Wine producing countries with a tradition of in-your-face tannins and big bold bottles are having a change of heart nowadays as wine drinkers are shying away from the tantastic and trends point out to a preference for smoother and more delicate wines, which are often achieved in cool climate regions. It’s happening in California, in Australia and Argentina, and Chile is not a stranger to this endeavour.
The country’s map has been redrawn and as it keeps growing, so does Chile’s reputation for finer wines and for top quality products from independent winemakers. We recently spoke with Chilean winemaker Viviana Navarrete, who leads the team at Viña Leyda, Leyda Valley’s pioneer and one of the main forces behind the recognition of the region, which was only added to the country’s list back in 1998.
“The name Leyda comes from the Spanish La Ida, which means ‘the way'”, Viviana says, referring to the road to the nearby beaches. She explains that the train station in the area -which inspired Viña Leyda’s label- was a stop along the path that would take tourists to the seaside and locals would sell candy and crafts to them. The arrival of visitors on busy season would be a very happy occurrence and the source of joyful memories for both tourists and locals alike.
Viviana, who has worked with Viña Leyda for a decade, was formerly part of the Chilean wine juggernaut that is Concha y Toro. When asked about her feelings about moving from one of the country’s biggest wineries to a small and relatively unknown company, she recalls it was “very motivating” as she found real excitement in the challenge of working in a region she’s deeply passionate about.
When they called me to work at Viña Leyda, I didn’t think it twice”
Location and climate: The Leyda Valley is located west of Santiago and 14 km from the Pacific Ocean. It has a cool coastal climate with a dry summer and moderate winter rains. The maritime influence protects the vines from frost and a there’s a variation of up to 13 degrees in temperature between day and night as well as plenty of sunshine.
A very young valley: Leyda Valley became a wine region in 1998 after the Fernández Family undertook an ambitious project in partnership with the Chilean government: the construction of an 8 km pipeline that would source water from the Maipo river for irrigation.
Leyda namesakes: In 2002, the area received official DO status and by then, the Leyda name was already registered for Viña Leyda, which -in a brilliant marketing move- means that the name is both the one of the winery and of the valley itself. The Fernández family is not involved in the company anymore, but their legacy for boutique production and innovation lives on.
Three different vineyards: Currently Viña Leyda owns 182 hectares in the region, divided in three vineyards. The oldest one was planted in 1998 and it’s called La Arboleda; it’s 20 hectares and the grapes planted there are Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. The second one, planted in 2002, is called El Maitén and across its 85 hectares it has Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah growing. The third and newest, El Granito, was planted in 2010 and it’s 75 hectares with Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris and Pinot Noir grow.
Starring Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc: Viviana explains that while several varieties show potential, they’re currently focusing in exploring Pinot Noir, and she mentions the possibility of a rosé being added to the range in the near future. Besides the red grape, Sauvignon Blanc is also an important variety for Viña Leyda, and compared to other world savs, Viviana mentions that is a bit less green and more restrained than what you might find on a country like New Zealand. Citrus sorbet and herbal notes are among her descriptors of choice.
“We are trying to make the best Pinot Noir in Chile”, says Viviana with a lightness that almost causes dissonance given the difficulty of her ambitious self-imposed challenge. While Chile has been traditionally known for its Carmenere, Cabernet Sauvignon and Metlot, Pinot Noir -and to a lesser extent, Syrah- from the country has earned respect in recent years and it’s only getting better.
Viviana explains that until not long ago “people were planting Pinot Noir in incorrect ways, now we’ve realised that it has to be planted in cool climates.”
She also points out how affordable good Chilean Pinot Noir is. “In Burgundy, even a Villages is expensive, and at that level, the quality can be anywhere. In Leyda, you can expect consistent quality.” Regarding the most exciting Pinot Noir she has worked on, Viviana points out Lot 21, a “very challenging” bottle from a variety that “always pushes you to work hard and study.”
If Pinot Noir from Leyda was a person, what would she or he be like?
“He’d be a very elegant man. For me, Pinot Noir would be a thin, elegant man. A bit shy, not shouty, with nerve and an intellectual personality.” As we conclude the interview and move on to taste Viña Leyda’s wines, I can see the analogy works: They are subtle and tasteful, one can almost imagine their human counterpart at a bistro, with a glass of red in one hand and a poetry book in the other, perhaps reading Chilean Nobel Prize winning author Pablo Neruda’s Ode to Wine, which by the way describes our experience in an uncannily accurate manner.
as a golden sword,
as lascivious velvet,
and full of wonder,
Leyda Falaris Cahrdonnay 2013
€17.95 – Available at O’Briens Wine
Light gold and with aromas of pineapple and lemon drizzle cake, complemented on the palate by a mineral presence.
Medium bodied and with the delicate toasted note that a 10-month maturing period in oak brings.
Leyda Syrah Reserva 2014
€13.95 – Available at O’Briens Wine
Plump and with moderate tannins, this explosion of forrest fruit and pepper is smooth and exuberant.
Well rounded and with a touch of vanilla, it’s just the right balance between intensity and freshness.
Leyda Pinot Noir Las Brisas 2012
€17.95 – Available at O’Briens Wine
The name translates as the breezes, which abound in granite rich plots from which Pinot Noir grapes for this wine come from.
Aromas and flavours of cranberry and red cherry impact with an intense concentration. Structured, with a lean body and silky tannins.
Illustration via modernadepueblo.com
For more information visit leyda.cl
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.