Drought threatens key Chilean regions

Chris Losh

Chris Losh

15 September 2016

Five years of drought have made life difficult for whole swathes of  some of Chile's most famous wine regions – and could even put the continued feasibility of some DOs at risk. While the 2016 summer was a wet one, it followed several of the driest years on record, with low levels of snowfall on the Andes meaning less meltwater in the rivers, and a lack of  water available for irrigation.

The Limarí vineyards
The Limarí vineyards

While long-established regions like Maipo and Colchagua are unaffected, areas like Casablanca are starting to worry about a lack of water. Leyda, too, which takes its water further downstream than Maipo, may struggle in years to come. 'Growers away from the river are pulling out their vines and putting in walnut trees because of the water scarcity,' said Peter Greet of Luis Felipe Edwards.

Worst affected, however, are the near-desert appellations of Elqui and, particularly, Limarí. Fifteen years ago, the latter was being touted as one of the star regions of the New Chile, with several wineries, particularly Concha y Toro, making large investments there.

'We have concentrated [our vineyards] and now we are growing the hectares that we can irrigate,' said Concha y Toro's chief winemaker, Marcelo Papa. 'In the past we imagined that we could grow more hectares – reality is hard but good!' Papa was confident that this year's rain has brought the region 'close to equilibrium' and says that Concha y Toro has plans to plant a further 200 hectares in the region in the next four years.

Others, however, remain pessimistic about the region's viability. 'Limarí is under threat for sure unless the drought breaks,' said Grant Phelps, winemaker at Casas del Bosque. 'The water shortage is definitely going to change the look of Chile's vineyard map.'

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