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El Niño wreaks havoc on 2016 Chile harvest

The El Niño current has wreaked havoc on the 2016 Chilean harvest causing heavy rains that have wiped out a large chunk of the grape crop.

The plus side of the El Niño current is that it has led to blankets of bright flowers blooming in the acrid Atacama desert for the first time in seven years

Eduardo Alemparte, director of viticulture at Santa Rita Estates, described 2016 as “one of the most oenologically challenging vintages in recent times”.

“It was known from the outset that the season would be influenced by the El Niño current, which dominated the vintage with significant delays in grape development,” he said.

“This culminated in abundant rain in the central zone concentrated in Casablanca, Rapel, Maipo and Colchagua Valley.

Eduardo Alemparte with wine writer Douglas Blyde in Chile last December

“A record amount of heavy rain fell between 14-17 April; a key red grape picking time. 1998 was the last vintage to be significantly affected by the El Nino current but with nothing like the amount of rain that fell this year,” he added.

Red varieties have been hardest hit by the rains in Chile and yields across the country are said to be down by 25%, though Cauquenes largely escaped the deluge and has produced “some excellent grapes” according to Alemparte.

He also reports that Santa Rita was able to harvest all of its white grapes along with its Pinot Noir and Limarí Syrah and its top Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenère before the rains hit. Red yields are down by 10% at Santa Rita.

With the decrease in volume and the inconsistent quality of some of the grapes, price increases are expected across the Chilean wine industry, especially in entry level and bulk wines.

On the plus side, alcohol levels will be lower and freshness will be higher in the reds. The full impact of the rains won’t be known until the wines are made. Across the Andes, parts of Argentina managed to escape the worst of the rains.

“Argentina experienced some heavy rain during harvest but nothing like that in Chile. Syrah was the main victim with the majority of our Doña Paula red grapes being picked prior to the rainfall.

“Gualtallary in the Uco Valley, along with other well drained areas were largely unaffected by rain and have produced some excellent grapes,” Alemparte told db.

“Although the overall harvest was complicated, wines made from red grapes picked prior to the rainfall are expected to be of good quality.

“The same can be said of the Chardonnays and Syrah’s that were picked early, with good ripeness, such as those from Limarí and Pinot Noir from Leyda,” he added.

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