Last week, I had the good fortune of speaking with Alfredo Bartholomaus, the Chilean wine ambassador for Winebow, an international wine distributor and importer.
Bartholomaus has been working with Chilean wineries since 1985, and was able to give me a report on the damage caused to the industry by the 8.8 earthquake that hit the country on Feb. 27.
He estimates that 10 to 12 percent of all inventory (stored wine), about $250 million, has been wiped out. Subsequent to my conversation with Bartholomaus, the U.K.’s Guardian published this article, putting the number closer to $300 million, not including loss of buildings, warehouses, and underground irrigation systems.
The majority of damage is centered in three wine regions in the south of Chile. According to the Guardian story, much of the damage happened when big stainless steel tanks toppled over, flooding bodegas with carmenere, cabernet sauvignon and merlot.
With harvest officially under way – Bartholomaus said whites are picked at the end of February, typically – vintners are going to have to rely on generators to keep drip irrigation systems working.
Without infrastructure, some wines will have to sit in tanks outside. Still, vintners with larger facilities in the northern Maipo Valley can send their wines there for production.
Bartholomaus witnessed the 8.0 Santiago earthquake back in 1985, and is confident the country will rebuild. But he did add: “I wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of the new president (Sebastian Pinera), who starts in a week.”