Mind your Latitude: 30° South

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We’ve looked at wine through the lens of grapes, places, soils, barrels, bottles, and stems…and for the next few weeks we will be taking a look at latitude. Today, we present:  30 degrees South, as we begin our journey through the southern latitudes.

Elqui Valley: The Elqui Valley sits in Chile’s Coquimbo viticultural region—just south of the Atacama Desert. Traditionally, the Elqui Valley produced table grapes and grapes for Pisco (Chile’s grape-based brandy)—and Pisco production is still a very big deal here.

As would be expected, the Elqui Valley is warm, dry, and famous for its bright pure sunshine—and as such, is increasingly known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carmenère, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. However, the valley between the Coast Range and the Andes is narrow-to-non-existent here, and the region’s vineyards reside at elevations up to 6,550 feet (2,000 m) above sea level, meaning that warm, clear days are followed by cool, crisp nights. The areas close to the Pacific Ocean (along the Elqui River) are producing cool-climate Syrah, which may soon become the best-known wine of the region.

The Elqui Valley—world-famous for its clear skies—is home to the Gabriela Mistral Dark Sky Sanctuary as well as a plethora of research observatories. This makes the Elqui Valley heaven for those looking to the skies—astro-tourists and astro-physicists alike.

Jáchal, San Juan: Argentina’s San Juan province sits between La Rioja (to the north and east) and Mendoza (to the south). San Juan is well-known as the second largest wine-producing province in the country (second, obviously, to Mendoza). The Jáchal sub-region—situated around the city of San José de Jáchal—is one of the northern-most wine -producing areas in the province, placing it firmly in the 30th parallel south. This is a picturesque, sparsely-populated area blessed by a series of mountain ridges as well as the fast-flowing Jáchal River and a spectacular canyon—the 100-foot (30 meter) Jáchal River Gorge. This economy of the area is focused on agriculture, and includes olives, onions, alfalfa, and quince in addition to wine. The vineyards of the Jáchal GI (approved in 2002) are focused on Torrontés Riojano, Muscat of Alexandria, Torrontés Sanjuanino and Bonarda (Douce Noir).

KwaZulu-Natal: Nearly all of South Africa’s wine hails from the Western Cape Geographical Unit, however, a few other areas around the country produce wine as well. KawZula-Natal, a province located on the eastern coast of the country, was approved as a Geographical Unit (GU) for wine production in 2005. Vitis vinifera has been planted in the area since the 1990s, with the first wine estate—Stables Wine Estate, founded by Tiny and Judy van Niekerk—founded soon thereafter.  Since these beginnings, a  few other wine estates, including Cathedral Peak Wine Estate and Highgate Wine Estate, have been established as well. These properties focus on Pinotage, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay, The KwaZula-Natal GU currently contains two wine-producing appellations: within it: Central Drakensburg District and Lions River District.

New England Australia: New England Australia is the northernmost wine region (geographical indication) in New South Wales. Actually, it is located along the northern border of the NSW, touching the boundary of Queensland (and the Granite Belt Wine Region). The New England Australia region sits along the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range and extends westward into the region known as New England Tablelands. Most of the vineyards reside at elevations between 1,300 and 3,300 feet (400–1,000 meters) above sea level, making this area slightly cooler than the Hunter Valley Zone located on low-lying ground (to the south and west). The New England Australia Region holds the title for the highest-elevation vineyard in Australia, located near Black Mountain at an altitude of 4,330 feet (1,320 meters). The leading grapes of New England Australia mimic those found in most Australian regions—including Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvingon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Merlot—but a few interesting varieties, including Verdelho, Petite Sirah, and Gewürztraminer are found here as well.

Northern Cape, South Africa: South Africa’s Northern Cape Geographical Unit (and province) lies just to the north of the Western Cape, and stretches as far north as 28°S. Vineyards are sparse in this typically hot and dry area; however, it does contain three wine-producing wards: Central Orange River, Hartswater, and Prieska. The best-known of these—Central Orange River—is also the northernmost, however, the climate is moderated by the presence of the Orange River itself. The Orange River has its origins in the Drakensberg Mountains in Lesotho, and flows (generally) west for over 1,300 miles (2,100 km) before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean. The majority of the vineyards in the Central Orange River ward are located about 250 miles (400 km) inland from the coast, and planted on gravelly, alluvial soils. Traditionally, the region has been planted to white wine grapes (some used for bulk wine), but red grapes—including Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage, and Shiraz—are on the rise.

Serra Gaúcha: Serra Gaúcha, considered one of the six main wine-producing regions of Brazil, is located in the state of Río Grande do Sul—Brazil’s southern-most state (sitting just to the north of Uruguay). Serra Gaúcha is the biggest (and most important) wine region of Brazil, producing over 85% of the wine grapes and quality wine made in Brazil. The modern era of wine production in the region dates back to at least 1875, when a wave of Italian immigrants brought their knowledge and love of viticulture to the region. Serra Gaúcha built its reputation on Italian varieties—including Bonarda, Moscato, and Trebbiano. These days, however, international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are widely represented, and the area has become a leading producer of Brazilian sparling wine as well.

References/for more information:

Click here if you’d like to check out the rest of our “Mind Your Latitude” series. 

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

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