Malleco Valley is the southernmost wine-growing region in Chile, some 340 miles (540km) south of the capital, Santiago. The region is particularly challenging to grape growers because of its marginal climate, high rainfall and short growing season, but the crisp, fresh wines produced here are beginning to attract attention – particularly those made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
The wine industry in Malleco Valley is still in its embryonic stages, and there is less than 100 acres (40ha) under vine here. Most vineyards lie around the town of Traiguen, just south of the Bio Bio Valley, and a large portion of these belong to the Vina Aquitania wine estate of Maipo Valley.
The cold climate here is at the extreme of what is suitable for winemaking, and the relatively short growing season limits what varieties growers are able to plant in Malleco Valley. The high rainfall – 51 inches (1300mm) a year – is a far cry from the semi-arid regions in the north of Chile such as Aconcagua, and growers must plan accordingly.
However, there are advantages to being this far south: vineyards enjoy more hours of sunlight than in more northerly regions, and the nights are considerably cooler than the days. This diurnal temperature variation slows the ripening period of the grapes, and as a result the wines of Malleco Valley have a fresh, racy acidity that complements their varietal character.
Malleco Valley's red clay and sandy soils are volcanic in origin and are reasonably well drained – essential, given the area's high levels of rainfall. The lack of water held in the ground means that the vines have to work harder for hydration, and as a consequence will develop less energy-sapping foliage and lower yields of grapes. The wines produced from these grapes have more-concentrated flavors and excellent structure.
While Malleco Valley is Chile's most southerly wine region at latitude 38°S, it is hardly the world's – Central Otago in New Zealand is at latitude 47°S, and Malleco Valley's latitudinal counterpart in the northern hemisphere is closer to Alicante than it is to Burgundy.