Chile’s 2024 harvest: Yields low and high quality

A mild winter impacted Chile’s northern and centre-southern regions quite differently. Overall, yields are lower, but quality remains high.

The 2023/2024 season has been another unusual one for Chile. In contrast to the extreme summer of the 2023 vintage, this season has been marked by mild temperatures. But the really striking thing about harvest 2024 was the contrasting impacts of the weather on the north and the rest of the country.

Ocean impact
With the El Niño phenomenon in transition during 2023, ‘temperatures in the Pacific rose 1–1.5 degrees,’ says Marcelo Papa, technical director at Concha y Toro. ‘In Chile that meant a mild winter, resulting in varied budding patterns. The high ocean temperature created greater cloud cover, less direct sunlight and rainy winters. These conditions continued after budding, resulting in slow ripening.’

A tale of two harvests
Andrea Calderón Vásquez, the oenologist at 1865 Wines which has vineyards in Elqui and Limarí in the north; in Leyda, Maipo, Cachapoal, Colchagua, Lontué (Curicó Valley) in central Chile; and in Malleco Chile’s – southernmost wine region, said: ‘It was like there were two harvests in Chile, one for the north and another for the central and southern regions.

‘For the northern harvest, I had to return from my holidays early, but I could have taken a second holiday while we waited for the southern harvest.’

In the north of Chile, the harvest was brought forward by between 15 and 20 days. From Santiago to the south, grape picking began 20 days later than usual.

North: quick and dry
In Limarí, ‘the winter was short and mild, causing vines to bud three weeks earlier than usual’, said Héctor Rojas, viticulturist at Tabalí. The rainfall in the south didn’t reach the north – the South Pacific High (a high-pressure system that can slow wet weather) resulted in a dry season for northern vineyards. Water shortages meant limited irrigation, which resulted in yields approximately 20% lower than usual.

Other producers in Limarí reported that the increased cloud cover was beneficial in the face of such dry weather, preventing overripeness in varieties such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

High summer temperatures in Elqui brought ripening forward. Gabriel Mustakis, winemaker for San Pedro labels such as Kankana del Elqui and Tierras Moradas said: ‘The harvest occurred up to 15 days earlier than usual in Elqui. Fruit development occurred more rapidly, with greater sugar accumulation, excellent concentration, higher alcohol levels and balanced ripeness.’

The centre and the south: slow and wet
Aurelio Montes, of Viña Montes in Colchagua, said that 2023/2024 was ‘one of the strangest seasons I’ve seen as an oenologist. Winter 2023 had high temperatures and high rainfall. A cold, damp spring resulted in weak fruitset and fewer berries. Summer continued the trend of low temperatures, further delaying growth and ripening’.

‘Almost Bordelais’
In Maipo, overall the year was ‘decidedly cold and cloudy, with low sunlight. It was almost Bordelais’, said Papa. The cool end to 2023 was followed by high summer temperatures in January and February, resulting in gradual, uneven ripening. Earlier-ripening varieties such as Cabernet Franc were delayed by two to three weeks; yields for later-ripening varieties such as Carmenère were impacted by the cool spring. Thankfully, the end result was balanced; Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenère both have moderate to low alcohol levels, elegant tannins and good freshness.

Sebastián Ruíz Flano, winemaker at Viña Tarapacá in Maipo, is quite enthusiastic about the 2024 harvest. ‘Harvest began 15–17 days later than usual but we’re happy with the results; the alcohol stayed low and the tannins are incredible. Fruit health was excellent because the rain held off, allowing us to harvest at just the right time. It was a great season.’

Vásquez added that in the coastal region of Leyda, ‘the cold spring impacted fruitset, producing lower yields. Uneven development steadied out in summer and we harvested on a date similar to previous years. Sparse bunches and prevalent local breezes resulted in healthy fruit’.

The southernmost Chilean wine region of Malleco experienced the same cool spring and delayed fruit development, but also heavy rainfall – 60mm fell in two days in March, triple the weekly average. Overall, the season was damp and cold, resulting in Pinot Noir with lower alcohol levels and good acidity.

It’s certainly been another strange year for Chilean winemakers, in different ways. Ultimately, yields for the 2024 vintage are 10 to 15% below average but, despite the unusual weather, quality expectations are high.

Source: Wine Business