Chile: high and mighty

Chile is repositioning itself as a producer of top quality, higher-priced wines and has lots of ideas about how to attain this goal, as Patrick Schmitt MW discovers.

If one were asked to name a single New World country that has most successfully sated a drinker’s thirst for inexpensive, fruity and consistent wines, then the answer would have to be Chile. The nation is home to near-perfect viticultural conditions, an almost 500-year winemaking history, and some of the biggest and most efficient wine-producing companies on the planet. It is a country with relatively inexpensive labour and a land that is well-suited to growing the full gamut of the globe’s most sought-after international grapes, which are, in reds, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, and in whites, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Together, these facets have ensured that Chile has been able to supply some of the most competitive wine markets with products that are desirable in terms of taste, style, varietal composition, and, crucially, price. In short, it serves the mainstream market more broadly and better than any other wine-producing country outside of Europe. But, being brilliant at inexpensive wine is not something it wants to be famous for. It wants the world to wake up to its fine wine credentials. And in some markets, this will require a repositioning. In others, it will necessitate the careful establishment of higher-priced offerings before the entry-level wines take hold.
 
But why do this, you may be wondering? Chile, after all, represents a tale of triumph in the modern history of wine – a time when fermented grape juice is not a limited luxury but a widely available affordable indulgence.
Such change is necessary for the long-term health of the country’s wine industry. In terms of demand, growth in key wine-importing nations is coming at higher-priced segments, while, in terms of supply, the margins for making inexpensive reds and whites in Chile
are diminishing, if not becoming non-existent.
It’s also vital that Chile escapes the trap of commoditisation: it needs to add value to ensure it’s not just supplying wine that could be acquired elsewhere. In other words, it needs to protect its wine business against imitators.
To do this it is using a four-pronged approach incorporating a boost to the international image of Chile using its culture and cuisine; a push on the country’s sustainable winemaking credentials; an emphasis on its innovative winegrowing approaches; and, crucially, a promotion of the nation’s key viticultural areas. As a single overt signal of intent by the country’s winegrowers to focus on the more upmarket end of their wine scene, Wines of Chile will from now on only support activities that promote ‘premium’ wines. And by premium, the organisation means those wines with an FOB export price that is US$60 or more per case, which loosely translates into wines that retail for £10 or more per bottle in the UK, above US$15 in the US, and more than RMB150 in China. “We really want to premiumise, because we have great wines and we need to change the perception of Chile to one of a premium wine producer,” explains Angélica Valenzuela, commercial director at Wines of Chile.

One Response to “Chile: high and mighty”

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