that keeps a good portion of the western side of the island warm and dry. For this reason, the wine regions of Marlborough, Canterbury, and Central Otago are able to grow some of the finest Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir in the world.

The Southern Alps run for about 275 miles, forming a natural dividing range along the entire length of the South Island. New Zealanders often refer to the range as the Main Divide, as it separates the more heavily populated eastern side of the island from the somewhat wilder west coast. A large portion of the mountain range, which includes glaciers, glacial valleys, and lakes, is inaccessible except to the heartiest of mountaineers, and enjoys the protection of the National Park Service.

The highest peak in New Zealand, Mount Cook (also known by the Maori name “Aoraki,” said to mean “Cloud-Piercer”) is part of the Southern Alps.  At 12,218 feet high, Mount Cook is a dangerous but popular challenge for mountain climbers.  Aoraki/Mount Cook consists of three summits – the Low Peak, the Middle Peak, and the High Peak – surrounded by the Tasman Glacier to the east and the Hooker Glacier to the west.  The settlement of Mount Cook Village is a tourist center and serves as a base camp for climbers. For the adventurous, the area offers a wealth of hiking and skiing as well as star-gazing at Mount John Observatory in the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve – the largest dark sky reserve area in the world.

Nor'west Arch over Canterbury Photo by Jman Matthews

Nor’west Arch over Canterbury Photo by Jman Matthews

The prevailing westerly winds known as the “roaring forties” push in from across the Southern Ocean and the Tasman Sea, bringing along with them a host of moist air, much of it aimed directly at the west coast of New Zealand. When the winds bump up against the mountains of the Southern Alps, they are forced upward, and this force cools the air, and condenses the moisture to rain. The cold air and precipitation are kept on the west side of the island, thus creating the warmer, drier conditions on the eastern side of the island where the majority of the population (and vineyards) live.

The prevailing west winds also create a weather pattern known as the nor’wester. As the ocean breezes rise up the west side of the mountains and drop their rain, the wind turns warm and dry as it descends down the eastern side of the mountains, similar to the Zonda often experienced in Mendoza. These warm, dry winds play a major role in the intermittent droughts experienced by Canterbury and other regions on New Zealand’s eastern coasts.

A more pleasant side effect of the nor’wester winds is a cloud formation unique to the South Island of New Zealand known as a “nor’west arch.” A nor’west arch appears in the sky as an arch of cloud in an otherwise blue sky, and is frequently visible in the summer across Canterbury and North Otago.

If you are interested in learning more about the unique terroir of New Zealand, join me for my SWEbinar on “Greywacke and Gravel “ on Saturday, October 11th at 10:00 am Central Time!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas

Context is Queen: I know this post seems a bit far-fetched for a wine post…but…I’ve found in teaching or studying a subject as complex as wine, it helps to know the context. While a wine student may memorize the fact that the Southern Alps form a rain shadow for parts of New Zealand, taken out of context, that bit of information will remain what students (not so kindly) call a “factoid” and others may call “trivia.” Such things are hard to remember, and even more difficult to understand. However, with a bit of context, especially at the human level (“what can you do there, do I want to go there, that looks cool/scary/weird…”) these facts become much easier to remember, use, and understand. So that’s what this post is all about – content is king, and context is queen!


Map Happy

PortugalAs part of my “day” job as the Director of Education for the Society of Wine Educators, I just finished (with a lot of help) a HUGE project revising, renewing, and updating all of SWE’s wine maps.

Here’s a copy of a super-pretty one as a sample, and you can have access to a complete set of 43 different maps – both jpegs and pdf – over at the “map page” on SWE’s website.

Enjoy your studies!


The Majestic Cascades

Map of the Cascade range by Shannon, via Wikimedia Commons.

Map of the Cascade range by Shannon, via Wikimedia Commons.

CSW Students might know a bit about the Cascade Mountain Range. They know that the majority of Washington State’s vineyards are planted to the east of, and in the rain shadow of, the Cascades.

They also know that one of the main differences between the geography of Washington State’s wine industry and Oregon’s wine industry is that in contrast, the majority of Oregon’s vineyards are located to the west of the Cascades, sheltered from the effects of the Pacific Ocean by the much tamer mountains of the 200 mile-long Oregon Coast Range.  And they have probably heard of the Columbia Gorge, as it’s a tiny AVA that straddles the Oregon and Washington State lines.

And that’s a pretty good start, but there is so much more to know…

The Cascade Range is impressive, stretching for over 800 miles from Mount Lytton in British Columbia, through Cascades National Park in Washington State, past Mount Hood in Oregon, and ending just south of Mount Lassen in Northern California’s Shasta County. The highest peak in the Cascades is Washington State’s Mount Rainier, which rises to 14,411 feet above sea level and dominates the surroundings for miles around. Mount Saint Helens, whose 1980 eruption transformed a mountain with a 9,677 foot tall summit into an 8,365 foot high mountain with a 1 mile-wide horseshoe-shaped crater, is also part of the Cascade Range.

The range, particularly in the area north of Mount Rainier, is extremely rugged. Many of the smaller mountains in this area are steep and glaciated, looming over the low valleys below. The topography settles down a bit as the range winds southward, but even its southernmost peak, Mount Lassen, rises 5,229 feet above its surroundings to an elevation of 10,457 feet above sea level.

Mount Saint Helens, post her 1980 eruption

Mount Saint Helens, post her 1980 eruption

Due to its proximity to the Pacific Ocean and its westerly winds, the Cascades form a rain shadow for much of the inland Pacific Northwest. The areas to the west of the mountains are known for rainy conditions, and as the elevation climbs, for year-round snow and ice. The western slopes of the Northern Cascades can have annual snow accumulations of up to 500 inches, and with accumulation of over 1,000 inches in exceptional years.

In comparison, on the arid plateau located to the east of the mountains, annual rainfall averages 9 inches. This area, now known as the Columbia River Plateau, was formed over 16 million years ago as the lava flows from Cascade volcanoes coalesced, and covers a 200,000 square mile region in eastern Washington, Oregon, Northern California and Idaho. As all good wine students know, this is the area where almost all of Washington State’s commercial vineyards are planted.

The Columbia Gorge, located where the Columbia River forms the border between Oregon and Washington State, is the only major break in the American section of the Cascade Mountains. The Gorge was formed over the millennia as the Columbia River eroded its way through the burgeoning mountains on its way to the Pacific off of the Columbia Plateau. Lewis and Clark, in 1805, were able to reach the Pacific through the impressive Cascades via the Columbia Gorge, which for many years was considered the only practical passage through the surrounding mountains.

Vineyards in the Columbia River Gorge

Vineyards in the Columbia River Gorge

In Canada, the country’s second largest wine region, The Okanagan, is also located in the rain shadow of the Cascade Range. The region, which stretches for 100 miles north of the US border with Washington State, shares many of the same geographical/geological features that define viticulture in Washington State, such as a continental climate (somewhat moderated by Lake Okanagan), long daylight hours in the growing season (due to the northerly latitudes), an average of 9 inches of rain per year (requiring irrigation), and the risk of frost damage to the vines over the cold winters.

Other people may note that the majestic Cascades are known for ski resorts, hydro-electric power, strong westward rivers, Douglas Fir trees, important water reserves, Klamath Falls, alpine elk, glaciers, grizzly bears, blueberries, and some of the few remaining wild wolf packs in North America… but for some of us, it’s all about the wine!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas:

This post was inspired by week ten of my Online CSW Prep Class! 


Wine Minis!

IWine Bottles on Sidef you have a half hour before you have to leave, a short break at work, or 30 minutes on the subway, the Bubbly Professor has a quick little study tool for you. Just click on one of the links below to access a series of 10-questions “Mini Quizzes.” These quiz mini’s are rather random in subject matter and meant to be “short and sweet” study sessions, doable in a half an hour to an hour.

If you want to really turn these quizzes into a learning tool, the trick is to look up the questions you missed, make a short note about the subject in your study notes, and review it again in a day or two. Trust me, you’ll never miss that question again.

Some of these quizzes might seem difficult; and if you are just starting out (or re-starting) your Wine or Spirits Studies, you might feel defeated. But the point is not just to assess your learning. The mini’s are designed to expand your horizons, and perhaps open your study path up to topics you may have glossed over before or not yet reached. Be sure and read the “explanation” box that is part of the answer screen. There’s lots of good information there as well.

These Mini Wine Quizzes are all based on the CSW study guide published by the Society of Wine Educators, but useful for any wine certification test (or just for fun).

Red Bottle NecksHere are the links to the quizzes. Have fun!

Click here for: Mini Wine Quiz #1

Click here for: Mini Wine Quiz #2

Click here for: Mini Wine Quiz #3

Click here for: Mini Wine Quiz #4

Click here for: Mini Wine Quiz #5

Click here for: Mini Wine Quiz #6

Click here for: Mini Wine Quiz #7

If you like some wine minis at a more advanced level, try these:

Click here to take: Advanced Wine Mini #1

Click here to take: Advanced Wine Mini #2

Click here to take: Advanced Wine Mini #3

Click here to take: Advanced Wine Mini #4

Click here to take: Advanced Wine Mini #5

Click here to take: Advanced Wine Mini#6

Click here to take: Advanced Wine Mini #7

If you are looking for some longer (perhaps more serious???) wine quizzes, click here

Bubbly Disclaimer: These quizzes are my own creation and are not in any way an “official publication” of any school or organization. I hope they help you out with your wine studies!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas:


The Dirt on Spain

PrioratThis Saturday – July 26th – 10:00 am central time, I’ll be offering a free-to-the-public, live-on-line webinar all about “The Dirt on Spain.” Sub-titled “A terroir-tinged trip through the tierra of Spain,” this session will look at five of Spain’s wine regions that have a particular link to the unique physical geography, climate, or soil of the region.

Here is a taste of what we’ll be covering!

Priorat: Priorat is a dynamic wine region in Catalonia – and one of the smallest wine regions in Spain. If you look at a map you’ll see that Priorat is close to the Mediterranean Sea. The sea’s influence on the hot, dusty climate, however is minimal, due to the position of the Catalan Coastal Range. Rainfall here is so low that it is equal to dry, dusty Montilla-Moriles down in Andalucía.

The famous llicorella soils, the steep, terraced vineyards, and legendary low yields lend rich, deep, concentration to the Garnacha-based wines of Priorat.

rias baixasRías Baxias: The name Rías Baixas means “’low rías” and was chosen because of the coastal inlets that characterize the landscape. Rías are a type of estuary, and if you don’t remember what an estuary is, it is a place where a river runs into the sea. The river running into the sea forms an area of “brackish” water, which means a mix of salt and fresh water.

The drowning of river valleys along a stretch of coast and formation of rías results in an extremely irregular and indented coastline. San Francisco Bay, Charleston Harbor, and Chesapeake Bay are all examples of this type of “drowned river valley” estuary. Other types of estuaries include lagoons and fjords.

Rías Baixas, known for its crisp, fruity, floral-scented white wines based on the Albariño grape variety, is perhaps the best-known wine region in Galicia. The maritime climate in Galicia has led to its nickname as “Green Spain. It rains quite a bit here – as high as 71 inches per year.

Rioja MapRioja: The Rioja DOCa is located to the south of the Sierra Cantabrian Mountain. The Rioja Alavesa sub-region is tucked into the foothills of these mountains, and benefits from the altitude (1,300–3,930ft/400–1,200m), and the chalky clay and limestone soils on the slopes and terraces.

The Sierra de la Demanda, part of the western section of the larger Sistema Ibérico, runs through along the southern edge of the Rioja Alta. The Rioja Baja region sits at at lower elevations, and as a result is drier, and flatter than its neighbors to the west. The soils also differ significantly; the chalk content is minimal, with larger proportions of silt and alluvial components as well as ferrous-clay. Drought is also a real threat.

We’ll also be covering Jerez and Ribera del Duero. For more information, including the link and login information for the session, click here.

The Bubbly Professor is…”Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas



Start the Weekend with a Saturday Webinar!

Swebinar in the grassIt’s a rare sighting of a Saturday SWEbinar!!

This Saturday – June 7, 2104 – at 10:00 am central time – the Society of Wine Educators is offerring a Saturday morning SWEbinar all about the grapes and places of Italian Wine! This is a special weekend version in response to many requests for evening and weekend SWEbinars, and while we’re not sure what kind of a turn out we’ll receive, we are giving it a go!

This session, called “The Italian Grape Game” will be led by our little ol’ me – The Bubbly Professor, aka  “Miss Jane” Nickles. This session will be a lively way for you to test your knowledge of Italy’s wines and wine regions. You are advised to read and study chapter 10 of the CSW Study Guide in advance – this is glass-to-glass competition!

And don’t forget to ask about “Vice President Lenny,” who you’ll be meeting at the session. Vice President Lenny is here to help you learn the Italian wine regions – trust us on this one!

Login instructions and a link to the online classroom are located below. If you’d like to be sent a reminder about the session on Saturday morning, or have any other questions about our SWEbinar series, please contact jane at

See you Saturday!

Vice President just have to tune it to find out what he's all about! (No, he is NOT supposed to look Italian.)

Vice President Lenny…you just have to tune it to find out what he’s all about! (No, he is NOT supposed to look Italian.)

Login Instructions: At the appointed time, just click on the link. (Links will be attached to the date and time announcement of each session in the list below and will go “live” a few days before the scheduled date.) When the SWE Adobe Connect homepage appears, click on “enter as a guest,” type in your name, and click “enter room.” Remember that each session is limited to 100 attendees, and that several of our past sessions have reached capacity. We are hoping to avoid this issue in the future by offering more SWEbinars, but it is still a good idea to log on early!

If you have never attended an Adobe Connect event before, it is also a good idea to test your connection ahead of time.

To join the session, just click on the link: Saturday, June 7 – 1o:oo am Central Time – The Italian Grape Game, based on Chapter 10 in the CSW Study Guide, hosted by Jane A. Nickles, CSS, CWE

Click here to see the SWEbinar schedule for the rest of 2014!


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