Mind your Latitude: 45° to 46° 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’re looking at latitude. Today, we present:  45 to 46 degrees South—and along with it, we enter into the “southernmost vineyard in the world” debate.

Central Otago: New Zealand’s Central Otago Region—located near the southern end of the South Island—seems to be the clear contender for “southernmost viticultural region and official geographical indication currently producing commercially viable wine.” Central Otago is one of New Zealand’s oldest winegrowing regions—a Central Otago “Burgundy” was awarded a Gold Medal at a 1881 wine competition in Sydney. However—despite this early success—cherries, apples, and nectarines were the leading agricultural crop in the region until the 1970s, when commercial viticulture began (again) in earnest.

Today, Central Otago is planted to over 1,873 hectares/4,630 acres of vines. The great majority (nearly 80%) is Pinot Noir. Other leading grapes include Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Chardonnay. Many of the vineyards of Central Otago are planted at high elevations, on rocky hillsides, and along steep river gorges. The Southern Alps provide a significant rain shadow and give this area a semi-continental climate as well as extreme annual and diurnal temperature fluctuations. As we all know, vineyards can thrive in these kinds of conditions—and the area’s intensely flavored Pinot Noir and aromatic white wines can certainly attest to this.

The Central Otago GI has six sub-regions; the southernmost—situated at 45°25’—is Alexandra. the Alexandra area is home to several producing vineyards, including Grasshopper Rock, Last Chance, and Legacy Vineyards.

For the record: the southernmost point of the Central Otago GI is located close to the town of Millers Flat, located at 45°66’S.

Chile Chico: Chile Chico is a tiny town located on the south shore of General Carrera Lake. General Carrera Lake—shared by Chile and Argentina (where it typically goes by the name of Lake Buenos Aires)—is surrounded by the Andes Mountains. The climate in this area is typically cold and humid, but certain swathes in the area enjoy a sunny, temperate microclimate. It is believed that some spots located along a narrow ridge of land—east of the ice floes and tucked into the Andes west of Chubut—could potentially sustain commercial viticulture. Apparently, the Torres Family believes the area has a future in viticulture, as the company has purchased a large parcel of land in the province of Coyhaique (at 45°43’S). According to the Miguel Torres Chile website, the purchase was made “taking climate change into account…as a project for future generations.” Who knows what the future may bring?

Sarmiento, Argentina: Sarmiento is located in the foothills of the Patagónides (a series of mountain ranges east of and parallel to the Andes) and tucked between two lakes (Lago Musters and Lago Colhué Huapí). In general, the area is challenging and subject to spring frosts, strong winds, and short summers. However, Sarmiento is one in a series of high-altitude plateaus spread across southern Chubut. Sarmiento benefits from the moderating influences of a series of nearby rivers and lakes, as well as the protective rain shadow of the taller mountains. This area has long been planted to cherry orchards; and—as of 2011—vineyards are being planted as well. Sarmiento’s latitude—reported as 45°59’S by Google Maps—certainly makes it a contender for the southernmost vineyards in the world.

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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