Harvest Report 2006 - Chile
By just-drinks.com editorial team | 26 July 2006
In the final of our Southern Hemisphere harvest reports, Dean Best looks at Chile. The country's wine producers are heralding 2006 as an excellent year for both red and white wines, as fears that frosts in the spring and mid-April may have affected quality have subsided.
Moderate temperatures and low rainfall this year have combined to leave Chile's wine producers bullish about the 2006 harvest, while fears that frosts last spring and in mid-April would hit the quality of the 2006 vintage have been dispelled.
A meteorological phenomenon dubbed La Niña, which hits Chile's coastline once every couple of years, was "the determining factor" behind this year's weather, according to Cono Sur, part of Chile's leading wine producer Concha y Toro.
La Niña reduced the temperature of the Pacific, resulting in less evaporation and minimal rain which delayed the harvest by up to 15 days in most regions and produced, as Cono Sur put it, "white wines of great aromatic intensity, freshness and minerality, especially those from Casablanca". Meanwhile, the lack of rain, combined with colder temperatures on average, meant red wines had become "beautifully coloured, complex, elegant, forthcoming and juicy".
While there had been concerns that last spring's frosts would hit the 2006 harvest, it had become clear that frost had not affected the quality of the grapes, Cono Sur said.
"Springtime carried on with slightly lower temperatures than usual and soils with good humidity indicators, which to a great extent lessened our irrigation needs," Cono Sur says. "We were already able to ascertain that the growth cycle was delayed in terms of its usual progress, but the correct setting of the flowers gave way to clusters of outstanding quality. The veraison or turning continued undisturbed, confirming the general delay of the season."
Sven Bruchfeld, head winemaker at wine producer Santa Carolina, also found that that slowly rising temperatures in March and April were "highly beneficial" to the harvest after cooler temperatures early on.
"Right from the beginning of March it was obvious that this season would be a little colder than previous years - we are talking about 2°C less on average," says Bruchfeld. "This coolness was particularly notable from the Rapel Valley to the south. Afterwards - in the middle of autumn - temperatures went back to normal and began to rise, which was highly beneficial."
Bruchfeld adds: "In mid-April, the mornings were clearer than in other years in the San Fernando and Curicó zones, which made for especially potent reds. 2006 therefore brought us interesting whites that were fresh, aromatic and fruity, with a lush acidity and reds with intense colours with mature, balanced tannins."
While Bruchfeld praises the quality of Cabernet Sauvignon, particularly in the Maipo Valley, he dubs 2006 "The Year of Carmenere". "I think the Carmenere from Pichidegua (in Cachapoal, in the Rapel Valley) is a great protagonist this year," Bruchfeld says. "It is amazing, especially for the ripeness of its tannins."
The industry association Wines of Chile gave a measured evaluation of the 2006 harvest. "Red wines resulted in very good colours, but of round, more balanced tannins. In many cases with pH lower than other years," the organisation said. "Surprisingly, unlike other years, a lower percentage of wines destined for reserve was seen, maybe because of their lower concentration. White wines show good typicity and variable concentration, depending on the variety and place of origin."
On a region-by-region basis, Wines of Chile says there was less rainfall than average in the Limarí Valley with frosts in September affecting the Chardonnay. The Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Syrah, Merlot and Pinot Noir varieties ripened earlier than in other years.
In the Aconcagua Valley, minimum temperatures were down on previous years, according to Wines of Chile. Meanwhile, a report from Chile's Oenologists Agricultural Engineers National Union Association, produced in association with Wines of Chile, noted an increase in production which caused a delay in ripeness, and a ten to 14 day delay in the harvest in Aconcagua.
Cono Sur says the Casablanca Valley was one of the areas most affected by frosts but the sluggish ripening meant the quality of the fruit was high. "The lack of high temperatures contributed to preserve the delicate aromas of white varieties," the company says. "The Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Viognier and Pinot Noir wines that Casablanca provided are revealing truly outstanding quality."
Ripening was even slower in the Maipo Valley, according to Wines of Chile, while September frosts caused a 15% fall in production in some areas.
"Patience and watchfulness were the order of the day while we fought the anxiety of knowing that we were already in May and the fruit was still hanging in the vineyards," Cono Sur says of the Maipo harvest, adding that the delay meant the Maipo reds are "complex, silky and approachable (with) excellent natural acidity".
Weather in the Rapel Valley was the most varied. Minimum temperatures in the Cachapoal during autumn were below average, while a frost in April caused "serious damage in lower areas", according to Wines of Chile.
Frosts in Rapel's Colchagua Valley hit some white varieties, as well as some Merlot and Malbec, says Cono Sur. However, once the frosts had passed, "the season followed its regular course with really smooth setting, even remarkable in the case of Carmenere".
The Chimbarongo region of the Rapel Valley was one of the few "blessed with a timely harvest", according to Cono Sur, with the Chardonnay, the Pinot Noir and especially the Viognier the stars of this year's vintage.
Further south, the Curicó Valley exemplified the moderate temperatures seen in Chile during the 2006 harvest. According to Wines of Chile, the highest temperatures were lower than last year's, while from August to October average temperatures were down on the previous lowest. Again, frosts proved a problem, with production of Cabernet Sauvignon down by 5% to 15%.
In the Maule Valley, there was no rain until the start of April, according to Wines of Chile. The red wine harvest was delayed as winemakers waited for phenolic ripeness. Further south in the Itata Valley, cooler temperatures and a lack of rain meant a delay in budding in comparison to previous years.
Cono Sur said the Bío Bío Valley enjoyed a harvest of the typically high expected from the region, adding that the Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir were all good, but the outstanding Bío Bío wine of 2006 was the Riesling.
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