Chile’s Wine Industry Wounded (But Largely Spared) by Massive Earthquake

Wineries in the southerly volume-oriented regions of Maule, Curicó and Bío Bío are expected to log the most severe damage.


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The impact of the 8.8-level earthquake that struck central Chile early February 27 will be felt long after the terremoto’s aftershocks subside. However, based on early reports, things could have been worse for Chile’s wine industry: Initial news indicates that damages have mostly been limited to losing wine from previous vintages that was being held in tanks and barrels. For the most part, the 2010 harvest was just beginning to get into gear, with some white grapes already picked or scheduled for picking, but with red grapes still on the vines.

Wineries in the southerly volume-oriented regions of Maule, Curicó and Bío Bío are expected to log the most severe damage, with local towns in ruins, tens of thousands of residents homeless or displaced, and questions about lost wine stocks and the immediate future of the 2010 vintage mounting.

 ”We had not started the harvest. When that happens will be up to when we can get water and electricity at the winery,” said José Manuel Ortega, chairman of O. Fournier, which began making wine in Maule only in recent years. “We have been working since Saturday. I am on my way there. This harvest looked so exceptional in quality, but that is life. Things can change in a second.”

François Lurton, the owner of Hacienda Araucano in the village of Lolol in the Colchagua Valley, said he had dispatched his chief winemaker in Mendoza, Argentina, to survey the scene. In a phone interview from France, Lurton said he hoped to be in Chile by Wednesday in order to help local workers get back on their feet and to re-establish vital services.

 “We have water, but we need electricity to run the destemmers and presses. Fortunately, only white grapes are ready now," said Lurton. "Overall, this is more of a human tragedy than a wine disaster. We have heard of 40 deaths in Santa Cruz [Colchagua’s main population center], and most of our local workers have lost their homes. Our Lolol cellars are in good shape because we are built into a hill, but in San Fernando vats have fallen and more than 20,000 bottles are broken.”

Just 48 hours post quake, it is damage to property, barrels, tanks and previously bottled wine that seems to be the biggest issue facing Chilean wineries. “I haven’t been able to communicate with Maule, but in Maipo barrels have fallen and broken. There is wine everywhere in the bodegas,” said Marcelo Papa, winemaker for Concha y Toro.

Although not confirmed, one of the hardest hit wineries was allegedly J. Bouchon in the Loncomilla region of the Maule Valley. Reports are that Bouchon’s winery and colonial-style guest house are in rubble.

“We have damage to the winery. Our housekeeping quarters completely collapsed,” said José Miguel Viu, owner of the Viu Manent winery in Colchagua. “But fortunately everyone from the VM team is o.k.”

The mammoth earthquake, which struck at 3:34 a.m. local time this past Saturday, had its epicenter directly off the Maule coast. Since the weekend, news reports have been stating that much of Maule suffered heavy damage and some carnage, and that the region’s largest city, Talca, is in total shambles. Roughly 150 miles to the north, however, the capital city of Santiago fared much better, as did northerly wine regions including Casablanca, Leyda and Limarí.

        

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