Chile's wines spilled, production delayed by quake

NEW YORK, March 4 (Reuters) - Some 125 million liters of Chilean wines worth roughly $250 million were spilled during the 8.8 magnitude earthquake last Saturday that killed more than 800 people and demolished cities and towns, a U.S. importer said on Thursday.

“They estimated that they lost 12 percent of the 2009 vintage,” which had been in now-overturned stainless steel vats, broken oak barrels and bottles, said Alfredo Bartholomaus, who represents several Chilean wineries for the U.S. importer Winebow.

The biggest part of the loss was sustained by winemakers in the Colchagua, Curico and Maule valleys, Bartholomaus said.

Wine is among Chile’s top five exports and 70 percent of the country’s vineyards are very close to the earthquake’s epicenter.

Through November, the most recent figures available, Chile exported 6.4 million cases of wine to the United States, according to a report from U.S. wine industry consultants Gomberg-Fredrikson. That number is up 15 percent over a year ago.

Vina Concha y Toro SA CHT.SNVCO.N, Chile's largest winery, was forced to halt production for at least a week, it announced on its website.

The winemakers told Bartholomaus that the harvest of white grapes, which had already begun in some regions, would resume in earnest next week. Normally, the first harvest begins in the last week of February or the first week of March.

“There are enough barrels and the stainless steel tanks can be repaired,” Bartholomaus said, adding that the wineries would know more about damage estimates and production in about 30 to 60 days. (Reporting by Leslie Gevirtz; Editing by Toni Reinhold)