Region In Focus: Maipo Valley
- Chile’s most historic wine region
Chile is one of the world’s most diverse and dynamic New World wine regions and for good reason – its historical wine roots run deep. Nowhere is that more prevalent than in the Maipo Valley, arguably Chile’s most historic and famous wine region. In fact, it is here that wine first took hold in the 1550s and the rest, as they say, is history.
Maipo: The ‘Bordeaux of South America’
Vines were first introduced to Chile around 1554 when the Spanish conquistadors and missionaries first started planting vines in the country. With its close proximity to the capital city, Santiago, the Central Valley has become Chile’s most widely recognised wine region internationally.
The Central Valley is pinned in with Santiago to the north, the Andes to the east, the Coastal Mountains to the west. Within the Valley there are four wine growing subregions: Curicó Valley and the three named after the Maipo, Rapel and Maule rivers.
Maipo Valley has the hottest climate and it is the river that fills with snow melt every year that makes the wine region thrive. It is here, with the Andes as a dramatic backdrop, that the highest concentration of (and some of Chile’s most famous) bodegas can be found. It is the cradle of the Chilean wine industry and where in 1546 the País grape was first planted.
Following Chile’s independence from Spain in 1810, the country’s elite, who made their fortunes from mining and other industries, began to travel to France. Among the many things that made their way back across the Atlantic were vine cuttings. It was a stroke of luck that many of the vines that came to Chile during this time were pre-phylloxera. While France would later be devastated by the aphid, the Andes and the subsequent geographical isolation, helped to insulate Chilean vines.
Now known as the ‘Bordeaux of South America’, Maipo Valley is the home to some of Chile’s most famous wine companies including Concha y Toro, Santa Rita and Santa Carolina.
Maipo’s sea of diversity
Nearly 85% of all the wine produced in the Maipo region is red, with Cabernet Sauvignon its king. Due to its historical links with France, it’s not surprising to find that much of Maipo Valley is planted with Bordeaux varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Carmenère.
Although the region has the smallest vineyard area of the Central Valley, it is incredibly diverse. Within the region itself there are three different sub-regions:
- Maipo Alto
- Central Maipo (also known as Medio Maipo)
- and Bajo Maipo.
The sub-regions are named as much for the altitude as they are for their geography.
Maipo Alto is the the upper region and located in the foothills of the Andes. Here a combination of coarse-grained soils, altitude and winds that blow down from the mountainous peaks all make for a challenging terrain. It may not sound like ideal conditions for winemaking, but its that harsh terrain that forces the vines to fight and struggle for water and nutrients which help develop and more complex characteristics in the grapes.
Some vineyards can be found as high as 800m with more producers looking to move even higher up the slopes.
Within Maipo Alto are even smaller micro regions like Pirque and Puente Alto to the north, and Alto Jahuel and Huelquén to the south of area. The long sunny days and cool nights, thanks to the altitude, are perfect for growing Cabernet and for achieving ideal ripeness.
Medio Maipo, or Central Maipo, covers the region surrounding the Maipo River and is where rocky alluvial soils can be found. It is situated right in the middle of the valley, thus the name Medio meaning medium in Spanish, and sits between the highest parts of the Maipo Alto and the valley floor. It is the hottest and driest part of Maipo and vineyards here need drip irrigation to survive. As they also do in the vineyards of Maipo Alto.
Bajo Maipo encompasses the valley floor that is for the most part flat and is closer to the coastal range. While it too can be hot the micro region benefits from the maritime influences that can help moderate temperatures. This is where most white wine in Maipo is produced, which is dominated by Sauvignon Blanc.
Stats and figures
Total area: The Maipo province spans an area of 1,120.5 km2 (433 sq miles)
Total area under vines: 12,955 hectares
Red and white split: 85% of wine produces is red and 15% is white
- Cabernet Sauvignon dominates with 6,433 hectares
- Merlot: 1,103 hectares
- Carménère: 810 hectares
- Syrah: 975 hectares
- Chardonnay: 1,056 hectares
What its famous for: Bordeaux blends
The big players
Some of Chile’s most famous wine producing families had their start in Maipo and call the region home.
Concha y Toro and Santa Rita are two of the most famous producers in region. But other big name producers have moved in from around the world, including the Rothschilds with Almaviva, a joint project with Concha y Toro, and Los Vascos as well as William Févre, Jacques and François Lurton (Araucano) and the Marnier-Lapostolle family (Casa Lapostolle). All attracted by the opportunity to produce world-class wines in the region.
It is these Maipo-based wine producers that are the power houses of the Chilean wine industry, helping to drive exports around the world.
Companies like Concha y Toro are leading the way in driving Chilean exports, most noticeably to China where it now enjoys a free trade agreement. A deal that removed all tariffs of Chilean wine in 2016 resulting in China becoming Chile’s biggest export market up 27.5% in 2017 to US$266.97 million year-on-year, and volumes up 23.66% to more than 74.3 million litres. CYT’s own performance in 2017 saw year-on-year sales leaping 38.8% and a 4% increase in volumes to Asia.
With Chile’s star rising on the international wine stage, Maipo Valley will continue to play a critical role. Both because of its historical significance, but also because of the sheer diversity the region offers.