Chilean Wine Producers Hit by Frost

Source: Wine Spectator

Chilean Wine Producers Hit by Frost

Chardonnay and Pinot Noir buds damaged by freezing nights, but winemakers say it's too early to panic
Mitch Frank

Posted: October 16, 2013

Two severe frosts have left Chilean winemakers facing a small harvest for 2014, months before they'll pick the first grapes. But they are cautiously optimistic that quality will be good, even if there is less wine, and believe the industry can weather the damage. "It will be a difficult year for small farmers, and the government is coming to their rescue," said Aurelio Montes of Viña Montes. "The bigger wineries will have a short supply of 2014 grapes, but will be totally covered by the surplus in stock."

The frosts may have been the worst in 80 years, according to early estimates by the country's agricultural department. From Sept. 20–30, temperatures hovered around freezing in wine regions from Coquimbo in the north to Bio Bio in the south. The coastal regions of Casablanca and Leyda bore the worst damage, but the Central Valley was also hurt.

"In our case, the frost damage in the Casablanca Valley affected our Chardonnay and Pinot Noir plantings, where we will see lower cluster counts of up to 30 percent," said Rodrigo Soto, director of winemaking at Veramonte Chile. "Other varieties—Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and others—have not shown any damage to this date." Chardonnay and Pinot bud earlier than other varieties, often in September rather than October, so they were most vulnerable.

While reports from other regions echoed that yields could be down 20 to 30 percent, growers caution it is too early to know until the vine shoots start to grow. Fruit trees, another important crop for Chile, suffered far worse losses.

"At this point, even though we are working on an evaluation, it is really impossible to have a certain figure," said Marcelo Papa, winemaker for Concha y Toro. "In November we will see blooms and let's see." Several winemakers say they enjoyed large crops in 2013, so they don't expect to suffer too much from a shortage of wine.

They do caution, however, that they're not carefree. "Risk of frost in Chile normally finishes in November, so we are on alert," said Papa. "We are crossing our fingers."