FEATURE-Climate change sends Chile's wine industry southward
By Anthony Esposito and Antonio De la Jara
VALLE DE CASABLANCA, Chile Nov 23 (Reuters) - Well into their drive to make Chile's wines less about bang-for-your-buck and more about premium vino, vintners in the world's fourth largest wine exporter are watching some of their promising vines wither with climate change.
Nestled between the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Andes mountain range on the east, Chile's vineyards have thrived in a Mediterranean-type climate, where hot days meet cool nights and soothing breezes.
But with average temperatures rising and rains becoming more scarce, producers are being forced to employ new techniques, or even uproot their vineyards and move to cooler, wetter climes further south before grape quality suffers.
While the shift threatens Chile's step-up in the competitive wine world, it is also opening up large swathes of land to viticulture, in places that were once too cold and rainy to grow decent grapes.
Winemaking in this long, skinny spine of a country dates back to the arrival of the first conquistadores some four and a half centuries ago.
It wasn't until the early 1980s that producers like Spanish winemaker Miguel Torres introduced methods that have made Chile a respectable New World wine producer, its bottles a staple of supermarket shelves from the United States to Europe and China.
But if temperatures keep rising, maintaining current grape varieties and improving quality in Chile is going to become increasingly difficult, said Miguel Torres, president of the namesake company, which has some 400 hectares (988 acres) of vineyards in the country.
"You can continue to plant tomatoes, beans, etcetera, if temperatures rise, but not the grape varieties we have today," said Torres. "We must find other varieties that are more resistant to high temperatures and drought." Continuación...