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Wine Spectator Provides Sneak Peek At Argentina, Chile Vintages

June 2, 2011

Wine Spectator has published a preliminary assessment of the 2010-2011 vintage in Argentina and Chile. In Argentina, an early, severe frost in Mendoza, Argentina’s leading wine region, set the tone for a challenging 2011 vintage for winemakers, who also had to battle periods of high winds, hail, drought and heavy rain. Cool temperatures throughout the season delayed maturation, but an Indian summer ripened grapes before harvest. Winemakers are expecting elegantly styled wines, with higher acidity levels than usual. Santiago Achával, president of Achával-Ferrer, said the frost, which hit in the second week of November, was the worst since 1992 and caused vines to lose flowers and experience poor fruit set. Damage was intermittent, with Western Mendoza and Uco Valley to the south being hardest-hit. Laura Catena, president of Catena Zapata, said the frost spared Catena’s La Pirámide vineyard in Agrelo, while the Angélica Sur vineyard in the Uco Valley lost the fruit in 288 of its 360 acres. José Manuel Ortega, owner of Bodegas y Viñedos of O. Fournier in the Uco Valley, said he lost crop in 60 percent of his 312 acres of vineyards.

After the frost, cool, dry weather persisted through February, with drought-like conditions (exacerbated by a dry winter in 2010), which meant limited snowmelt for irrigation. Rain finally arrived at the end of February but continued into the first week of March. But the weather finally turned, with plenty of sunny days lasting through April. “Actually, throughout Mendoza this could be a banner year. Yields were naturally lowered by the November frost,” said Achával, who says his vineyards required less green harvesting than normal.

In Chile, after a long, slow harvest that stretched well into May, vintners are growing increasingly optimistic about their 2011 wines. A small crop ripened steadily and evenly during a markedly cool growing season in most of Chile’s major wine regions. “We had a cold and long spring, summer started late, and toward the end of the summer we had some rain, but nothing that I was concerned about,” said Sven Bruchfeld, owner and winemaker at the boutique Agricola La Viña, located in the western end of the Colchagua Valley. “Yields were down 22 percent.”

But grapes came in healthy and clean, thanks to the lower yields, which produced grapes with good concentration, color and fresh acidity. “The 2011 harvest has been a little strange, but not so different than 2010,” says Aurelio Montes, founder and head winemaker at Viña Montes, one of the country’s top producers. “In general, pHs are lower and alcohol levels are in better balance.” The small 2011 crop is likely to have some economic effect on the industry. Following the earthquake in February 2010 that destroyed 125 million liters of wines and then the small 2010 crop, many growers say that price pressure for grapes is already on the rise. “Wineries that have been selling at a very low price will have trouble with cash flow,” said Montes. “If you add the weakness of the dollar, the increase in energy costs and labor, my feeling is that Chilean wine prices will have to (increase).” For a complete report on the South American harvest, visit winespectator.com.

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