A lack of water in the northern Chilean regions of Elqui and Limarí is leading to the death of vineyards as grape growers struggle to irrigate their vines.
Cracked earth in the Atacama desert near Elqui and Limarí
Speaking to the drinks business on the subject, Max Weinlaub, winemaker at Viña Maipo said: “Chile is more restricted by water than space to plant at the moment.
“Both Elqui and Limarí are suffering terrible droughts and water supply problems. It’s been going on for three years as there is no melt water from the mountains.
Tamaya: one of the leading producers in Limarí
“Winemakers are letting their vineyards die as they are unable to look after them. This is the worst cycle in 14 years. Producers in the regions are being forced to decide which parts of their vineyards they want to keep and are irrigating those specific plots.”
According to FreshFruitPortal.com, in late 2014 the Center for the Study of Arid Zones reported an 80% depletion of reservoirs and a 60% decline in mountain snow cover in Elqui.
The Northern Agricultural Society reports that 41% of Elqui’s 27,000 hectares of planted land used for grape growing and fruit production are no longer irrigated, while only 20,000 of Limarí’s 71,000 hectares are currently watered.
The report puts fruit production in Elqui as down by 45%, while Limarí has been worse hit, with production in the region down by 80%.
“Vineyards in Elqui that have been subject to drought have decreased production and in some cases have been abandoned,” said Andrea Sanchez Zwanzger, head of sustainable development for VSPT.
“This has mainly occurred in the valley’s high zones designated for Pisco and table grape production where there is a great need for water and high water-pumping costs,” she added.
While the grapes grown in Elqui and Limarí are used predominantly for Pisco, there are a number of high profile producers in the regions, such as Tabalí and Tamaya in Limarí and Viña Falernia and Viña Mayu in Elqui.
Weinlaub believes that the difficult situation in the north of the country is changing Chile’s wine map and driving producers to plant further south.
“The future for Chilean winemaking lies in the south of the country – climate change is pushing things in a new direction and producers are looking south to regions like Bío Bío,” he said.