Maipo Valley: Seat of wine-nobility
Wealthy landowners laid the foundations for today’s Chilean wine wonder. Most of them set up grand estates south of the city in the 19th century, where, along with horse-breeding, wine cultivation has long been carried out. Today, these residences and their legendary vineyards have been enveloped by the city as it expands outward into the countryside. But many of the most prestigious Chilean red wines still originate here. Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère and Syrah are the area’s leading varieties.
Red wines from Maipo
Maipo is the northernmost sub-region of the Valle Central, and has a distinctly hot climate. For this reason, particularly concentrated, high-quality assemblages with aging potential have been produced here based on Cabernet Sauvignon for generations. While many Maipo wineries have invested in new vineyards in Chile’s cooler growing areas to produce more elegant wines, Maipo has not lost any of its reputation for magic. On the contrary: the majority of Chilean cult wines (also called icon wines) are still grown here, in the southern outskirts of the metropolis of Santiago. Old stocks of true-rooted (ungrafted) Cabernet vineyards play an important role here.
Terroir for top Cabernets
With its approximately 12,000 hectares of vines, the Maipo Valley is divided into three distinct zones. In Alto Maipo, grapes ripen in the foothills of the Andes at altitudes of up to 800 metrs. The microclimate is shaped by the nearby mountains, especially because of the nightly winds, which provide for cool nights. It is a terroir of very well-structured, elegant Cabernet Sauvignon wines. It is warmer in Central Maipo, where most sites in the valley floor are located. It is here that the classic, concentrated Maipo Cabernet is grown, providing Chile with its image of quality as early as the 80s and 90s. Finally, the Pacific Maipo area, which is small relative to vineyard area, comprises the western part of the valley, where the cool influence of the Pacific is stronger. White varieties such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon play an important secondary role here.
In general, a Mediterranean climate dominates in the Maipo Valley. Precipitation is low, at only 320 millimetres per year per square metre, such that irrigating the vineyards is often essential. The soils here are distinctively sandy (a perfect defence against phylloxera). More gravel occurs in eastern areas, while the terroir in the west is influenced by a higher proportion of clay.