By Margaret Snook
As everyone has heard by now, Chile’s wine industry was indeed affected by the February 27 earthquake. Much has been published about it, although not all of it has been on target. As is understandable, there was considerable panic and worry in the earliest days following the quake, and, as is human nature, many people were quick to shout disaster. Let’s face it, toppled tanks, broken barrels, and crumbled buildings make a pretty impressive sight, not to mention a big mess, but once the cleanup started, the true picture began to come into focus. And although the situation was rough-very rough-fortunately, things were really not as globally bad as first imagined.
As one winemaker put it, “if someone cuts his hand, it will bleed a lot and and may seem very, very serious. We might even think he’s going to lose his hand all together, but once you get the guy cleaned up and calmed down, it usually becomes clear that he only needs a few stitches. What happened in the wine industry was somewhat similar.” After all, a broken barrel of wine will make a tremendous mess, but in the end, it’s just 225 liters.
Those first few weeks after the earthquake were very strange for many reasons. Not only were we here in Chile busy cleaning up the mess and assessing the damage–both personal and material–but we were also being bombarded by people from abroad looking for news. I–and everyone I know in the wine industry–received numerous calls from international journalists looking for blood-and-guts stories. “Tell me the worst case you’ve got,” they anxiously implored. “Send me pictures of rivers flowing with wine-and if you’ve got lots of broken bottles, even better.” “Sorry,” I respond, “I haven’t seen any Cabernet rivers.” Silence–or worse–tsking on the other end of the line. What is it about human nature that craves disaster? And what is it that makes some people so certain that they know the truth about what is going on thousands of miles away because they read something on internet that said it was so?
With this in mind, I proposed an exploratory trip to the most affected wine regions, from Cachapoal to Maule, to see for myself what had happened. Not as a means of satisfying anyone’s morbid curiosity, but rather to actually see what happened and where things were headed. Chileans are strong people who do get knocked down from time to time, but they don’t stay down long. I wanted to see with my own eyes and hear with my own ears. I wanted to talk with the people who were there–not to the company PR folks, but to the workers, to the people in town, to the kids on the street.
And so it was. Photographer Mari Correa and I set out on March 17 to visit wineries in Cono Sur and MontGras in Colchagua, Miguel Torres in Curicó, and O’Fournier and Gillmore in Maule. We also visited the cities of Santa Cruz, Peralillo, Talca, and Constitución.
It was a most humbling experience, and it became clearer than ever that Chile’s vast beauty–the abrupt and craggy Andes Mountains that form the country’s backbone, the Atacama, that scorching, driest of dry deserts in the world, the breathtaking coastline that receives the full force of an ocean that’s anything but pacific, the volcanoes, hot springs, geysers, glaciers, fjords, lakes, rivers, and valleys and so much more–all of it is there through some act of Mother Earth’s mighty hand, a hand that opens to offer up her bounty, but that also, on occasion, deftly crushes all that humankind has worked to build.
Chileans are a hardy breed. No one reaches adulthood without having experienced a major earthquake, and, given that they come about every 25 years, most people will go through two or three in their lifetime. Chile knows from earthquakes… And Chileans know that they are a fact of life. And that there’s just one way to deal with them. Pick yourself up, give thanks for what you still have, roll up your sleeves, and start to rebuild… and make it better and stronger the next time around.
Please join me over the coming days for the testimony in words and images of those who experienced Chile’s 8.8 earthquake on February 27, 2010.