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Ambassador Of Chilean Wines


“El Niño” effect caused Chilean wines to be diluted in 1998. Has it still left any mark on the quality? How susceptible are you to this phenomenon?

The Humboldt Current,  a cold current originating in Antarctica goes up along all of Chile 's coast and has a considerable effect on our climate making it colder. Our wine growing region is located between 32 and 38 degrees latitude which corresponds to Southern Spain the Northern Hemisphere. But the average temperature in Central Chile is much lower.  Corriente del Niño is the current in the form of an irregular flow of hot water originating from  the North which comes up around Christmas every ten years or so. It alters the climatic conditions in the coastal regions of Northern part of South America , sometimes reaches Chile as well.

This affected the wine production in 1999, due to the cold spring and humidity of 1997 that influenced the leaf buds as well as the extreme dryness of the winter and spring of 1998.  It influenced the volume produced, which went down from 5.4 million hectolitres to 4.6 million, but not the quality, because there was no fungus. Wines of that year turned out to have a high content of alcohol, strong flavours and ripe tannins.

How would you rate the recent vintages of relevance, say 2000 to 2005?

The year 2003 was exceptional as there was a long, sunny and dry autumn. This favoured the quantity as well as the quality of wine.

It is a general belief that Torres' entry into Chile in the seventies was a historic landmark in terms of improvement of your wine quality. Do you agree ?

Yes. The arrival of Miguel Torres in 1979 when he bought some land and established a vineyard in Curicó, in Chile 's Seventh Region marked a radical change in the industry. He gave a tremendous impetus to the introduction of latest technologies: Stainless steel casks, pneumatic presses, temperature regulators of fermentation and a suitable cold chain.

Are there any laws set by the government or the wine makers to define the specs, quality and other aspects of winemaking in Chile ?

 Law 18.455 of 1985 fixed a few norms for the production, elaboration and commercialisation of alcoholic beverages.  We should also add, Decree Law 464 of 1994 that lays down norms with respect to the establishment of wine and grape growing zones. It specifies norms regarding the Appellation of Origin , indications regarding varietals, labels and vintage etc.  Both these laws have been key to keep up the quality of the Chilean wines  

Is it true that the Chilean producers import a sizeable amount of grapes from Argentina , convert it into wine and export it?

Chile is a country free from many types of pests, including the fruit fly while most other countries are not. To do what you are saying would be shooting us in the foot.  It is not happening. As the world's #1 exporter of grapes, we have plenty of our own.

Again, with so much experience and history behind it how it is that Chile could not elevate itself into producing fine wines like USA and Australia ?

Chile produces high-quality wines; in many cases better than the countries you mention. Our marketing has probably not been as good and we have not had wine writers that the English-speaking world has.  Our country differentiates itself by selling good wines in a price range of US$ 4 per bottle in USA and 3 pounds in UK .  This is delivering the best combination of quality and price. 

Chile has also started to move up the value chain, crossing the US$10 threshold that marks the limit between premium and non-premium wines. The average price of our wine exports between January and July  has gone up by 20%.  

Chile is now the fifth largest exporter of wines, running closely behind Australia ... With its higher growth rate when do you expect Chile to displace Australia as the fourth largest exporter?

Chile has one of the highest growth rates among wine exporters, comparable only to  Australia 's.   Our exports have had an average annual growth of 22%, starting from US$ 51 million in 1990 to US$ 835 million in 2004.The industry had initially aimed at reaching U$ 1 billion in exports in 2010. It looks like we will reach the target much earlier and we are revising our projections upwards. Our aim is to hit U$ 1.5 billion by then.
We also export 75% of the wine we produce, the largest such share in the world.

What lies behind this mammoth growth in the production and export of Chilean wines?

Chile has optimal conditions for growing wine. John Platter, South Africa 's leading wine critic, once described it as a hothouse where God forgot to put the roof. For a long time we simply did not make the most of our assets. With the right public policies in place and massive investment in the latest technologies,  we now have the perfect combination between grape growing and wine making.

 Apart from enjoying optimal climatic, topographic and soil conditions for wine making, the success of the Chilean wine industry has to be set within the broader context of Chile's export-led development strategy.   Chile has increased its exports four-and-a-half times since 1990, from U$ 9 billion to a projected U$ 40 billion in 2005. Wine makes up for less than 3%, it is our most visible export product.

Wine industry has applied the same strategy as for the rest of our export sector. Our objective is to diversify not only our products but also our markets. We are moving from traditional varieties as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc to newer specialities like our flagship varietal Carmene`re, as well as lesser known varieties like Carignan, Gewurztraminer, Cabernet Franc, Viognier as well as blends like Caballo Loco, a huge success in India.

We are selling about U$ 40 million of wine a year to Japan . We believe the Asian market holds great potential, although our main markets continue to be in Europe , our biggest market with 59% of our export. North America comes second with 20%. The fact that UK , our biggest single country export destination, allowed the sale of wines in supermarkets also helped.

Finally, the timing was right. Our products came on the market precisely at the moment studies documenting the benefits of the so-called Mediterranean diet, were popularised. People started realising that by drinking wine they could live longer.

Could you elaborate this a bit further?

Dr Curt Ellison and Dr Serge Renaud made public their findings in 1991 that the lower mortality rate in France from cardiovascular diseases, which is a third of that in the US . could be traced back to the specific features of their diet, especially the daily consumption of 300 to 400 ml of wine. This triggered a worldwide interest in the benefits of regular, moderate consumption of wine, especially reds with meals.

A subsequent study in 2001 by University of Glasgow with 65 red wines from a dozen countries, established that Chilean reds-Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir had a significantly higher number of flavonoids, key protectors of good health, than the wines from elsewhere. They attributed this to the quality of climate in Chile , making for grapes fully ripening in the sun before the harvest and to the modern technology and winemaking techniques used.

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