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Chile’s wine country bounces back
THOMAS WILKINS BIGGS had been asleep for barely 15 minutes when the world came undone. The managing director for Viñas de Colchagua, a winemakers’ association in Chile’s Colchagua Valley, Biggs had been up late into the night entertaining guests before dutifully returning home with his wife’s requested chocolate. At around 3:35 a.m. he awoke to the sounds of walls and ceilings buckling, paintings falling and his daughters crying. “The movement was incredible,” he remembers, gazing away.
Last year’s historic 8.8-magnitude earthquake collapsed bridges, split buildings and shifted the Earth’s figure axis by three inches. Once the human toll had been calculated (Biggs’ family was unscathed), attention shifted to Chile’s industries, especially wine. The fifth-largest exporter of bottled wine to the U.S., Chile has majestic growing regions beloved for their high-quality vintages at wallet-friendly prices. But its post-quake losses were significant: Toppled tanks and scattered barrels spilled 125 million liters at a cost of a quarter of a billion dollars. Observers questioned the industry’s future.
Today, the damage can still be seen, but just barely. With a remarkably resilient attitude found across Colchagua, Chile’s vineyards have rebounded. Century-old adobe walls have been rebuilt to modern standards, tanks are now secured to both the ceiling and floor to achieve some earthquake resistance, and the industry even posted around a 12 percent increase in exports since the quake, according to Wines of Chile. “We had to show all the people who believe in us that we can make it,” says Biggs. “There was no time for crying.” — MICHAEL B. DOUGHERTY