October 18, 2014 4 Comments
Chile’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.
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 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:
- Wines of South American: The Essential Guide, Evan Goldstein
- The Tourism Chile Website
- Wines of Chile Website
- The Rough Guide to Chile, Shafik Meghji