Earthquake rattles Chile’s wine industry

Marketplace Staff Mar 4, 2010

Earthquake rattles Chile’s wine industry

Marketplace Staff Mar 4, 2010


Kai Ryssdal: The part of Chile worst hit by the earthquake runs from the capital of Santiago down about 350 miles to the south. That also happens to be where most of Chile’s wines are produced — a not insignificant chunk of Chilean exports. Most of the wineries are still busy dealing with the cleanup. But we did get this glimpse of the damage from Santa Cruz resident Matt Ridgway.

MATT RIDGWAY: A lot of the big vats have fallen over and that wine is leaking into the soil and into the irrigation ditches. And for the first day or so all the irrigation ditches were stained red with red wine.

Rene Merino is the president of Wines of Chile. It’s the biggest wine producers association down there. Mr. Merino, thanks for coming on.

Rene Merino: My pleasure.

Ryssdal: So have you been able to figure out how much production might be lost?

MERINO: The loss of wine is around 125 milliliters.

Ryssdal: Which is how much as a percentage of the total?

MERINO: It’s around 12.5 percent of the total wine stored in Chile this year.

Ryssdal: So not so bad considering the scale of this earthquake.

MERINO: To be very honest, we at first we thought it was going to be much worse. Most of the wineries have moved the actual facility to make wine to modern buildings. The tanks that suffered, unfortunately, were the tanks with wine inside, so that’s why we lost that many liters. The old houses still remain, but most of them remain as tourist facilities or offices or guest houses and those are severely damaged.

Ryssdal: What about logistics? Getting your grapes and your wines out onto the highways to the ports to get them to the export market. I imagine that is a little tricky.

MERINO: That is another story that is a bit more complicated. The main problem today for the wine industry is taking care of our workers. And then the second problem is the general problem of the country. That means water supply, electricity, highways and ports. If that is not restored soon, then we might have bigger trouble. But today you can go from north to south. The thing is that trips that usually took one or two hours, today are taking five or six. Ports are working at 50 percent capacity but in the end, although slow, things are going to move.

Ryssdal: So fans of Chilean reds, perhaps, should not worry so much?

MERINO: No, not really, not really, I don’t think we should be worrying about the supply of wine or the wineries themselves. Our main concern today is primarily our workers. Many of them lived in very old houses, and some of them are really severely damaged.

Ryssdal: About your workers — the 80,000 or so vineyard and winery workers in Chile — how are you going to get them into decent and safe housing and back on the job?

MERINO: Back on the job is not going to be complicated. Winers will start working probably in 10 days. The biggest problem will be housing. There we’re raising money from the government, even from ourselves, we’re going to help our workers ourselves. We’ve been offered help from some people in the states, some people in the U.K. I believe it’s not going to be a problem of resources, the main thing is going to be time. Because it takes a long time to rebuild homes and get people back into a decent house.

Ryssdal: Rene Merino. He’s the president of Wines of Chile. It represents about 95 percent of the wine industry in Chile. We reached him in Santiago. Mr. Merino, thanks so much for your time.

MERINO: All right, thank you.

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