Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk |

Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk

The notion came from my wife. And it was a good one.

One recent evening, before a burger barbecue with friends, she stopped at a local wine shop for a bottle of wine to bring along. Out she came with a wine from Chile. It was an unusual choice for her, so I asked why she bought that particular wine.

“I figured it was a good time to support Chile and buy their wine,” she said.

And she is so right.

As I am sure you know, a devastating earthquake hit Chile on Feb. 27. Beyond the initial shake, which registered an inconceivable 8.8 on the Richter scale, there have been numerous aftershocks, many of which have also caused damage.

The state of the wine industry may seem a trifling concern to many, but in light of the many deaths and destruction to Chile’s infrastructure, it is important to note that wine production is Chile’s second largest industry, trailing only copper mining. It not only employs tens of thousands of people, it provides Chile with a profitable, growing enterprise that allows it to participate on a global stage.

The amount of damage to wineries varies greatly depending on their proximity to the quake and the age of the buildings. In the Curico Valley, a significant region located north of the quake’s epicenter near the town of Concepcion, many older adobe wineries are said to have been damaged. Miguel Torres Chile, the Chilean outpost of the esteemed Spanish winemaking family, reported losses of as many as 300 barrels and heavily damaged storage tanks. Further north in the Colchicum valley, the modern Casa Lapostolle, Wine Enthusiasts 2008 winery of the year, showed considerably less damage, though approximately 20 percent of its 2008 red wines were lost to bottle breakage.

In the days following the quake, the trade organization Wines of Chile, which represents the vast majority of the nation’s winemakers, issued a statement that early estimates show losses of around 12 percent of total production. That is not enough to cripple the industry, but it is certainly a blow at a time when Chilean wines have become increasingly popular throughout the world.

So we all can lend a hand by doing exactly what my wife did – choose to buy a bottle of Chilean wine next time we visit the liquor store. Fortunately, the Chileans have made this easy for us by exporting wines that are both affordable and high-quality.

Chile has become one of the most exciting emerging wine regions in the world during the last two decades. A topography that is perfect for growing grapes, coupled with an influx of foreign wine funds from the likes of Mondavi, Torres, Marnier-LaPostolle de Rothschild and others has made it a Mecca for those who love fine wine. Especially the reds of the Bordeaux region of France.

Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot has been grown for more than 150 years in Chile and wines from the likes of Altair and Clos Apalta rival the best blends on earth. But the signature grape of the region is Carmenere, another Bordeaux grape with a deep purple color that shows off smoky, peppery notes with each satisfying mouthful. Never has there been a better time to avail yourself of the pleasures of Chilean wine.

Aside from quality, the value offered by Chile’s wines makes buying them a treat. The nation’s largest wine company, Cocha Y Toro, imports a number of wines that express the terroir of Chile for under $10 a bottle. Also look for names like Los Vascos, Vina Santa Carolina and Veramonte, which is making some great, value white wines in the Casablanca Valley.

In the southern hemisphere the harvest season is underway. Despite the loss of lives, the loss of homes and the difficulty of simply getting around, the Chilean wine industry is regrouping and getting the harvest in. It is inspiring to know that despite something as cataclysmic as the shaking of the majestic Andes Mountains, growers, harvesters and winemakers are bonding together to continue the march of the seasons.

Buy a bottle of Chilean wine and toast their efforts.

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