Chilean Winemakers Regroup After Crushing Quake

Winemaker Sebastian Astaburuaga shows damage caused by the Chilean earthquake. i i

Winemaker Sebastian Astaburuaga points out damage the February earthquake caused to a building that houses aging wine at his vineyard, Correa Albano, in Santa Rosa, Chile. Juan Forero/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Juan Forero/NPR
Winemaker Sebastian Astaburuaga shows damage caused by the Chilean earthquake.

Winemaker Sebastian Astaburuaga points out damage the February earthquake caused to a building that houses aging wine at his vineyard, Correa Albano, in Santa Rosa, Chile.

Juan Forero/NPR

It was enough to make a wine lover cry: wine, by the cask-full, covering the concrete floor at Sebastian Astaburuaga's vineyard in the heart of Chile's Lontue Valley.

Astaburuaga says it was up to his knees — 300,000 liters of newly made wine, worth $300,000, all a casualty of the monster earthquake in Chile that struck on Feb. 27.

Across the quake zone, storage tanks toppled over, barrels cracked open and bottles shattered. Industry-wide, the losses totaled $250 million in spilled wine.

Chilean winemakers, who export much of their fruity, inexpensive varieties to the United States, are cleaning up and trying to resume production.

A Blow To The Wine Community

In Santa Rosa, south of the capital, Santiago, Astaburuaga walks on a floor that is still sticky.

He says tanks holding 10,000 liters of wine toppled over in the 8.8 magnitude quake. While bigger tanks stayed put, the violent rattling caused the wine to pour out, crushing the tanks as if they were plastic soda bottles.

Oak casts are strewn around a room at the Correa Albano winery post-quake. i i

Oak casts are strewn around a room at the Correa Albano winery following the quake. Juan Forero/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Juan Forero/NPR
Oak casts are strewn around a room at the Correa Albano winery post-quake.

Oak casts are strewn around a room at the Correa Albano winery following the quake.

Juan Forero/NPR

"And these are made of steel," he says, pounding on the sides of one damaged tank. "Look at the force with which the wine came out."

Correa Albano, his vineyard, off a narrow, two-lane country road, is the hub for small winemakers and grape growers in the tight-knit community. Tradition means everything here, Astaburuaga says. His family has been making wine for 150 years.

Astaburuaga, 55, has an impressive operation — grape fields, fermentation tanks and oak casks. He says he uses dozens of workers to cut grapes off vines. And there is also a harvester — a giant machine that rides over the vines, sucking grapes into its hold.

Astaburuaga turns the grapes into merlots, cabernet sauvignons, chardonnays — French varieties for which Chile is known.

The blow to Correa Albano temporarily paralyzed production and created personal hardships.

Maria Machuca Ramirez, who grows grapes, says she doesn't know where she will get the money to rebuild her adobe home, which collapsed.

A vineyard worker carries grapes in Majadilla, Chile, on March 10. i i

A vineyard worker carries grapes in Majadilla, Chile, on March 10, as workers returned to work after the earthquake that ravaged infrastructure for the nation's important fish and wine sectors. Fernando Vergara/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Fernando Vergara/AP
A vineyard worker carries grapes in Majadilla, Chile, on March 10.

A vineyard worker carries grapes in Majadilla, Chile, on March 10, as workers returned to work after the earthquake that ravaged infrastructure for the nation's important fish and wine sectors.

Fernando Vergara/AP

"I think we're going to be very short of money," she says. "For us, the house was a lot."

A Toast To Forgetting

Astaburuaga's family suffered as well: His 82-year-old father, who had his own vineyard, died when his home collapsed. The quake also damaged Astaburuaga's big, rambling house.

These days, the winemaker is trying to be as active as he can — meeting with wine brokers, visiting local producers, contracting for repairs.

It's time to start producing wine again, he says.

"You have to get up, work, rebuild," he says. "The only way to survive is to work."

Over a bottle of cabernet carmenere in his office — where his ancestors stare out from grainy, sepia-toned photos — he makes a toast to forgetting all that the earthquake has wrought.

"We are serving a little wine to forget the effects of the earthquake here," he says, before taking a sip.

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