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Winemakers in Mendoza and other wine-producing areas of Argentina are assessing damage following two consecutive nights of freezing temperatures last week. Fearing a devastating loss of crops, Mendoza’s government declared an agricultural state of emergency after more than 10,000 hectares of vineyards saw temperatures down as low as -4.5 C.
Those bitter temperatures are sufficient to kill the tender buds that will become this year’s grape crop. Depending on their location, some wineries are predicting losses ranging from 60 to 90 per cent of the anticipated yield of the 2023 harvest. Vines were flowering in some areas, making the vines even more susceptible to damage.
Mendoza’s vineyards represent 70 per cent of the country’s annual wine production. Reports from the region estimate that between 50 to 75 per cent of Mendoza’s vineyards were impacted, with parts of the Uco Valley, where many collectable labels are produced, are facing losses of 80 to 100 per cent. It will be weeks before the full extent of the damage is assessed.
Vines in Salta and Patagonia were also affected by the freezing temperatures.
Argentina is the fifth largest wine producing country in the world, trailing Italy, Spain, France and the United States. Wine growers in the country are used to potential threats from frost and hail at this time of year, but seldom see such dramatically low temperatures for such a prolonged period. The impact of the cold temperatures was worsened by drought conditions that meant there was less water available to combat the frost. (As sprinklers apply water to the vines and it begins to freeze, heat is released which helps to protect the tender new growth.)
Less wine from the 2023 harvest comes as Argentina’s industry is celebrating record exports of bottled wine last year. Wines of Argentina reported exports worth US$844 in 2021, with improvement in volume and price, 9.2 per cent growth in volume and 15.8 per cent in value. Exports in 2020 earned US$791 million.
There was also increased consumption at home, with per capita consumption projected to be around 22.5 litres per person of drinking age in 2021. (Canada’s per capita consumption hovers around 16 litres.)
United States, Brazil, Great Britain, Canada and the Netherlands continue to be the most vibrant markets for wines made in Argentina. The record setting year was also aided by increased sales to Mexico, China and France. Malbec, cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay were the most popular exports from wineries.