Latin America


In many parts of Chile, industries were battered by February's massive earthquake. That includes the country's wine industry. Storage tanks toppled over, barrels cracked open and bottles shattered.

Now, Chilean winemakers, who export much of their fruity, inexpensive varieties to the U.S., are trying to get back to work.

NPR's Juan Forero has the story from one venerated producer in Santa Rosa.

JUAN FORERO: It's enough to make a wine lover cry. Wine, by the cask-full, covering the floor.

Mr. SEBASTIAN ASTABURUAGA (Vintner, Correa Albano): (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: Sebastian Astaburuaga says it was up to his knees - 300,000 liters of newly made wine - wine worth $300,000. Industry-wide, the losses totaled $250 million in spilled wine alone.

Astaburuaga walks on a floor still sticky.

Mr. ASTABURUAGA: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: He says tanks holding 10,000 liters of wine toppled over in the 8.8 magnitude quake. Bigger tanks stayed put.

Mr. ASTABURUAGA: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: But he says the violent rattling caused the wine to pour out, crushing the tanks as if they were plastic soda bottles.

Mr. ASTABURUAGA: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: And he says they're made of thick stainless steel.

I've come to Astaburuaga's vineyard, Correa Albano, because it's a small family-owned wine producer in the picturesque Lontue Valley. Tradition means everything here, he says. His family has been making wine for 150 years.

Astaburuaga, who's 55, has bright blue eyes and a shaggy white beard, drives me into his fields. We get out of his truck and walk onto a row of grapevines.

Mr. ASTABURUAGA: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: Sweet, juicy grapes and thick skin, he says, produce a sauvignon blanc that's slightly acidic with a strongly fresh aroma.

Mr. ASTABURUAGA: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: Astaburuaga says he uses dozens of workers to cut grapes off vines. There's also a harvester - a giant machine that rides over the vines, sucking grapes into its hold.

It's an impressive operation: grape fields, fermentation tanks, oak casks. And in this tight-knit community, it's the hub for small winemakers and grape growers. Astaburuaga turns their grapes into Merlots, Cabernet Sauvignons, Chardonnays - French varieties for which Chile is known.

So the blow to Correa Albano temporarily paralyzed production for many of them. Like Maria Machuca Ramirez(ph), who grows grapes.

Ms. MARIA MACHUCA RAMIREZ (Grape Grower): (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: Her adobe home collapsed, she says. And now, she doesn't know where she'll get the money to rebuild.

Astaburuaga's family also suffered; his 82-year-old father, who had his own vineyard, died when his home collapsed.

(Soundbite of hammering and singing)

FORERO: And there was plenty of damage to Astaburuaga's big rambling house, where workmen listened to music and repaired the roof on a recent day.

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

Mr. ASTABURUAGA: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: He says it's now time to once again start producing wine. Astaburuaga then invites me into his office, where the grainy sepia toned photos of his ancestors stared down at us.

Mr. ASTABURUAGA: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: And he begins to open a bottle of Cabernet Carmenere.

(Soundbite of a popping cork)

FORERO: He says we should all have a drink.

(Soundbite of conversation)

FORERO: And we do. The wine is dry with a strong taste of dark berries.

Mr. ASTABURUAGA: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: Astaburuaga then makes a toast to forgetting all that the earthquake had wrought.

Juan Forero, NPR News.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from