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Early harvest for Santa Rita as heat wave bites

Published:  31 March, 2020

A heat wave in South America has had a dramatic impact on the country’s grape harvest, according to a mid-harvest report from leading producer Santa Rita.

So far this year, the Lujan de Cuyo region of Mendoza has had 54 days above 32°C – already 12 more than the previous record set in 2014 and with the season yet to finish.

As a result, ripening has occured between two and four weeks ahead of schedule, with the harvest likely to be completed in two or three weeks’ time.

Some 22.45 million kilograms of grapes have been collected, which represents around 47% of the officially predicted volume this year.

However, cautioned Martín Kaiser, chief agronomist at Doña Paula, total production is likely to fall short of predictions. “The opinion of viticulturists and winemakers is tha the remaining 53% will be much less than that. The majority of hanging bunches remaining are showing some level of dehydration.”

Most wineries have already harvested between 60% an 80% of their vines, he added.

Rainfall has also been significantly down against seasonal averages, with only 136mm falling instead of a more typical 182mm.

As a result, the grapes are in excellent health. “Grapes, and the already made wines are full of flavours, and present good colour and concentration in the mouth. We are carefully monitoring the as yet un-picked grapes to ensure against too many ‘over-ripe’ flavours,” Kaiser said.

In Chile, Eduardo Alemparte, head of viniviticulture for Santa Rita Estates, is reporting that around 55% of the harvest is already in, with some varieties being picked up to a month ahead of their traditional harvest dates.

However, frosts in Casablanca and Colchagua, combined with an unusually dry winter, have suppressed yields by some 15% compared to 2019.

“Berry sizes are smaller this year as a consequence of a lack of wáter,” Alemparte said.

“We expect to finish the harvest by mid-April, but this may change depending on the coronavirus situation. So far the quality is good and all the grapes for the icon wines have been harvested.”