South America counts cost of frost

Producers on both sides of the Andes are reporting significant damage to their earliest flowering varieties as a result of the severe frosts which hit many regions last month.

Santa Rita Estates' Leyda vineyard, one of the worst hit areas

Santa Rita Estates’ Leyda vineyard, one of the worst hit areas

Among the Chilean vineyards belonging to Santa Rita Estates, which span Maipo, Colchagua and Casablanca, vineyards in the latter region experienced the most severe damage from the sudden mid-September cold spell, the country’s worst frost in 84 years.

“Leyda in the flat areas was especially damaged,” reported Sebastian Labbé, the group’s head winemaker for its Carmen brand, although he noted that irrigation sprinklers helped to create a protective “igloo” around many of the vines. Meanwhile in Maipo the producer managed to limit damage by using helicopters to circulate air.

Although the full scale of the damage will not become clear until later in the growing season, Labbé estimated that the country as a whole was likely to see total volumes fall by “15-18%” as a result of the frost.

“The main problems were for Merlot, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – the early flowering ones,” he reported. “Sauvignon Blanc flowers a little later so it was ok.”

Over in Argentina’s viticultural heartland of Mendoza, Doña Paula head winemaker David Bonomi suggested that “about 50%” of the producer’s Chardonnay had been affected. However

Heaters guard against frost at Doña Paula's Los Indios vineyards in Uco Valley

Heaters guard against frost at Doña Paula’s Los Indios vineyards in Uco Valley

he too emphasised: “we don’t know if that’s 50% of production,” pointing to the likelihood of new shoots forming at this early stage in the growing season.

Nevertheless, Bonomi indicated the significance of this frost for Argentina’s Chardonnay, which with 20,000 hectares planted across Mendoza, he described as the country’s “most important white variety.”

As with Chile, Bonomi confirmed that the freezing conditions arrived before other white grapes or the country’s flagship variety Malbec had begun to produce shoots.

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