In Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, the 2020 harvest will be remembered for years to come. But it won’t be the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic that stick in the mind. Instead it will be the extraordinary quality of the grapes, a just reward for the massive effort and commitment shown by the different wineries involved.
While COVID-19 was ravaging China, the US and Europe, the three leading wine nations of South America were beginning an exceptional harvest.
However, winemakers’ excitement was tempered by uncertainty about the spread of the pandemic and its inevitable arrival in the region. It was a challenge that wineries faced courageously, determined to protect both their people and the integrity of the harvest.
‘We wanted to make sure that we were ready right from the start,’ says Alberto Arizu, president of Wines of Argentina. ‘We followed closely what was going on in other parts of the world and set up strict safety protocols to protect our people.’
On 20 March, the day on which the government of Argentina declared a mandatory quarantine across the country – with an exemption for the wine industry – national wineries beefed up their health and safety regulations, while also ensuring that the harvest would continue as normal.
In Chile and Uruguay, where self-isolation is still voluntary, the conditions for the harvest were similar to those in Argentina. ‘We knew that March would be more of a challenge and we took all the precautions recommended by the Ministry of Health,’ says Marcelo Papa, technical director at Concha y Toro in Chile.
The main measures implemented at vineyards and wineries were: the obligatory use of hand sanitiser and face masks; daily temperature checks; talks about awareness and prevention; the mobilisation of psychological support teams; and strict enforcement of social distancing. Staff not directly involved in the harvest worked from home.
By the middle of April, most of the harvest had finished smoothly in all three countries and the rewards for all that effort were beginning to become apparent. Wineries in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay are celebrating an unusually promising harvest.
Uruguay enjoyed ‘a historic harvest thanks to dry weather conditions that made for perfect ripeness, with excellent levels of sugar and acidity. These will be wines to treasure,’ says an excited Fernando Pettenuzzo, president of the Uruguayan Oenologists Association.
Matías Ciciani Soler, winemaker at Escorihuela Gascón (Mendoza), comments: ‘In Argentina the harvest was unusually short because of the warm conditions. The main challenge was logistical because grapes from different areas were ready at the same time. The quality of the Malbec was exceptional while the whites were also remarkably high quality.’
Aurelio Montes Senior, president of Wines of Chile, agrees: ‘It was a short but truly excellent harvest that will make for great wines in the future. Chileans know how to deal with natural cataclysms, I am certain that we’ll come out of this stronger.’
These words of hope from Montes are accompanied by the equally uplifting news that at the time of writing, wineries in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay are receiving their final bins of grapes and no reports of contagion have been received. Hopes are very high that this harvest will produce some unforgettable wines. Deserved recompense from mother nature for a monumental effort by all concerned.