Ready to taste the first wines of 2014? While vines are just flowering in Europe and North America, the Southern Hemisphere has picked, crushed and fermented this year's crop. Vintners in South America's leading wine nations—Chile and Argentina—did not face an easy growing season. In Chile, a severe spring frost created one of the smallest crops in years, but a good harvest season produced nice wines. There was frost on the other side of the Andes too, and a damp harvest further lowered yields.
Here's a sneak peek at the upcoming vintage. And check out our reports on Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
The good news: White grapes picked before harvest rains show good quality. Higher acidity in reds such as Malbec promises long aging potential.
The bad news: A spring frost hurt vines in Mendoza, with some Chardonnay vineyards experiencing up to 40 percent loss in productivity. A cool, rainy harvest meant botrytis in some spots, further shrinking yields.
Promising grapes: Torrontés, Cabernet Franc
Analysis: Argentine vintners faced a roller coaster of climatic conditions all year, culminating in a cold, wet harvest. Frost in parts of Mendoza, plus the rain toward harvest's end all combined to reduce yields. At Bodega Catena Zapata in Mendoza the challenges were many. “2014 was the coolest harvest year since 2001," said winery director Laura Catena. "Abundant snowmelt would have made this a very large harvest, except that everything slowed down with the cool weather in February, March and April, and the severe September frost." Catena and her team report that the frost primarily hit eastern and northern Mendoza and San Juan, but also some parts of the Uco Valley and Luján de Cuyo.
Thanks to the cool weather and harvest rains, botrytis was widespread in Mendoza, and careful viticulture was needed to harvest healthy grapes. “Patience was necessary to achieve good maturity. The alcohol content in wines is lower than usual,” said winemaker Philippe Rolet of Alta Vista. “The harvest being particularly late with cold weather will lead the best reds to achieve their malolactic fermentation next spring, which is quite [late] for Argentina.”
Workers pick Carmenère in Chile's Clos Apalta vineyard.
The good news: Warm, dry weather during the growing season prompted an early harvest and promises concentrated and full-flavored wines.
The bad news: A severe spring frost damaged the emerging buds. Yields are down a third to half for most varieties.
Promising grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan and Carmenère
Analysis: This growing season's spring freeze was one of the most damaging in Chile’s modern grapegrowing history. Coastal regions near Santiago, including Casablanca and Leyda, were especially hard hit, as well as inland valleys in the south such as Bío-Bío. The grape varieties most affected were Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc for the whites and Pinot Noir and Merlot for the reds.
While the crop was small, quality is high across the board, according to many vintners. “Although volumes are less than historically typical, I think that because we have a smaller crop and enjoyed an outstanding climate we will have an excellent quality in our 2014 wines,” said vintner Aurelio Montes. “It’s hard to tell which variety will excel. All of them are showing great quality.”
A harvester brings in ripe fruit from Concha y Toro's Puente Alto vineyard.