Five days after one of the strongest earthquakes on record rocked central Chile, causing immense property and infrastructure damage and more than 800 deaths across the rural Maule and Bío Bío regions, it appears as though the country’s vital wine industry is in relatively good shape, emphasis on the word “relatively.”
Virtually all wineries contacted by WE reported suffering at least some damage to equipment, barrels, tanks and buildings, and there is still unquantified but widespread loss of wine that had been resting in tanks or aging in barrels. But overall, the consensus among Chilean wineries is that despite estimated losses of $500 million or more, things could have been much worse, and that the 2010 harvest, which is just now beginning, will take place at a level near entirety.
“We were very lucky,” said Cyril de Bournet, husband of Alexandra Marnier-Lapostolle, the founder of Casa Lapostolle in Colchagua. “We had nobody injured or killed. The wine cellar at Apalta was untouched, and the harvest will go on.”
In a statement, José Miguel Viu, president of Viu Manent, located close to Casa Lapostolle in Colchagua, said his vineyards, “the foundation of our production…are very much intact and in the caring hands of our committed agricultural team. With respect to wine, an initial quantification shows that losses do not exceed 15%, mostly resulting from the collapse of some of our largest tanks, some barrels and some bottled wine. In terms of infrastructure, our tourism area suffered the greatest damage, with the collapse of a portion of the Llavería, an old adobe building” used as a visitors center and shop. “As a result, we will be unable to receive visitors for a few months.”
Damage was worse at wineries in Maule, located about 70 miles south of Colchagua, but maybe not as bad as initial reports indicated. For example, at J. Bouchon (photos above), export director Carlos Lamoliatte said the winery lost about 150,000 liters of wine from stainless steel tanks and more from lost barrels, but that bottled wine survived the quake. “We have been damaged by the earthquake but we believe it could have been much worse.”
And at the Francisco Gillmore winery (also in Maule), winemaker Andrés Sanchez said things are bad but not grave. “Our guest house in inoperable due to damage, but the winery resisted pretty well even though a number of barrels fell and broke. Fortunately we bottled the 2008 vintage just a week before, and that is fine. Now our efforts are all about getting the winery operative before the harvest, which should take a few weeks more.”
Other winery owners are just now getting back to Chile after being away on business when the quake struck. Aurelio Montes commented from India on Monday that he was stuck there and unable to get back to Chile to assess the damages. And just today, Miguel Torres Jr., who in January took over the reins of his family’s Curicó winery, said it took him 40 hours to get back to Chile from the United States. “I got to Mendoza (Argentina), but had to take a bus across the Andes, which is what many people are doing. Driving back to Curicó, the visible damage doesn’t really beging until you get down here. In Santiago, you don’t see much damage besides some broken windows and a few cracks in the pavement.”