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Harvest 2009: Chile's Dry Season

A warm and dry year leads to ripe wines and slightly higher yields

James Molesworth
Posted: June 2, 2009

Chilean vintners grappled with a long and drier-than-usual growing season in 2009, with initial reports indicating ripe, forward-styled wines.

The season stretched from the middle of February through the end of May. Growers started harvest with their early-ripening white varieties and ended with late-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenère grapes. The season's dry conditions were some of the most severe on record, with some areas reporting zero rainfall from October through the end of harvest.

The quality of red varieties from the warmer, inland areas of Maipo, Rapel and Aconcagua valley look to be variable, with vineyard management an important factor through the growing season.

"It was very important to adjust the leaf pulling to protect the fruit from high temperatures and sun to avoid color and acidity loss," said Francisco Baettig, head winemaker at Viña Errázuriz. "The high temperatures had a big impact in traditionally warm valleys. Expect high alcohols and low acidities."

"Tannins are ripe, but in some parts they can be blocked [by] dehydration," said Jean-Pascal Lacaze, winemaker at Viña Quebrada de Macul, located in the heart of the Maipo valley.

In Colchagua, Viña Montes co-owner and head winemaker Aurelio Montes noted that despite the drought, picking times were in the normal range and most of the grapes came in healthy. "Some sunburn affected color and flavors on Cabernet Sauvignon," he said, while noting that both Syrah and Carmenère performed particularly well.

In cooler, coastal areas, where the quality of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc has surged in recent years, along with Syrah and Pinot Noir, growers reported that the warm, dry conditions were offset by markedly cooler nights.

"I am very happy with the quality of Limarí Chardonnay and Syrah," said Marcelo Papa, who manages the Concha y Toro-owned Viña Maycas del Limarí project. "Very ripe fruit and at this time fat, soft wines that are a little bit less vibrant in terms of acidity."

"It was an early harvest for Pinot Noir and Syrah with high maturity," said Byron Kosuge, consulting winemaker for Casablanca Valley's Kingston Family Vineyards. "Flavors were on the ripe side, but nothing seemed overripe."

Growers also reported slightly higher than normal yields in 2009, with 10 percent to 20 percent higher crop loads than in either 2008 or 2007.

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