Chilean Harvest Yields Down Dramatically

May 24, 1999
Winemakers from both Chile and Argentina believe that the 1999 harvest, which ended in April, will be producing some good wines, but quality will vary.

With yields down as much as 50 percent in some areas and 15 percent overall, Chilean winemakers were concerned about meeting demand for their wines. However, the vintners were happy to note that quality was excellent, especially for reds.

According to Don Baker, winemaker for Kendall-Jackson's Calina winery in Chile, a combination of low yields and drought conditions fully matured the Merlot, Cabernet and Malbec, leading to "some of the deepest color and concentration of flavors I've seen."

Chile's drought led to tight water rationing, and growers could not irrigate as regularly as in past years. As a result, the red grapes were smaller and more concentrated, rather than pumped up with excess water. Hot summer temperatures stressed the vines, and a cool period before harvest produced ripe, balanced little grapes.

Tony Coltrin, part of Robert Mondavi Winery's team of Caliterra winemakers, summarized the vintage as "smaller bunches, smaller clusters, but more intensity."

Most winemakers were less enthusiastic about their white wines. However, Beringer Wine Estates Imports winemaker Aaron Pott, who raved that the sunny 1999 vintage might be the best in two decades, said that Vina Tarapaca's whites would be ripe and rich.

Argentina was also affected by the drought, and yields were reduced slightly by hail during bloom. Harvest wasn't easy; the summer months were extremely hot, and grape sugars rose quickly. Winemakers who picked grapes early in the season had high sugar levels but little flavor development. Those who waited for temperatures to drop got lucky in March when cool weather stalled sugar levels, allowing grapes to reach maturity. Some vineyards that were overcropped, with too much fruit on the vines, didn't fully ripen and suffered from rains at the end of harvest.

Winemaker Paul Hobbs, who works for a number of South American brands, said the Argentinean vintage would be good, but short of outstanding. He said, "The grapes had moderate color and tannin, but I don't think it's another great vintage like 1995, 1996 and 1997."

For last year's harvest report:

  • August 31, 1997
    Weather Plays Havoc With Southern Hemisphere Harvests

    To learn more about Chile, read Tom Matthews' most recent tasting report:

  • May 15, 1999
    Good News, Bad News from Chile

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