Business & Economy

Severe drought poses daunting challenge for Argentine wineries

By Javier Castro Bugarin

Mendoza, Argentina, Jan 9 (EFE).- Home to more than 600 wineries and boasting output of 10 million hectoliters (264.2 million gallons) of wine annually, the western Argentine province of Mendoza has earned its status as the country’s leading producer of that alcoholic beverage.

But the very survival of that industry there is now at stake due to a severe challenge: a persistent drought dating back a decade.

Located in the South American Arid Diagonal, a zone that runs from coastal Peru to the Argentine Patagonia and includes large swathes of Bolivia and Chile, Mendoza suffers structural water scarcity.

But the situation has been exacerbated over the past 10 years by climate change, forcing wine producers to adapt to what is widely regarded as the “new normal.”

“We’ve had many years with low levels of (water) reserves and that critical state has now become the norm,” Juan Pablo Murgia, a winemaker and technical manager of Grupo Avinea, a company that specializes in organic wine, told Efe. “So we’re the ones who need to change and understand that we have to live with this situation.”

Precipitation is scarce in Mendoza – roughly 250 liters (66 gallons) per square meter annually – and the province depends mainly on snowmelt, a water resource that descends from the Andes and feeds river basins.

The problem is that snowfall has been declining year after year.

“The glaciers are retreating, snow is scarce and the higher temperatures are creating a situation where our province’s five main basins are experiencing drought conditions that range from severe to extreme,” Dr. Marcela Andino, an adviser to Mendoza’s General Department of Irrigation, told Efe.

According to that agency, the flow of the Mendoza River, which provides irrigation water for the majority of local vineyards, amounted to 785 cubic hectometers (636,411 acre feet) in the 2021-2022 season – just 56 percent of its habitual volume and its lowest level of the past 50 years.

In response, wineries in that region have had to adapt and become more scientific in their approach to irrigation.

For example, Grupo Avinea, which has five vineyards in Mendoza, uses pressure chambers to monitor grapevine water status and determine how often the plants need to be watered.

And these types of private-sector initiatives are complemented by infrastructure works led by the provincial government.

“The whole focus is no longer on waterproofing the (irrigation) canals, but rather on building reservoirs to lend more flexibility to the water distribution and delivery system,” Andino said.

Murgia said for his part that wineries must use technology to improve the efficiency of their productive processes, adding that this reality favors the larger operations.

“It’s very likely that the more developed companies are going to be more hi-tech, and perhaps the smaller producers are the ones that will be hurt the most. That’s where we have to seek out all the tools to make these improvements,” he added.

Different enhancements and corrective actions are now imperative to ensure a viable future for Argentina’s wine industry, which currently ranks seventh in terms of production and 10th in exports worldwide. EFE


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