Wines of Chile said today that preliminary figures for the country's wine harvest suggest this season has seen a fall in volume equating to an average 15% reduction in whites and 20% reduction in reds compared to the season's forecasts.

"While these figures are preliminary and subject to an official Government report, we do not believe the final report will show significant variation," a statement said.

The varieties most affected by the decrease in production were Merlot, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon - a situation anticipated because of the influence of conditions during the 2003 season on development in 2004.

The main cause for the decrease in production in 2004 however is attributed to smaller berries. This is due mainly to the high temperatures and restricted water supplies experienced, but which is also a situation aspired to in some varieties to improve flavour and concentration.

In Chardonnay it was also noted that the clusters were smaller than in previous years. This is attributed to the spring frosts experienced in some regions.

Production of Merlot fell significantly in some areas because of the variety's susceptibility to heat and dehydration. It is a general problem for Merlot which has been experienced before and which is an issue being investigated by Chile's viticulturalists.

Sauvignon Blanc volumes were maintained this year and in some cases they increased slightly. Chardonnay saw a decrease of about 20%. In Merlot, estimates show a decrease in production of between 20% and 40% in some cases. Carmenére production decreased slightly. Cabernet Sauvignon saw a reduction of about 20%. Malbec production decreased about 10%. In Syrah, no significant decrease has been recorded and in Pinot Noir volumes have been maintained..

Wines of Chile said that while almost all white production is complete, many reds are still undergoing fermentation so it is still too early for a final conclusion on the quality for 2004.

However overall, "it has been agreed that the quality of the 2004 harvest ranges from good to excellent. The comments received from wineries across the country echo general opinion that 2004 could turn out to be one of the best of the decade for some wineries, although some may only rate it good," the statement said.