It is high summer in South America. Time to hit swimming pools and beaches while wishing everyone “Feliz Navidad!”
Christmas traditions are remarkably similar around the world. The faithful celebrate the religious dimensions while others enjoy the secular elements of the series of end-of-year holidays. South Americans enjoy Christmas lights, poinsettias, and Christmas trees. Christmas Eve often includes fireworks, much like America’s Fourth of July.
In the wine world of the Southern Hemisphere, December is the time for bud break, with all the terror and hopeful prayers that go with it. In Argentina this year the seasonal swing was not so good. Late frosts will substantially affect the 2022-2023 vintage.
The events began with unusual early warmth. Zonda winds—warm, dry gusts that sweep down from the Andes—raised daytime temperatures into the low 90s. Then cold nighttime winds from the south blew in. The early morning of October 31—Halloween—was cold and it got worse during the day and into November 1. Some areas experienced freezing temperatures for eight hours.
While late-season frosts are not unexpected in Argentina, this year’s episode was unusual for the duration of the freeze and the number of vineyards affected. Some fear this could be the worst late-freeze in the Argentine wine industry since 1992. Not surprisingly, vineyards further south suffered the most impact. Growers expect a 20 percent reduction in yields in the lighter-hit vineyards, while other, more affected vineyards could see yields cut in half or more. Higher elevation vineyards may have suffered 100 percent impacts.
The true extent of the damage in Argentina will not be known until around Christmas. Vines are resilient and some will generate a second bud break. Still, as Christians celebrate the birth of a savior, at least some of the fervent prayers will be for the warm December and January sun to shine on the recovering vineyards.
The weather appears kinder in Chile this year—their late frost problem was last year. Wine is an agricultural product. If you can’t take the bad with the good and roll with the punches, you are in the wrong profession.
• Hampton Water South of France Rosé 2021: Nice rosé from Bon Jovi’s son, Jesse. More than a celebrity wine. $20-23 Link to my review
• Dow’s Late Bottled Vintage Porto 2016: Classic Dow’s quality; legendary vintage. $25-29 Link to my review
• González Byass Viña AB Amontillado Sherry: Graceful, elegant 12-year-old wine; nicely balances ripping acidity, minerality, soft, smooth body. $17-20 (375 ML) Link to my review
Last round: What famous playwright was terrified of Christmas? Noël Coward