Chile’s big players inject personality

The Chilean wine industry is set to become increasingly dominated by larger companies, but balanced by a trend towards “more exotic” varieties and “more interesting portfolios”, believes Luis Felipe Edwards.

“The big are becoming bigger and the small are becoming niche,” observed Edwards, managing director of his family’s Colchagua-based business, Viña Luis Felipe Edwards.

However, in a move which fits neatly with the general strategic shift among Chilean producers towards achieving a more premium position for their wines, Edwards continued: “What people are trying to do is make their portfolio more interesting.”

Much of this shift is being driven by demand from key export markets, including the UK. “Many places are looking for differences,” confirmed Edwards. “It’s very exciting as it gives us a chance to drive our premium wines.”

As part of his company’s large scale, ongoing vineyard expansion programme, Edwards flagged up a number of varieties with the scope to add a more creative edge to Chile’s wine offer.

“Tempranillo is going to be fantastic as a component,” he predicted, while also pointing to exciting potential for varieties including Mourvedre, Grenache and Malbec.

This commitment among larger producers to injecting extra personality into Chile’s wine offer is shared by Ernesto Müller, managing director of Grupos Vinos del Pacifico, whose portfolio includes Undurraga and a newly created subsidiary, Bodega Volcanes de Chile.

“You have to have something interesting to show every few years or you become a commodity,” maintained Müller.

The new company’s goal is to explore and exploit Chile’s volcanic sites – the country has 2,900 volcanoes, of which 500 remain active – to create a range of wines expressing the strong character of these soils.

With Volcanes de Chile currently producing a total of around 250,000 cases, its various ranges range in price from £8-£20 and include a Syrah/Carignan blend from Cauquenes in Maule, a Leyda Sauvignon, Pinot Noir from Bio Bio, Carmenere from Rapel and Lava, a range of sparkling wines.

“In Chile almost any soil has volcanic character, but it’s about finding soils where that character comes through,” elaborated Müller.

Having seen its first harvest in 2010, Volcanes de Chile is beginning to export this year, with Müller predicting: “We will be six or seven countries by the end of the year. We’re targeting countries where we can hand sell wines.”

Although these wines have already found importers in Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Sweden and Belgium, Müller admitted: “We have to find the right partner to sell these wines in the UK. Most importers say we have too many wines at the moment.”

In the meantime, next month will see the company’s Undurraga brand launch its Vigno label in the UK. An association of 12 Maule producers of Carignan, Vigno imposes strict criteria on vine age, planting density, dry farming and maturation in a drive to boost the image of the region’s old vine Carignan.

Chile’s larger producers are also continuing to pioneer experimental plantings in the country’s most extreme regions.

Undurraga is now ready to begin commercial plantings of Pinot Noir in the country’s new southern vineyard frontier of Chile Chico at 46º latitude, 600km further south than Argentina’s Neuquen vineyards.

Meanwhile, Viña Ventisquero is pushing Chile’s northern vineyard boundaries with plans for a 2013 release of wines from its Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah plantings in Huasco in the Atacama desert.

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