Chile's wine industry hit hard by earthquake

The earthquake caused substantial damage in Chile's wine region: Stainless steel fermentation tanks tipped over, wine bottles busted and wineries without power.

While it's still too early to tell the full extent of the damage, early reports indicate that the damage to one of the nation's major industries will be far-reaching.

The quake's epicenter hit in the heart of the country's largest wine production areas causing substantial damage in areas including the Cachapoal, Colchagu, Curicó and Maule valleys. These areas produce the majority of the country's Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes.

"We're talking about tens of millions of liters of wine down the drain," said Alfredo Bartholomaus, importer Winebow's brand ambassador for Chilean wines. "It's going to be devastating. Some of the wineries, everything they had for sale is gone. Fortunately this happened before the harvest season started."

Most Chilean wineries say they plan to get back in business and move ahead with harvest season either later this week or next.

"At the moment, we don't see a major impact on the vineyards, so we are maintaining the enthusiasm regarding the quality of the upcoming grapes," Salvador Domenech, managing director of Santa Rita, said in an e-mail statement. "We particularly trust that American consumers will support the Chilean industry, so our job now is to ensure resuming production as soon as possible."

Chile in 2009 exported more than 670 million liters of wine, valued at $1.36 billion.

The country's largest producer, Concha y Toro, whose most popular U.S. brands include Frontera and Xplorador, has temporarily suspended all production operations for at least one week, according to a statement on its website.

Concha y Toro suffered major damage at three of its 11 production facilities in Chile, plus minor damage at some of the others, said Jane Kettlewell, spokeswoman for Banfi Vintners, the U.S. importer for Concha y Toro.

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