Chile – The Big Freeze

Chile - The Big FreezeRios de Chile

On September 17th and again a week later, several of Chile’s prime agricultural zones were hit with severe frost, the worst in decades. The world will enjoy less of Chile’s fruit and wine as a result. In fact, according to the country’s Ministry of Agriculture (MINAGRI), “frost damages will lead to a year-on-year export decline of 22% for Chile’s fruit industry.”

Director and Winemaker Vicente Johnson of Casas del Toqui in the Cachapoal Valley, who was in California recently to launch his new popularly priced Rios de Chile brand here, said, “As a country, we lost about 20% of our Chardonnay, and a small amount of Pinot Noir. Sauvignon Blanc is okay. But it is a good thing for the industry. The price of Chardonnay will rise and that is better for the growers.” Others report that the loss of Chardonnay could be closer to 40%.

On October 15th I met with Concha Y Toro’s Lead Winemaker, Marcelo Papa, for lunch on a penthouse rooftop in San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill. Papa, the man behind the longstanding success of their Casillero del Diablo range, said, “One month ago we had a very heavy Spring frost. Early ripening grapes including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Merlot were the most affected. Casablanca and Leyda valleys were hit hard. Limari in the north had no frost at all. Frost killed the buds. We are waiting for a second bud. It might be good, or even better in quality. We won’t know until we start picking around the last week of February.”

Chile - The Big Freeze

Winemaker-Marcelo Papa

Marcelo Papa is also the driving force behind the emergence of Limari Valley in the northern province of Coquimbo, known until recently more for its production of Pisco than for quality wine. He likes it for gentle Moscatos and crisper European style Chardonnays, which describes perfectly his 2011 Marques de Casa Concha Chardonnay Single Vineyard Limari Valley $23. The Camanchaca fog from the Pacific clears in the morning yet the coastal proximity keeps things cool even in full sunlight. Papa does feel the area will become most well-known over time for Pinot Noir however.

To read more about the Concha Y Toro Luncheon, click here:

What wine or varietal do you think of when you think of Chile?
Do you think Carmenere should be Chile’s signature red grape?

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