Quake rocks Chilean wines — Argentina OK

On Feb. 27, an 8.8 magnitude earthquake rocked Chile leaving 800 dead and wiping out 125 million liters, or 12.5 percent, of Chile’s respected wine industry (mostly cabernet) with estimates of a $250 million loss. Most of the 288,000 acres affected were up and down the winemaking corridor between the capital of Santiago in the north to near the epicenter at Concepcion, Chile’s second largest city, in the south. Damage was extensive to the infrastructure of the vineyards and wineries leaving “millions of liters” of barreled wine on the floor as the country prepared for the new harvest. 
By some miracle of nature, the actual grape vines had not been affected and picking and destemming is moving forward as the fifth largest importer of wine in the world gets back to making great reds at value prices, according to the Chilean Association of Wineries. 
“Work has been re-established and bottle  lines are in generally good condition,” said Rene Marino, president of the organization. Meanwhile Argentina, separated from Chile by the Andes Mountains, escaped the shock.
Jim Barrasso, the affable owner of Firefly Grill and Wine Bar in Encinitas and a firm believer in the Chilean-Argentinean wine story, was set to fly into Santiago, Chile, then on to Argentina, for the vineyard tour of a lifetime. Twenty-four hours before the earthquake struck, I shook his hand and wished him the best on his trip and requested a story on his travels, never dreaming of what was to happen.
“We found out about it when we got the call that all flights were cancelled into Chile.  Scheduling was adjusted so that we were able to get into Santiago’s airport 10 days later.  It was still heavily damaged and operating out of tents,” he recalled. A connector flight to Argentina was set up a day later and they were finally in the biggest producer of wine in South America and the maker of the now-famous Malbec wines. 
 “I always wanted to go there and had to scramble to get winery visits adjusted for private tours and tastings,” he told me.  “The winemakers and owners were even more hospitable after the ordeal of the earthquake. We tasted lots of Malbec, the most popular wine in Argentina’s biggest wine district, Mendoza. The altitude averages 5 to 7,000 feet, which makes Malbec thrive,” he pointed out. He named Catena Zapata as one of his favorites, with its widespread, highly focused source vineyards and over a century of family experience. I recently tasted the 2006 Catena Cabernet and found it to be an aromatic, taste-filled berry and spice red, right up there with the premium cabs of Chile. You can learn more about Catena by accessing www.catenawines.com. For the latest on Chile’s recovery, access www.winesofchile.org.
California Wine Festival comes to Dana Point
This Doheny State Beach located wine festival, planned for April 24 from 1 to 4 p.m. is a hybrid to the celebrated California Wine Festival in Santa Barbara that will happen July 15 through July 17. The Dana Point event also has Thursday and Friday parts to it. A Taste the Future with sustainable seafood and wine tasting happens on Thursday evening April 22 at the Ritz-Carlton Resort Hotel; and a Rare and Reserve Tasting is Friday evening April 23 with elegant food pairings at the Dana Point Yacht Club. Both are from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Saturday’s Doheny Beachside Wine Festival features unlimited tasting of fine wine and foods plus regional craft brews. The event is on a grassy area with lots of shade. You can combine events and get entrance privileges for discount pricing or order an “All Gold VIP Pass” so you don’t miss anything. Call for full details at (800) 595-4849 or check it out at www.californiawinefestival.com.
Wine Bytes
The Zinfandel Associates and Producers (ZAP) has a Zin Tasting event at the Island Hotel in Newport Beach from 4 to 7 p.m. April 18. Some 40 wineries, many from Sonoma and Paso Robles, will be pouring. A culinary competition will offer samples for all guests. Tickets are $49 each and can be obtained at www.zinfandel.org or by calling (530) 274-4900.
R&R Wine Marketing presents a Spring Portfolio Tasting from 6 to 8 p.m. April 19 at Loungesix on the Hotel Solamar Rooftop Terrace, downtown San Diego. Meet winemakers and owners, taste current release wines and sample hors d’oeuvres. There is a $20 entrance fee. RSVP at (619) 221-8024.
Lewis Cellars wines are spotlighted in a special wine dinner at Amaya in the Grand Del Mar Resort from 5:30 to 10 p.m. April 23. Dennis Bell from Lewis will present the wines. Amaya chef Camron Woods has prepared an eventful four-course menu to match the wines. The cost is $70 per person. Call (858) 314-1988 for an RSVP.

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