Chile's winemakers are savoring a return to normal yields and potentially high-quality wine with the 2018 vintage after the heat- and fire-plagued 2017 growing season and rainy, cool weather in 2016.
"The wines are presenting very good color, rich tannins and good concentrations," said Marcelo Papa, the technical director for Concha y Toro, the South American nation's largest winery. "After two low-producing harvests, in 2016 due to the rains and in 2017 mainly due to the heat, we have a normal crop in terms of production and of very good quality."
Overall, the vintage was dry and cool throughout the growing season, but with enough heat in the end to fully ripen grapes. The winter was rainy, followed by fresh weather in the spring that was interspersed with some rainfall. Temperatures in the Pacific, which is the predominant influence on Chile's climate, were slightly lower than normal. Summer was dry, though coastal fogs were persistent and helped moderate temperatures. There was no rain during harvest.
"We had a rainy 2017 winter after four years with very low rainfall. Temperatures were moderate," said Fernando Almeda, winemaker at Miguel Torres. "Spring was also rainy but easygoing, with no big frosts. In late spring and early summer, the La Niña influence got strong, with lower temperatures in the Pacific Ocean.
"Overall, white grapes had slow sugar accumulation and maintained acidity," Almeda added. "The wines show pure fruit nature, fresh- and tense-styled wines. Red grapes have lower alcoholic percentage than usual, with varietal character and a leaner style."
According to Papa, who harvests from multiple regions, vineyards in the coastal areas, such as Limarí, Casablanca and Leyda, ripened later than normal, producing a few more tons per acre. "The wines show very good natural acidity, elegance and good typicity," he said. "Interior regions and areas near the Andes Mountains, such as Maipo, Rapel and Maule, the delay in maturity was less marked and the vineyards matured extraordinarily well."
"The  harvest for me was flawless, without any problem such as rain, wildfires, hailstorms during spring, like previous seasons," concurred Matias Cruzat, of Chile's value-priced 1865 brand, part of Viña San Pedro. "We expect great quality in red wines, especially in Cabernet Sauvignon. In the Maipo Valley [Chile's heartland for Cabernet] we had a slow ripening season, with no heat waves like 2017. So in that regard we have nice natural acidity, great color, the perfect sugar content for balanced wines in the palate and really nice fruit [aromas]."
Aurelio Montes of Montes winery echoed the enthusiasm. "The 2018 harvest has been an amazing one," he said. "All over the country, from Elqui to Itata, things went very well, and we could patiently wait for the correct ripeness and development of color and flavors," he added. "In my history as a winemaker, I've never seen such a harvest fairly big in volume and outstanding in quality."
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