Old vines up in smoke as Chile burns

Drinks: Drinks, Wines
Location: Chile

Chile is counting the cost of two weeks of wildfires that have burned down entire villages and ripped the heart out of some of the country’s oldest vineyards.

The cause of the fires is being blamed on a combination of years of drought, high winds and high summer temperatures. There have been 136 reported fires, of which 63 are under control, 72 are being fought and one is totally extinguished.

Around 94 hectares are estimated to have been lost, the majority – 75ha – in the Maule, with 7ha in Colchagua, and 10ha in Pirque – one of the premium vineyard areas of the Maipo Valley.

Although the overall acreage lost to the fire is not enormous, its effect is still significant. According to Wines of Chile ‘the smaller producers [in Maule]have been most affected… and the wonderful dry farmed old vines have been among the main casualties.’

It’s estimated that over 30% of the valley was made up of the kind of old, dry-farmed vines (mostly Pais and Carignan) that have been exciting wine buyers and sommeliers all over the world, and adding an extra layer of interest to Chile’s wine offering.

Even undamaged vineyards may still be affected by smoke taint.

‘The loss of vineyards is always a lamentable situation but the fact that the initial reports show that those affected are in particular smaller producers who have only recently risen into the limelight with the emergence of Itata, Carignan & Pais from old vines makes it that much sadder,’ said Ben Gordon CEO of Bodega Volcanes de Chile. ‘However this same area has bounced back following the 2010 earthquake and I have no doubt they will do so again.’

Derek Mossman, of Garage Wines, believes that ‘the vines will recover if the locals do the work.’ Though he admits that ‘with really poor prices over the past few years some are disheartened for sure.’

The government has declared a state of emergency in some areas, and Wines of Chile is already working with other Chilean wine associations, such as MOVI & VIGNO to ensure that growers who have been affected receive resources and help to get them back on their feet again.

About Author

Chris Losh

After five years working on My Weekly magazine (during which time he learned how to write horoscopes and make things out of mince) in 1995 Chris Losh entered the world of drinks writing and, despite all advice from his doctor – and the wishes of most South African winemakers – has stayed there ever since. He began on Wine and Spirit International, editing it for several years before moving on to edit Wine Magazine. Both publications have since gone the way of the Dodo, but he claims to have nothing to do with their demise, and his alibi appears solid, since he was freelance writing for anyone who would pay him at the time. In 2007, he helped to set up both Imbibe magazine and the Sommelier Wine Awards, and has spent much of the last three years eating, drinking, and listening to French sommeliers talk about minerality. In 2009 he was shortlisted for the Louis Roederer Feature Writer of the Year, but didn’t win. Perhaps he should have stuck to horoscopes. And mince.

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