Chile shows adventurous approach

31st October, 2013 by Gabriel Stone

Santa Rita Estates is using its new top end Petite Sirah blend Bougainville to highlight the “tremendous” opportunity for Chile to broaden its fine wine perspective.

Santa Rita technical director Andres Ilabaca shows off the Bougainville vineyards and soil

Santa Rita technical director Andres Ilabaca shows off the Bougainville vineyards and soil

Speaking at the wine’s official launch earlier this month, Hector Torres, director of luxury wines for Santa Rita Estates, argued that the country should look beyond a traditional focus on Bordeaux varieties for its top end wines.

Although Pinot Noir is also an increasingly common Chilean fine wine focus, he remarked: “We think the potential for the category is still quite open, both for Santa Rita and Chile as a country. There is a vast array of regions and varieties, different clones, different terroirs and we’re permanently looking at all these to see what could be the opportunity to develop a new icon wine. The more we can elevate the category, the better for the industry.”

While noting that with its Casa Real, Pehuen and Triple C wines, Santa Rita Estates has already covered off top end examples of Chile’s more familiar Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere and blended approaches, Torres stressed the originality of Bougainville, which it first showed at Vinexpo earlier this year. “This is a unique wine, one that nobody else has in Chile or South America. I think that the opportunity is tremendous,” he said.

With 41 hectares of Petite Sirah planted across Maipo and Colchagua, Santa Rita claims around 22% of Chile’s estimated total 188ha plantings of this variety.

Despite its relatively small presence in Chile, Torres highlighted the growing popularity of Petite Sirah in the US, where it is found not just in California and Washington State but also on the East Coast in Maryland and Virginia. “It’s growing very quickly in the US, about 30% a year,” he claimed, reporting total US Petite Sirah plantings of 3,502ha.

For all the growing popularity of Petite Sirah in the US, which is also one of Chile’s largest export markets, Torres suggested that it would be “challenging” to build large scale success with Bougainville here. Although noting “The main advantage is that they are more familiar with the grape,” he added: “but it’s difficult too as it’s different to what they are used to.”

Turning to Brazil, an increasingly important market for Chile’s top end wines, Torres described the market as “a big question mark” as a result of the grape variety’s lack of familiarity here. He cited this issue as an obstacle in Asia, although added: “We may get some help from Australia as they have some success with this variety and Australian wines are quite well known in Asia.”

However, offering a final prediction on the most promising markets for the new wine, Torres suggested: “Canada should be important,” adding: “I think in the UK too we can be quite successful.”

With an RRP of around £60, Bougainville features Petite Sirah grown on pergola-trained vines in the Alto Jahuel sub-region of Maipo, with Syrah from Limari making up 15% of the final blend.

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