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La Niña brings hot and early 2017 harvest for Chile

It's been a year that has kept many winemakers on their toes and yields are set to be small in several areas.

‘It has been the earliest harvest I remember,’ said winemaker Marcelo Retamal, comparing 2017 to the last two decades of Chilean vintages.

Chile’s 2017 harvest arrived up to a month early in some regions, but was also notable for high temperatures and low yields.

‘2017 is clearly an atypical vintage, marked by extremely high temperatures, early physiological stages from budding to harvest, and particularly low yields,’ said Michel Friou, winemaker at Maipo’s Almaviva, where yields were down 26%.

ALSO READ: A small but promising vintage for Argentina in 2017

chile harvest 2017, san antonio

Harvest time in Chile’s San Antonio valley. Credit: Amanda Barnes.

While most of the Central Valleys were harvesting in February and March, typically later regions like Puente Alto were redeemed by a cooler Autumn.

‘Initially the summer heat waves lead us to expect higher sugar levels and dehydrated berries,’ said Friou. ‘The reality was surprisingly different.’

He added, ‘As a late terroir, Puente Alto could take advantage of the cooler nights from mid-March and April. Except for Merlot, we had surprisingly lower potential alcohol levels than usual.’

Coastal regions were also buffered from the extreme heat.

‘Limarí performed very well,’ said Concha y Toro winemaker Marcelo Papa. ‘2017 is a year with a lot of light, so the fruit expression is high. In the case of Sauvignon Blanc, we normally have marked citrus aromas but this year it is more white peach.’

The region that suffered most was the Secano Interior, where soaring summer temperatures were exacerbated by drought and the devastating wild fires that affected half a million hectares and claimed 11 lives.

‘It has been a challenging vintage,’ said Fernando Almeda, winemaker at Torres. ‘There were heavy fires, [Torres] lost 400 hectares of forests and 6 hectares of vines in Maule… lots of effort and work lost.’

While the affect of smoke taint is still being measured by vintners around central and southern Chile, the character of the fruit this year is reflective of a warm and sunny vintage.

‘Most of the reds have ripe fruit aromas,’ said Almeda. ‘Carmenere shows intense red and black cherry aromas with a jammy character. Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon picked at the right time are varietal, intense and balanced.’

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