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Harvest 2001: Chile and Argentina Report Promising Results

A smaller crop led to good concentration in Chilean reds, while Argentine wines benefited from hot, dry weather

James Molesworth
Posted: June 15, 2001

  The 2001 Southern Hemisphere Harvest Report  
  New Zealand  
  South Africa  

Following a challenging vintage in which South American vintners struggled with cool weather and rains, winemakers in Chile and Argentina fared much better with this year's harvest.

While the tricky weather and a large crop created mixed results for Chile's wineries in 2000, the 2001 harvest went more smoothly throughout the country's major wine regions, including the Casablanca, Colchagua, Maipo, Maule and Rapel valleys.

Growers reported a dry and cool spring, followed by a very dry and hot summer, with temperatures much warmer than usual, even through the harvest. Most harvesting began in late March and was completed by mid-April, though some wineries reported that they were still harvesting at the end of April into early May.

As is often the case following a large harvest, the vines seem to have produced less this year, as evidenced by Viña Santa Rita's production, which was down 40 percent according to vineyard director Tomás Eguiguren. The smaller yields led to good concentration in the reds for which Chile is best known, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as Carmenère.

Other wineries reported similar results. Enrique Tirado, chief winemaker for Concha y Toro, which has vineyards throughout Chile's major wine regions, noted, "Yields should be 20 to 30 percent lower than 2000. The mixture of concentration, finesse and harmony is among the best I can recall."

Alexandra de Bournet, chairman of Casa Lapostolle, in the Rapel Valley, echoed these sentiments: "The level of the yields is much lower than in 2000 due to the weather and a drastic pruning, canopy management and green harvest. 2001 looks very promising."

In Mendoza, Argentina's main wine-producing area, which is known for Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, the growing season in 2001 was generally very favorable. An early, mild spring and a hot, very dry summer helped to produce small, concentrated berries.

But scattered precipitation at the end of March, when the harvest would normally begin, caused some problems. Both rain and hail, which is a common occurrence in Mendoza, hurt some vineyards and caused some rot, while other vineyards went undamaged. Some growers who reported waiting until after the rains to harvest said they brought in excellent fruit, thanks in part to the extended hang-time.

"We saw isolated and scattered rain at the end of March, delaying the harvesting of the red varietals," said Susana Balbo, winemaker for both BenMarco and her own eponymous wines. "The scattered nature of the rain allowed for extended hang-time and, in many instances, the harvesting of ripe, fully developed grapes."

Since the summer had been very hot and dry, the rain that fell in March helped alleviate some of the vines' stress, without causing any dilution or bloating of the grapes. Laura Catena, vice president of Catena Wines and head of her own label, Luca, said, "Overall, we're very happy with the juice we have. It was a challenging harvest, though no more challenging than '99 or 2000."

Meanwhile, wineries in the region of San Juan, north of Mendoza, reported harvesting as early as mid-February, due to fine weather conditions. San Juan is a little warmer than Mendoza and typically harvests earlier. This was a benefit as the region avoided the variable weather that hit Mendoza in March. "This year's San Juan vintage was outstanding," said Bodegas y Viñedos Santiago Graffigna winemaker Oscar Biondolillo.

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Read our recent South American harvest reports:

  • 2000 Southern Hemisphere Harvest Report
    South American Winemakers Battle Cool Weather and Rain

  • May 24, 1999
    Chilean Harvest Yields Down Dramatically

    Read our recent tasting reports on Chilean and Argentine wines:

  • March 31, 2001
    Coming of Age in South America

  • March 31, 2000
    South America's Peaks and Valleys
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