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The 2014 Vintage in Argentina

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The 2014 vintage promises to be a challenging one for wineries in Argentina. After an excellent year in 2013, the climate has conspired to reduce harvests significantly in Mendoza, San Juan, and La Rioja. What will this mean for Argentine wine in the future?

It was a difficult spring and summer period across the Argentine wine country, with late frosts and hail followed by heat waves, scant water, and warm winds during the flowering of the vines. On several occasions, the temperature in San Juan came close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit (43 Celsius). But there was plenty of local variation: relatively normal harvests were expected in the Mendoza appellations of Lujan de Cuyo and Maipu, while San Rafael was projected to dive by 25%.

Overall, the National Institute of Viniculture's latest estimate for the 2014 harvest suggests a drop of 19% in grape production versus 2013. It will still be bigger than 2012, however. In Mendoza, the decrease versus 2013 will be about 17%. In La Rioja, which primarily exports torrontes and malbec to the United States, it will be 18%. And in San Juan, home to Callia, Graffigna, and other up-and-coming wineries, the vintage may be reduced by a stunning 25%.

By contrast, yields in Salta and Neuquen are expected to drop by 6% or less, and Rio Negro - home to fine pinot noir and merlot - will actually see production rise by 12%. But the production in these provinces is tiny compared to harvests in the three provinces above; they produce about 50 times as much.

This kind of tension can produce a variety of effects in the wine market. First, prices can rise because of the relative scarcity of raw materials. Second, wineries may decide to make less concentrated (or "extracted") wines given the paucity of grapes. Third, some smaller wineries may go out of business if they cannot cover their production costs.

Given the regional differences in the harvest, these effects are unlikely to be uniform. Still, the poor harvest is occurring at a particularly difficult time for Argentine winemakers, given the high degree of economic uncertainty now affecting the country. Continuing inflation was already putting upward pressure on prices, somewhat mitigated among exporting wineries by the devaluation of the peso. For wineries that mostly sell into the local market, there has been little relief.

On the bright side, the extreme climatic conditions may have intensified the flavor of some grapes, allowing high-quality producers to create especially outstanding wines. We'll certainly be watching - and tasting - this vintage with interest. Salud!