March 2, 2010 / 9:49 PM / 9 years ago

Quake damages Chile's wineries, production delayed

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - As the death toll in Chile climbs to near 800, the toll from the 8.8-magnitude earthquake on one of its largest exports, wine, was still being assessed on Tuesday.

“The impact on the infrastructure was considerable as the earthquake severely affected the heart of the Chilean wine industry: Maipo, Cachapoal, Colchagua, Maule and Bio Bio wine regions,” Salvador Domenech, managing director of Santa Rita wines said.

He added, “We don’t see major impact on the vineyards , so we are maintaining the enthusiasm regarding the quality of the upcoming grapes.”

Luis Mayol, president of Chile’s National Agriculture Society, told Chilean business daily Diario Financiero that the wine industry is likely to suffer some significant losses from the earthquake, which seriously damaged the country’s infrastructure, including wine storage facilities.

Antonio Larrain, general manager of the Chilean Wine Corporatin, told Diario Financiero that 70 percent of the country’s vineyards are located in quake-hit areas.

He said the country has 900 million liters of wine in stock at the moment. A first analysis suggests that 20 percent of that amount might be “compromised.”

The start of the harvest season was to begin in parts of Chile over the weekend.

“Our company, as well as the rest of the industry, have been heavily impacted by this catastrophe,” Chile’s leading wine exporter Vina Concha y Toro said on its website on Tuesday. “We have already been able to assess serious damage to some of our main wineries which are located in the worst affected areas.”

The wine company has been forced to suspend all of its production operations for at least a week. But according to its U.S. importer, Banfi Vintners, only three of the 11 facilities are badly damaged and not operational. Most of the damage was confined to overturned steel vats and shattered oak barrels.

It described an earlier report saying it had lost 40 million liters as exaggerated.

“While they did suffer losses, it is not anything close to that,” a spokeswoman for Banfi Vinters said.

Concha y Toro told Banfi that its principle cellar, which houses some of its most expensive wines, was unharmed.

“Their number one priority now is the harvest,” Banfi spokeswoman Jane Kettelwell said. “They told us that they are going to start the harvest next week.”

Francesco Marone Cinzano, owner of the Caliboro Estate, which produces Erasmo wine in Maule, told his U.S. importer, Palm Bay International Wine, Spirits & Beverages, that the extent of the damage in the area “is severe.

“Most homes are (of) old constructions of mud bricks ... they are all severely damaged and cannot be repaired.”

He also wrote in an email that there were some victims among the winery’s employees, but did not give further details.

“Nobody is working at present,” he said. “All (are) dedicated to finding shelter for everyone and starting clean up. Harvest is due to start next week, but with no electricity ...” he added.

Reporting by Leslie Gevirtz; additional reporting by Todd Benson in Santiago; editing by Patricia Reaney

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