Fires burn through farms and vines in Chile

16 Mar 2023

Widespread fires have brought ecological disaster to the Ñuble and Bío Bío regions of south-central Chile, which have been burning for several weeks now.

These fires have already claimed dozens of lives and created severe health issues for the residents of the area, as well as destroying homes, businesses and thousands of hectares of agricultural land.

The Itata Valley, in the Ñuble region, is nationally- and internationally renowned for its viticulture, and has been particularly badly affected by the fires. The Ñuble and Bío Bío regions have a long history of winemaking: the rural communities here have passed down a rich heritage of traditional know-how from generation to generation. And many winemakers are now seeing centuries-old wineries and flourishing vineyards turned to ashes.

 

A threat to the winemaking heritage

“There are vines in Itata that are 200 or even 250 years old, including several of the ancient Pais variety, which was brought to the country in the first wave of colonization in the 16th century. While not strictly indigenous, this variety is native to Chile, and much of it is grown in Itata. The loss of historic Pais variety vines represents a serious threat to our winemaking heritage,” says Gustavo Riffo, a young winemaker at Viña Lomas de Llahuen in Itata Province.

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Businesses interests behind the ecological disaster

Gustavo knows from first-hand experience how much of a threat the climate crisis poses to winemaking in his country. “The problem isn’t simply limited to high temperatures, but to another environmental disaster created by business: deforestation. Much of the old-growth forest has already been lost, replaced by commercial plantations of pine and eucalyptus which are even more susceptible to fire. Many of my neighbors, other wine producers, have lost everything in these recent fires: their homes and all their vines.”

Unfortunately, it is not the first time that a crisis has struck, as fires also occurred in the region in 2017. Indeed, the area is undergoing a radical transformation of its natural conformation, affecting its resilience to climate change. This process is exacerbated by the fact that rules regarding deforestation are vague, and so logging companies chop down much more than they should. Roberto Henriquez, another winemaker in the area, had already pointed out the danger of these structural changes, in particular the aggressive deforestation, long before the latest outbreaks of fire.

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No final impact assessment is available yet, as the local community continues fighting to extinguish the flames. So far, it’s estimated that 25% of the vineyards in the Itata Valley have been lost.

The farmers whose vines have survived the fire are not without problems. Clouds of smoke extend far beyond the Ñuble and Bío Bío regions; with chemical substances spreading throughout the area and settling on the grapes, the aroma of the grapes–and the wines–will inevitably be ruined, not to mention present a health hazard for farmers, workers and consumers.

“It’s an enormous challenge for us to continue working, and it is only by a miracle that my own vines were spared from the flames. And it’s foolish to imagine that these things ‘happen elsewhere’, a far-away problem that doesn’t affect us all.” says Gustavo Riffo.

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“These sorts of catastrophes are becoming more common and can strike anywhere. In the meantime, it’s urgent that in Chile we regulate the logging companies, stop government financing of logging and increase subsidies for small-scale farmers, and diversify our crop cultivation to strengthen rural communities.”

The support of the network

The power of solidarity is essential in the face of this kind of tragedy and the local population has been working uninterruptedly to put out the fires and support those in need. We invite you to support the producers during this hard time.

A crowdfunding campaign to raise money to help people affected by the fires in Chile supported by Slow Wine Latam. Please consider donating to ensure a future for rural communities in central Chile, and the precious biodiversity which they safeguard through their work.

 

 

Bank transfer donations at:

Travesía del pipeno 

State Bank 

Electronic checkbook 

51970217782

Tax ID: 773673896

SWIFT Code: BECHCLRM

[email protected]

 

You can also follow the winemakers social media accounts:

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