Two-hundred-thousand acres burned, most of it pine forests, 14 people dead, hundreds of houses razed to the ground, wineries destroyed, and an as yet undetermined number of old vineyards have succumbed to the flames along a 150-mile stretch of southern Chile, from the Maule Valley to the Province of Arauco.
The epicenter of the fires is in Itata. Located about 250 miles south of Santiago, the region has a winemaking tradition dating to the 1500s, with an inheritance of old vines, including parcels that are more than two centuries old. Dozens of small producers are currently fighting the flames. “We have been lucky, but we cannot say the same about other producers,” says Ignacio Pino Román, one of the new names in the dynamic wine scene in Itata. “The fire seems to have no control; the brigades have been overwhelmed. At this moment, a toxic cloud and ashes cover the valley,”
The fire has had no mercy. Jorge Cotal, known for his pét-nat from old muscatel vines, has lost his vineyards and the flames have consumed his winery, while Leonardo Erazo, one of the key figures in the rebirth of Itata, has shared in his social networks that the fires have taken more than 90 percent of their old vines. High temperatures are expected to continue for the next few days and, for now, the fires continue to advance. President Gabriel Boric has declared a State of Constitutional Exception of Catastrophe in this area of southern Chile, which already has had to suffer the ravages of the 2010 earthquake and the devastating fires that affected it in 2017.
is the author of Descorchados, an annual guide to the wines of South America, and covers Chile for W&S.
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