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Chilean wine makers adapt to effects of climate change

Monday, November 23, 2015 - 01:37

Chilean wine producers concerned about effects of climate change on grape variety and quality, also see opportunities for new growing regions in the county's south. Chile's winemakers see threat and opportunity in climate change. Rough Cut (No reporter narration).

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ROUGH CUT - NO REPORTER NARRATION STORY: Well into their drive to make Chile's wines less about bang-for-your-buck and more about premium vino, vintners in the world's fourth largest wine exporter are watching some of their promising vines wither with climate change. Nestled between the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Andes mountain range on the east, Chile's vineyards have thrived in a Mediterranean-type climate, where hot days meet cool nights and soothing breezes. But with average temperatures rising and rains becoming more scarce, producers are being forced to employ new techniques, or even uproot their vineyards and move to cooler, wetter climes further south before grape quality suffers. "What we have observed over time is that the temperatures or the seasons start to change, there is an increase in temperatures, the thermal fluctuation diminishes, and this means that we don't know for how many more years or how many more decades we will be able to cultivate some [grape] varieties, like some whites or some varieties of red that will probably have to stop growing here to let other varieties grow that adjust better to these climatic changes or a new temperature in the valleys," said Julio Bastias, chief enologist at Matte Vineyards, located in Casablanca Valley in central Chile. Winemaking in Chile dates back to the arrival of the first conquistadores some four-and-a-half centuries ago. It wasn't until the early 1980s that producers like Spanish winemaker Miguel Torres introduced methods that have since lifted the industry to become the world's fourth biggest exporter, with Chilean wine now a familiar sight on supermarket shelves from China to the U.S. and Europe. But if temperatures keep rising, some winemakers fear maintaining current grape varieties and improving quality in Chile is going to become increasingly difficult. Bastias explains that grape varieties will begin to lose their characteristics, and traits such as acidity will be altered. As such, he says a variety that is cultivated in a certain way today, will have to be made differently in 50 years. Chile is best known for its signature carmenere grape, an old French variety rediscovered 20 years ago after being thought extinct, but also grows cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc, merlot and chardonnay, among others. Almost 200 nations will meet in Paris this month to try to work out a global accord to slow climate change. But, according to climate change data from the World Bank, at least a1.5 degrees Celsius increase is more or less locked in. The situation threatens Chile's drive to improve its wines just as it was garnering recognition globally - but it is also making large swathes of new land amenable to viticulture. Unlike in France or Spain, where there is little room to expand into cooler areas, Chile's longitudinal, string-bean shape allows producers to shift to the more welcoming south. And that's what vintner's are looking towards explains Bastias. "It's believed that the big wine regions of the world are probably going to shift to the south in relation to the effects we have today from climate change if there isn't a great effort to diminish it, which is very difficult to do. I think this is here to stay." Chile's wine production has doubled in the last 15 years and exports are forecast to reach $3.0 billion (USD) by 2020, up from some $1.8 billion currently.

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Chilean wine makers adapt to effects of climate change

Monday, November 23, 2015 - 01:37