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Interview: TOP of CHILE

and urbanized society (80% of our population lives in urban areas), until 1950, and for four centuries, it was a largely rural one, ruled by the values and priorities of the countryside, of which wine and winemaking are such an integral part. It is the drink of choice both of the popular sectors and of those of higher income.

It has a strong presence in our literature and poets like Pablo Neruda and Oscar Castro have eulogized it. The wine harvest, vendimia has always been a very special occasion in the Chilean countryside. Yet, two apparently contradictory trends have emerged in the last few decades. On the one hand, per capita consumption of wine has declined. In 1972, the average per capita consumption was 59 litres per person per year; today, it is only 16 litres, which puts us in the 17 th place in the world in the world and third in the Americas. Yet, this decline in consumption in the mostly cheaper varieties of wine (traditionally bought in huge bottles or “chuicos”, and made from “Uva País”, the one originally brought to Chile by the Spaniards) has gone hand in hand with a better appreciation of fine wines, the publication of sophisticated wine guides and magazines and the emergence of a much more knowledgeable wine consumer.

Some wine shops in Santiago today look like high-fashion boutiques!

What is the average consumption of other alcoholic beverages in Chile?

In beer the average consumption per person is 28 litres and that of liquor is 3.5 litres, which means an average consumption of 5.2 litres of pure alcohol per person, out of which about 46% stems from wine and about 27% from liquor.

The per capita consumption of pure alcohol in India is approximately 0.6 litres, in which 47% stems from liquor and only 0.14% from wine. There is considerable room for growth for Indian wine consumption.

Do people take wine with food as a routine or on special occasions?

Wine consumption is closely associated with Chilean way of life. Some people still have it routinely for lunch and/or dinner. It is an established feature at business lunches, family gatherings, weddings and other festivities, at which its absence would be unthinkable.

How are wines taxed? Is the rate same or different for wine and liquor?

As far as our tariffs are concerned, we have a uniform 6% tariff on all imported goods. What you see is what you get: 6%, no special permits

we have a uniform 6% tariff on all imported goods. What you see is what you get: 6%, no special permits, quotas or licenses. This applies to wine as to anything else.

, quotas or licenses. This applies to wine as to anything else. In addition to VAT, at 19%, which is applied universally—no exemptions or exceptions--alcoholic beverages have a modest tax of 27% on their value, be it Scotch whiskey or Chilean piesco or wine.

As a result you can buy quaffable wine for the equivalent to 160 rupees in a store or supermarket, and for 300 or 400 rupees in a restaurant or hotel. Given the fact that Chile's per capita income today is U$ 7000 ,14 times that of India, it should give you an idea of how affordable wine is in Chile, and how expensive it is in India.

I often find the Chilean red wines hot, i.e., the alcohol level feels a lot more than the 14% mentioned on the label. Is it true? Is there a relationship between the tax rates vis-à-vis alcohol content?

For every 17 grams of sugar in the must, approximately one degree of alcohol is produced. Chile, by its exceptional climatic conditions produces the greater part of its grape juice between 221 grams per litre and 238 grams per litre, that is to say wines in the must rank from 13 to 14% alcohol. Exceptionally, there can be wines of 14.5% and they are in heavy demand. In any case the Chilean legislation is very strict with respect to the

Exceptionally, there can be wines of 14.5% and they are in heavy demand. In any case the Chilean legislation is very strict with respect to the control

control and analysis carried out on quality and alcoholic content, so that the labelling must realistically reflect the bottle's content.

Do you actively promote agro-tourism? If so, has it helped you increase tourism?

There has not been much promotion of agro-tourism per se, but tourism has grown very quickly in Chile over the past decade. This year we may have more than two million foreign tourists, although our traditional view had been that we were too far from the main visiting markets to be “saleable” as a tourist destination. And many of these tourists want to know more about the elaboration of the brands they have tasted at home.

What about the wine routes you advertise so much about?

They are coming into their own. Through them, visitors can appreciate the different wine varieties, their elaboration process, the state of the wine cellars and their history. It also allows them to enjoy the cuisine, the arts and crafts and the natural attractions of the vineyards valleys. The first Wine Route was that of Colchagua, which goes back to 1966. Currently, there are eight wine routes, located in as many valleys: Colchagua, Maule, Casablanca, Curicó, Cachapoal, Aconcagua, Limarí and Maipo High. Santa Cruz, a small town in Colchagua, has become a bit of a hub for visiting wine-lovers. It has an excellent five-star hotel, and there is a train that will take you to half a dozen vineyards. Wine routes are patronized by 50,000 tourists a year, and generate U$ 5 million in revenues.

Chile may have been exporting copper for years, but it is only wine that has brought it into India's map. Chilean wines have established themselves as great value-for-money wines. What do you feel about that?

Our trade with India is booming. Our exports have grown eightfold in the past six years, from U$ 50 million in 1998 to U$ 425 million in 2004, and last year was a particularly good one, as they grew by 90%.

However, the high taxes imposed on imported wines in India (at 275%, one of the highest in the world) are a problem. Although our wines are known here for their quality, our sales to India are still marginal. Our wine exports to India grew by 120% in 2004, and they have been well received both by consumer and by wine critics, but we still have a long way to go. India is ranked #66 among our wine export markets, with only U$ 317,000, less than 0.04% of our exports. In addition to copper, which constitutes the bulk of our exports to India, we also export , among other things, iodine, fishmeal, molybdenum, apples and almonds to this country.

What efforts does ProChile make to promote Chilean wines?

In Chile, the public sector works hand-in-hand with the private sector, thus opening up markets and promoting products. Wines of Chile ( ) is the leading trade association. It brings together 90 vineyards which represent more than 90% of total wine exports. It works directly with ProChile and the Ministry of Agriculture in wine promotion abroad.

What support does the embassy provide to exporters, importers and consumers to promote these wines?

All Chilean missions are in the business of promoting our products. We do that in a variety of ways, including providing information about markets, trade barriers, consumer preferences and other such matters.

You like Indian food and you like wine. Do the two go together?

Given the sheer diversity of Indian food and the enormous variety of regional cuisines in this true continent, any detailed answer would demand considerable research and another interview. Nonetheless, as an aficionado of Indian food for about thirty years let me venture some rules of thumb.

The first is to disregard the notion that, somehow, Indian food and wine don't mix. As has been pointed out, the Charaka Sambita lists 84 varieties of alcoholic beverages, and says that they do have beneficial effects. Wine has been with us for thousands of years, and there are reasons for that.

The second notion that I think is quite wrong is that, just because Indian food is different from Western varieties, all rules that apply to the enjoyment of wine with food should be ignored. I don't buy that at all. To my mind, the basic principles of wine drinking—i.e., having , as a rule, lighter wines before the heavier ones, and (generally, but not always) whites before reds, reds with red meats and white with white meats and fish, as well as sweet and fortified wines only with dessert or after dinner— still hold. Having said that, and without getting into particular brands or vintages, let me be more specific: my experience is that vegetarian meals go better with white wines than with reds; that, in that ambit, Chardonnay is more suited for the spicier varieties and Sauvignon Blanc for the milder ones.

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