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Chile: flights resume as wineries count the cost

Chilean airline LAN has announced it is resuming some flights from Santiago, as winemakers across Chile assess the damage after the devastating earthquake that hit the country on Saturday.

LAN said in a statement today that it was resuming 15% of domestic and international operations.

Chilean officials said 500,000 houses were destroyed or badly damaged, and President Michele Bachelet said ‘a growing number’ of people were listed as missing.

Major wine regions to the south of the capital Santiago have been affected. Maule and Bio Bio south of the capital were near the epicentre of the 8.8-magnitude earthquake – the strongest in 50 years.

The death toll, which stands at around 700, while hardly insignificant is considered low by some commentators. This is due to Chile’s sophisticated earthquake-proof buildings, and also to the fact it is the height of summer and many people are away.

Many wineries were relatively empty before the harvest: the fact that the earthquake happened early in the morning and at the weekend meant that injuries from falling barrels and vats were at a minimum.

Concha y Toro, Chile’s biggest wine producer, is stopping production for at least a week, it said in a statement.

‘The area with the largest impact is the heartland of wine production,’ said Concha y Toro. ‘Our company, as well as the rest of the industry, have been heavily impacted by this catastrophe.’

Highway 5, the north-south arterial road, has been extensively damaged, especially in the capital Santiago. The company has suspended all operations in this zone for a week.

‘We have already been able to assess serious damage to some of our main wineries which are located in the worst affected areas,’ the statement said. ‘This includes important loss in wine and production capacity.’

Regions further north were less affected by the earthquake. Eduardo Chadwick of Errazuriz, one of the principle wineries in Aconcagua, was able to report everyone ‘safe and well’.

But he added in an email that he was postponing the planned opening of his new Don Maximiano Icon Winery until November ‘as a measure of solidarity to help our employees and our fellow countrymen out of this tragic situation.’

The O Fournier Group has operations in Maule. José Manuel Ortega, the chairman, said there had been no casualties but, ‘The challenge now is enormous as we were about to start our harvest.’

At Curico, just north of Maule, Miguel Torres has a winery which suffered ‘significant’ damage. ‘Around 300 casks smashed, 1 stainless steel vat with a capacity of 100,000 liters has been cracked, losing all the wine, thousands of bottles destroyed,’’ the company said in a statement. ‘But luckily the main structure of the buildings has withstood the quake.’

Also in Curico, Sven Bruchfeld of Agricola la Viña reported that 50% of some of his production was lost, tanks were collapsed, bottles everywhere, and he had ‘no idea where the 2010 harvest would go.’

In neighbouring Colchagua, Alexandra Marnier-Lapostolle of Casa Lapostolle said she had lost several vats as well as numerous barrels and bottles at her older facility in Colchagua. Thankfully her new Apalta facility on the hillside was not damaged.

‘Apparently the vats for the whites are intact and we’ll be able to ferment the Sauvignon Blanc,’ she said, adding, ‘I think it will take time to evaluate the real damage.’

At Viña Neyen de Apalta in Colchagua, Patrick Valette said, ‘We wanted to start the white harvest on Thursday but now it’s impossible without electricity’

He also reported that the J Bouchon winery near the epicentre of the quake ‘is safe but his beautiful old winery is leveled.’

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Written by Adam Lechmere, and agencies

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