Chile Fights California-Like Drought

By Publications Checkout
Chile Fights California-Like Drought

Winery De Martino found the clay soil and cool temperatures needed to produce its award-winning Quebrada Seca pale chardonnay in the Andean foothills north of Santiago. Now drought is threatening the grape’s survival.


De Martino will stop producing two cheaper wines from grapes grown in the Limari Valley (pictured), about 320 kilometres from the Chilean capital, to free up precious water for its bestseller that goes for $29 a bottle, enologist Marcelo Retamal said. If parched reservoirs aren’t replenished, grape growing in Limari may disappear altogether.

“Right now we are preserving our best wine but in two to three years the whole valley will die,” Retamal, whose company was chosen by Chile’s industry association as winemaker of the year in 2011, said in a telephone interview last week.

An eight-year dry spell has left fruit withered, miners grappling for enough water to run plants and the forestry industry facing some of the worst wildfires in the last century. The effects are intensified by higher demand after the economy more than doubled in a decade.


Like California, drought has cut Chile’s hydroelectric production in recent years, helping send power prices to the highest in Latin America. Climate change threatens to expand deserts and reduce the Andean snowmelt on which parts of the country depend heavily for drinking water and irrigation.

“Climate change is a reality, but we have to recover from this some time,” Brahim Nazarala, a researcher at Chile’s water authority, a unit of the Public Works Ministry, said from downtown Santiago last month.

As winemakers like De Martino search for growing areas with more water, forestry companies in southern Chile are stepping up efforts to contain wildfires as humidity declines.

Limari is the only valley in Chile with the limestone-packed soil that can replicate high quality pale Chardonnays that emanate from the Chablis and Burgundy areas of France, he said. The valley’s grape growers and lemon and avocado farmers desperately need winter rain to replenish snow-pack on the Andes Mountains that tower above the valley.

“The situation is really serious,” Retamal said. “These guys have all their money in the vineyards and if they don’t produce anything, they will go broke.”

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