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Harvest 2008: Chile's Dry Season Leads To Concentrated Reds

Yields are down; Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenère look strong

James Molesworth
Posted: May 27, 2008

Chilean vintners are looking forward to the end results of their 2008 harvest, as a dry, lengthy growing season resulted in lower yields and greater concentration for most red varieties.

Following a cold winter and cooler-than-usual springtime temperatures, bud break was delayed by up to two weeks. The weather was influenced by the La Niña weather pattern—with colder waters in the eastern Pacific leading to drier weather in Chile. During summer, temperatures in red-wine growing areas were slightly warmer than usual, resulting in low vine vigor and canopy growth, which led to smaller bunches of small, concentrated berries.

The result is a crop that is 10 percent to 30 percent below normal. Many growers had to nurse their vineyards through the dry season via irrigation, and several wound up with little or no water reserves heading into the coming winter.

"In general, it was not an easy harvest, because of the concentration of the reds," said Aurelio Montes, co-owner and head winemaker of Viña Montes, one of the country's leading wineries. "Quality is really good if you knew how to handle highly concentrated berries; those who didn't will have overextracted wines."

Workers harvest grapes in Chile's Colchagua Valley.

Some vintners compared the 2008 harvest to 2003, another warm, drought-influenced vintage which led to excellent reds, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon. "The tannins are apparently firm and slightly tighter than previous years," said Marcelo Papa, who oversees production of Concha y Toro's Marques de Casa Concha line and the wines of Viña Maycas in the northern Limarí valley.

In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon, both Carmenère and Syrah performed well, while Merlot, more susceptible to dehydration, suffered from the dry conditions. "For Syrah and Carmenère, it's a great year," said Felipe Tosso, winemaker at Viña Ventisquero, whose Pangea is among Chile's best Syrahs. "It's a dry and warm year so the grapes are very healthy."

In cooler valleys where white wines are made, growers reported normal temperatures, along with similarly dry growing conditions. "The white wines are fresh, with a really good expression and balance," said Adolfo Hurtado of Viña Cono Sur, describing his crop of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay grapes from the Casablanca Valley.

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