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Chile wildfires: damage to wine country as officials pledge help

Reports of affected producers and scorched vineyards have continued to emerge as industry leaders and ministers pledge to support winemakers and communities.

Fierce wildfires in Chile have led to at least 25 deaths and destroyed more than 2,000 homes, according to government figures. More than 400,000 hectares of land have been burned, with damage visible on NASA satellite images.

Julio Alonso, executive director for Wines of Chile North America, said forest fires in El Maule, Ñuble, Bío Bío, and Araucanía were affecting thousands of people’s lives and sources of work, including in wine.

Some small producers have lost wineries and houses, he said, although he added the emergency was not yet wholly under control and so a full assessment of damage was still difficult.

Itata Valley, home to some of Chile’s oldest vines, was one of the worst-hit areas.

Chile’s Institute of Agricultural Development (INDAP) recently promised expert advice for Itata Valley winemakers, adding 692 grape growers were known to have been affected by fires.

Before that, the ministry of agriculture said 291 hectares of vines had been destroyed in the Ñuble region, which includes Itata Valley. Other crops have also suffered damage in several regions.

‘Everything burned’

Itata-based producer Leonidas Fernández, owner of his ‘Leoncio’ wines project, told Decanter: ‘I make and store my wines in a friend’s winery. The fire passed directly over the winery and everything burned.’

He lost 8,900 litres of wine. ‘This was all I had,’ he said, adding, ‘almost 70% of the vineyards I work with were affected by fire.’

He said he will go to Catalonia in Spain this August to make wine with friends. ‘It is my dream to make wine in Chile and in Spain, so the only way is to fill yourself with faith, energy and keep working hard.’

Aid initiatives

A GoFundMe campaign launched by Wines of Chile in the US has sought to raise money to help save pre-phylloxera vineyards in Itata Valley, particularly in the hard-hit Gualirihue DO.

Wines of Chile has also announced aid initiatives to help producers affected, including advice on fire and possible smoke impact in partnership with international experts. Alonso said the trade body was also coordinating efforts with authorities.

Experts affiliated to University of California Davis (UC Davis) were among those offering specialist advice, said INDAP and Wines of Chile.

Aurelio Montes, Wines of Chile president, said, ‘This massive tragedy certainly requires the support of all who are in a position to do so.’

Wines of Chile said those wishing to donate to the recovery of wineries, vineyards and homes can also send money to a Banco de Chile current account in Chilean pesos (current account No 44524-10, rut 65.829.010-k, email: oficina@winesofchile.org) or in US dollars (current account USD No 05-000-33953-03). 

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