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News from Chile expresses hope for future

By Dave Buchanan

Reports from the Chilean wine industry change every day as more information comes in from earthquake-rattled wineries just now getting communications back to near normal.

What’s known so far is the losses, while staggering on the surface, won’t ruin the country’s wine industry.

"We are estimating a loss of 125 million liters of wine [about 14 million cases] with a value of approximately $250 million," said René Merino, president of Wines of Chile, after meeting Wednesday with the association's board. The group represents 95 percent of the Chilean wine industry.

Merino said this represents a loss of just 12.9 percent compared with the 2009 vintage of 1.01 billion liters.

While the loss is lower than initially estimated, some wineries were especially hard hit. Among those is Vinã Santa Rita, maker of this week’s Wine of the Week. Export Director Salvador Domenech said the winery, located in the hard-hit Casablanca Valley, lost an estimated 8 million liters, including 1 million liters of premium wines.

Other wineries are saying much of the damage happened when stainless steel storage tanks were toppled and barrels of wine rolled off racks.

Still, Chilean wine promoters are expressing confidence in the industry’s future.

Micheal Cox, a British director of the Wines of Chile trade association, said wineries will pull together and the damage “was not enough to ruin the possibilities of making wine.”

Nature, too, is helping out. While the harvest already has begun in the northern part of the country, which escaped most of the effects from the earthquake, some of the grapes are maturing a bit later this year, Eduardo Silva, vice president of Wines of Chile.

“If we do things properly, we’ll have a normal harvest,’” he said.

Still, the short-term effect is enormous, said Alfredo Bartholomaus, Chilean brand ambassador for importer Winebow.

“It’s going to be devastating. Some of the wineries, everything they had for sale is gone,” Bartholomaus said. “Fortunately this happened before the harvest season started.”

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