This video was produced to the Associate Press to show the recovery of the Chilean wine sector two years after the Feb. 2010 Megaquake that left many wineries in shambles.
Shooting, research and translation were done by Eileen Mignoni. Sara Peach wrote the script. The video is edited in such a way to allow for the script to be read over by any television station around the world. The clips are purposefully long to allow for cutting.
A massive earthquake in Chile two years ago shook up the country’s wine industry.
The earthquake toppled warehouses, cracked wine barrels and brought wine tourism to a standstill. But winemakers soon got back to work, and since 2010, the industry has made a remarkable recovery.
In the past two decades, Chile’s inexpensive merlots, cabernet sauvignons and sauvignon blancs have grown ever more popular around the globe, making the country the fifth-largest exporter of wine in the world.
But an 8.8-magnitude earthquake in the early morning hours of February 27th, 2010, upended the industry. It was the sixth-most powerful earthquake to strike anywhere in the world since 1900. As the ground trembled, wine bottles toppled and smashed, warehouses collapsed and barrels burst. Near wineries, rivers turned red as they filled with wine. The country’s wineries lost an estimated $250 million just in spilled wine that night.
At the Emiliana Vineyards in the Colchagua Valley, storage tanks were crushed like soda cans, and five million liters (1.3 million gallons) of wine rushed away.
José Guilisasti Gana, General Manager, Emiliana Vineyards: “In the cellar it was just like in the movies, like a monster got in and destroyed everything. Just like a monster, and all the tanks broken. Everything, every single thing destroyed.”
The quake struck just a week before the grape harvest, leaving vineyards scrambling.
Guilisasti: “One must begin the harvest early in order not to lose continuity. We had a cellar completely destroyed. And we had to go out and harvest.”
Guilisasti says the earthquake cost his vineyard far more than the price of replacing broken wine bottles and tanks.
“You would say, ‘It doesn’t matter: There’s insurance involved. It will cover the sale.’ But the damage is much bigger. You lose the continuity of your wine in restaurants, supermarkets and distributors. So if someone is buying and needs more, you cannot supply, so they buy from someone else. So we cannot measure that damage.”
Still, some vineyards escaped the quake with little damage.
Santiago’s Aquitania winery, located more than 330 kilometers (205 miles) from the epicenter, avoided severe shaking. In addition, says Sales Manager Eduardo de Solminihac, the storage tanks at his winery are designed to move with the ground.
Eduardo de Solminihac, sales manager, Aquitania winery: “It’s a technique my father saw in the U.S. – in California – many years ago, and it attracted his attention, because the tanks that are anchored, they break and those that are not anchored – they only moved. And, luckily here, as you can see, they were not anchored but on the ground, and the tanks moved, but we didn’t have any problem.”
In the wine regions where the earthquake hit hardest, tourism suffered. In Santa Cruz, the town’s iconic white adobe church was damaged beyond repair and had to be rebuilt.
Claudio Guevara, general manager of RutaCruz: “Many vineyards were damaged and closed and, as well, the people with whom we had reservations began to cancel. No one wanted to come, in essence, to Chile.”
As Guevara’s business faltered during the next five months, he was forced to cut salaries and lay off workers.
But a little more than two years after the earthquake, the country’s wine industry is making a strong recovery. In the aftermath, workers raced to repair tanks and to rebuild. Some vineyards constructed temporary or even permanent housing for workers who had lost their homes.
Andrés Pérez Cruz toured the country’s wine regions soon after the quake.
Pérez Cruz, President, Chilean Corporation of Wine and Director, National Society of Agriculture: “In all the vineyards where there was damage, they were working. Thus, one could see that in this moment, the people could have been there with their arms hanging down, with very little spirit, but it was the opposite. They were all working, running to clean, and this gave me a strength and a certainty that we were going to overcome this.”
Small wineries cooperated to get shipping containers of wine ready for export.
Eduardo de Solminihac, sales manager, Aquitania winery: “The truth is that there was fast response, and I think that around a maximum of four months, everything was functioning as it should.”
In 2011, the country’s wine exports dropped by 9 percent, according to the Chilean Ministry of Agriculture. A small harvest that year also caught the industry by surprise.
But this year, a cool spring followed by a hot summer led to a bumper crop in the grape harvest, one that the Ministry of Agriculture expects will allow the industry to catch up from the losses suffered in the earthquake.
Pérez Cruz says the industry is working with university experts to make sure that every vineyard is better prepared for earthquakes. The group has put together a guide to best practices for protecting storage tanks, constructing warehouses and piling wine barrels so that they will be secure.
Wine industry workers said they’re optimistic about their prospects.
Guevara: “The most probable is that there will be another earthquake, in 20, 10, five years. We don’t know, but this one is already over, and we have gone past it.”
These days, tourists are returning to Chile’s wine valleys. In the valleys and around the globe, wine lovers can toast to a recovery.