Latin America’s wine industry hit by both poor weather and the struggling economy

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  • Tuesday 26 May 2009

Poor weather and global economic uncertainties have taken their toll on the 2009 harvest conditions in Latin America.

Heavy rains, drought, hail and frost – all with varying outcomes - hit the region, but barrel orders, a normally positive indicator, are currently down across the board.

‘Cash flow and late payments from the US and UK are a problem,’ said Louis Blanchard of French barrel maker Seguin Moreau. ‘Argentina, Chile and Uruguay are all keeping orders to a minimum until June.’

Uruguay was hit by drought and although this improved grape quality, volumes were down as much as 35%, according to local oneologist Ricardo Calvo.

In Peru, Pedro Olaechea, owner of Vina Tacama, said whites had good acid levels and both reds and whites benefited from better drip, as opposed to pool, irrigation as well as sunnier, drier conditions.

Leaving aside unimpressive economic conditions in local and external markets, as well as the loss of about 30% of its harvest due to heat and hail, the season produced one of Argentina’s best red years.

‘I think it’s one of the best since 02,’ said Jorge Lucki, a Brazil based wine writer, in Mendoza for the harvest. Torrontes vines in the north also showed good quality, he added.

Southern Brazil, the region’s traditional wine growing area, was wet by contrast, and lower in quality. ‘It was not a good year for reds or whites in Brazil,’ said Lucki.

The outlook for Brazilian sparkling whites is more positive, Lucki said, with slightly under ripe Pinot Noir and Chardonnay crops offering better potential than Chile or Argentina.

Bolivia, which has an increasing reputation for good reds, was also hit by wetter weather, but David Castellanos of CENAVIT, the local wine body, said both Syrah – about 50% of production - and newer tannat vines, produced good grapes.

In Chile harvest volumes were up about 15%, and whites by about 25%. Extremely hot conditions in January meant whites grown in traditional central valley areas such as Casablanca risked a lower acidity however.

Those grown in newer, cooler coastal areas, including Leyda, Limari and San Antonio did better, said Max Morales, a local wine consultant.

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