Old vines up in smoke as Chile burns

Chris Losh

Chris Losh

02 February 2017

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.

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