Reaching far to the north of Chile are the Limari and Elqui Valleys whose climate, despite being so close to the equator, are classified as cool climate growing areas.
Limari Valley, though considered a generally new region, has a winemaking history dating back to the 16th century. What makes this a “new” region, however, is the innovation and technology combined with exploration of new microterroirs that have shed new light on the region’s potential.
The Limari Valley is greatly affected by the cooling morning fog that is caused by the Pacific Ocean which covers the area in the morning, but clears as the afternoon’s hot sun rises. The region is very dry – less than 4 inches of rain annually – but irrigation has made vine growing possible here. The lack of water, however, encourages the vines to dig deep into the soils and, in turn, there is a pronounced effect of minerality found in the wines. The variation in soils consisting of clay, silt, and chalk allow for expressive cool-climate wines such as Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah to flourish here. Limari is further divided into four areas Ovalle, Monte Patria, Punitaqui, and Rio Hurtado.
Stretching further to the north is the Elqui Valley located just south of the Atacama Dessert famed for being the driest desert in the world. Traditionally, the Elqui Valley was best known for the production of grapes to produce Pisco, but in recent years winegrowers have explored outer parts of the region such as along the coast and on the slopes of the Andes Mountains which are cooled by the winds from the Pacific Ocean. What they’ve found is that the region is ideal for planting cool-climate grapes such as Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. The region’s dry Pedro Ximenez wines have been shown great interest by exploratory sommeliers who are looking to push the boundaries. Within the Elqui Valley there are two sub-regions: Vicuna and Paiguano.
Like the Limari Valley, Eliqui’s rainfall is very low here at just 2.8 inches per year, but the rocky terrain allows vines to burrow deep into the clay, silt, and chalk soils for moisture and nutrients. Apart from wine production, Elqui is well-known for its clear skies and famed for the world-class observatories located there.
The exploration of new regions in Chile has allowed for the increasing production of cool-climate wines which offer lower alcohol and showcase more of the grapes’ and regions’ character. Despite both regions remaining relatively small in terms of wine production there has been increasing interest from wineries throughout the country; these Valleys are definitely two to watch.