South American vintage update

Both side of the Andes have been affected by untimely rain this year producing one of the most ‘oenologically challenging’ vintages in recent times, particularly in Chile, according to Santa Rita Estates’ director of vitiviniculture Eduardo Alemparte.

He reports: “It was known from the outset that the season would be influenced by the El Niño current, which dominated the vintage with significant delays in grape development. This finally culminated in abundant precipitation in the central zone which was especially concentrated in Casablanca, Rapel, Maipo and Colchagua Valley. A record amount of very heavy rain fell specifically between April 14 – 17, a key red grape picking time in this year’s vintage.”

The result has been a challenging year with red varieties being hardest hit resulting in decreased yields.

He reports that Santa Rita Estates did manage to harvest all of its white grape varieties, Pinot Noir and Limarí Syrah along with some of their premium Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenère before the rains hit.
“1998 was the last vintage to be significantly affected by the El Niño current but with nothing like the amount of rain that fell this year,” said Alemparte. “With the decrease in volume and the inconsistent quality of some of the grapes price increases are expected across the Chilean wine industry, especially in mass-consumption wines.

“At the industry level, production is estimated to be down 25%. The Santa Rita and Carmen red grape crops are down an estimated 10% however the real impact of the April rains will be known later in the year when the winemaking process is fully complete. Santa Rita Estates do expect to be able to meet the demands of all of our customers.”
Argentina did experience some heavy rain during harvest but nothing like that in Chile. Syrah was the main victim but Santa Rita reports the majority of its Doña Paula brandred grapes being picked prior to the rainfall.
Alemparte said: “One area yielding some excellent grapes in Chile is Cauquenes which saw considerably less of the rain covering the rest of the country. Gualtallary, in Argentina’s Uco Valley, along with other well drained areas were also largely unaffected by rain and have produced some excellent grapes.  
“Although the overall harvest was complicated, wines made from red grapes picked prior to the rainfall are expected to be of good quality. The same can be said of the Chardonnays and Syrah’s that were picked early (with good ripeness, such as those from Limarí) and Pinot Noir from Leyda. Another plus is with both Chilean and Argentinian vintages running late alcohol levels are predominantly low and the resulting extraordinary freshness of the wines is a positive outcome from one of the most trying vintages in recent years,” said Alemparte.