Limarí Valley: Land of Contrasts

The coastal breeze, the light and high soil minerality make Limarí an ideal valley for the production of fresh red and white varieties. And although persistent drought has made things difficult for winemakers in the area in recent years, the company’s efforts have yielded a successful 2014 vintage.

Cactus, peppers, hawthorns and small shrubs are the prevailing flora in the Limarí Valley. Located in the Fourth Region in northern Chile and with an annual average rainfall not exceeding 100 mm, this valley is characterized for not having a very fertile soil, so water must be treasured in reservoirs and dams for the irrigation of agricultural lands during the year. It is precisely in this context that Concha y Toro has managed to grow nearly a thousand hectares of vineyards, whose green color contrasts with the bare hillsides of Limarí.

A Privileged Climate and Soil

The climate and soil of Limarí Valley make it a unique place. Located 300 km north of Santiago, this transverse valley or watershed has a semi-arid coastal climate from Ovalle to the coast, where Concha y Toro has its vineyards. This climate is characterized by low rainfall, moderate temperature oscillation and exposure to the constant influence of sea breeze.

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“The permanent influence of cold winds from the sea cools the vineyards day and night, making this a relatively cool valley. Usually at night the ‘camanchaca’ or coastal fog appears, lowering the morning temperatures, and it dissipates around midday, letting the sunlight in”, explains Javier Villarroel, Senior enologist at Limarí Valley.

These climate conditions make this valley ideal for growing white varieties such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and Pinot Gris, as well as cooler red varieties such as Pinot Noir and cold weather Syrah.

Furthermore, the soils of Limarí are of a unique typicality, with the presence of calcium carbonate in different strata, giving an intense mineral character to the wines. This valley is also very rich in clay, which holds water and nutrients, being especially favorable for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Javier-Villarroel
Javier Villarroel, Senior enologist at Limarí Valley

According to Javier, who lives in Limarí since the winery started winemaking in the valley in 2005, “Limarí’s climate and the presence of calcium carbonate in the soil produce a natural acidity in the wines, which results in notable stone aromas. The case of Chardonnay is very interesting because when it grows in cold climate such as that of Limarí there is no expression of tropical fruits, typical of warm climate Chardonnay. Also, the fruit aromas are mild. If you add the presence of calcium carbonate in the soil, the aromas of carbonate will outstand in the wine”.

Limarí’s freshness and the minerality of its soil, explains the enologist, make this valley one of the best places in Chile for the production of Chardonnay: “In this valley you don’t have to make great efforts to produce an excellent Chardonnay. As winemakers, here we don’t have to force things to make a special wine, but only attend to its production, since the favorable conditions for this grape variety occur naturally”.

Water, A Scarce Resource

Despite the privileged climate conditions and soil of the valley for vine growing, the low winter rainfall makes it necessary to gather the water required for irrigation in reservoirs and dams during each season. However, in recent years Limarí has seen a considerable reduction in its water reserves, now reaching worrying levels, which has led the winery to take strong measures to mitigate the effects.

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“Because there is less snow in the Andes, which is our main source of water in the valley, for third consecutive year there has been consistent drought in Limarí, pushing us to be much more organized and efficient with irrigation, since the moment the plant sprouts until harvest time”, explains Javier.

Thanks to this irrigation efficiency and logistics, says the enologist, “we have managed to maintain the expected quality and returns in the vineyard, achieving a successful 2014 harvest, representative of the virtues that this valley gives us”.

It is the convergence of theses factors, including climate, soil, vineyard and the work of man, that has made it possible to shape the seven vineyards that are now the pride of the company in this land of cactus and hawthorns, and which each year surprise producing wines imprinted with Limarí’s personality.

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The winery’s efforts in the valley have been focused on the production of wines in the premium and above segment, two of its distinguished representatives being Marques de Casa Concha in its varieties Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The latter, in its 2012 vintage, obtained 93 points and was described as an “impressive” wine on the website of renowned English critic Tim Atkin in March this year.

“I feel very happy because we have had very good results in this valley, producing one of the best fresh whites and reds made by the company. I think we still have not seen the full potential of this area, because I am convinced that with these conditions and with all the work we have been doing, we will get very far and produce the best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the country”, convincingly says Javier.

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