Visiting Leyda on a Freezing Fog Day
We’d been warm earlier that same afternoon just 45 minutes drive inland in Casablanca but the coast surrounded us with afternoon fog. Arriving in the first vineyards planted in Leyda Valley, we were welcomed with intense cold and humidity, results of the Humboldt Current that stretches along the Chilean coast bringing cold up from Antarctica. Winegrowing is new to the region. The oldest vines less than 15 years old, and considered one of the important recent innovations of the country’s quality wine.
Prior to 1998, no vines grew in the Leyda Valley, 80 minutes drive Northwest from Santiago. A small village surrounded by pasture land rested in the region that had once been a rest stop on a vacationers’ train ride. In 1998, the Viña Leyda team identified the area as home for potential cool climate viticulture and began extensive soil studies, followed by planting.
In 2001, the same team filed paperwork for a new designation, the Leyda Valley zone of San Antonio Valley. The Leyda DO was born within the coastal region of Aconcagua. Since, the sector has proven home to quality wine production unique to the country and other producers have joined Viña Leyda. Though the majority of vines through the area are still young, the quality of wines showing proves already pleasing while also promising, offering some of the finest cool climate viticulture in Chile. As vines age, quality should deepen. Leyda is an area to seek wines from now, while also keeping an eye on.
looking towards the indiscernible coast–on a clear day it’s visible
Viña Leyda has primarily established Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay through the region, with small plots of Riesling and Syrah also growing. What began as an 80 hectare project has expanded to 230 hectares today. The plantings stand at 180 m/590 ft in elevation, receiving cool night temperatures, heavy morning fog, and afternoon ocean breezes.
Water concerns in growing regions are a common theme in Chile. To establish the Leyda project, petitions were filed to divert water from the Maipo River through an 8 kilometer pipeline. In bringing water for the vineyards, running water was also established for the nearby village of Leyda for the first time. The Viña Leyda team is in the process of working with the village on further development projects.
Winemaker Viviana Navarrete explains that each small block of their 230 hectares are vinified separately. The commitment of the overall project is to learn a new region thoroughly, and in so doing generate the finest quality the place has to offer. Towards those ends, ferments are done in small lots tracked to vineyard sections. Such information is returned too to future vineyard planning. All vineyard work is hand done.
Vineyard manager, Tomas Rivera, brought us far into the vineyard to showcase one of the regions gifts–the soil. As he explained, the team sees their Leyda site as offering three terroirs in one — the site is very close to the ocean, it contains a predominance of alluvial soils, and incorporates lots of rocks and stones. With the proximity to the ocean frost does not impact the area. With the intense fog, ripening occurs slowly allowing integration of characteristics in the fruit.
Looking into the hole, Tomas shows us three levels of soil — in the top 20 cm/7.8 in, the ground is predominately sandy loam; the mid-zone holds more rocks while also more clay and decomposed fertile soil; below 80 cm/31.5 in granitic soils, alluvial rocks appear. Limestone also bands through portions of the vineyard. The granite offers great tension to the core of the wine, the limestone intensifying length. The clay in the mid-zone means even during long periods without rain, roots are able to absorb water.
The wines of Viña Leyda, across a range of styles, share a stimulating mineral focus, with almost sinewy structure and vibrant flavors. The Pinots are nice quality, and enjoyable, but my favorite rested in the single vineyard Sauvignon Blancs, which show a complexity and interest rarely discussed in what can be an under appreciated grape.
More on the wines of Viña Leyda in a future post.
Thank you to Viviana Navarrete, Leandro Remedi, and Tomas Rivera.
Thank you to Marilyn Krieger, David Greenberg, and Alfredo Bartholomaus.
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