Cabernet Sauvignon instead of cachaça

In the run-up to the 2014 Football World Cup, Brazil is increasingly drawing attention as a wine-producing country / exports are increasing

Brazil: With this heading, who does not think of sun, beach and samba, of caipirinha, cachaça and other beverages? It is far less widely known that the world’s fifth largest country is also increasingly proceeding to draw attention as a wine producer. Nevertheless: At the ProWein 2013 fair, the stand from “Wines of Brazil” was one of the absolute eye-catchers, and with the tenth participation in Düsseldorf from 23 – 25 March 2014, the team led by Andreia Gentilini Milan, Promotion Director of the Brazilian Wine Institute (Ibravin), wants to achieve yet another success: “Due to the 2014 Football World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, we are the focus of public attention – Brazil has also become much more present as a wine-producing country in international trade through our work of recent years.” South America’s long-time “sleeping giant” would like to double its wine exports from five per cent today to ten per cent by 2016, and then quadruple to 20 per cent by 2025.

It was Portuguese colonists who laid out the first vineyards beyond the equator in the 16th century. A great wave of emigration from Europe started in the middle of the 19th century, which initially brought Germans and thereafter many Italians in the south of the country, in the present-day federal state of Rio Grande do Sul. Back then, the Germans ploughed the fertile farmland not far from the coast; the Italians had to move into the hilly areas further inland – into a region which reminded them of their homeland in the Piedmont, Veneto and Trentino regions, and which was suitable for winegrowing. This is how it comes about that to this day 85 per cent of Brazilian wine production stems from the Serra Gaúcha region, and the most important businesses all bear Italian names such as Miolo, Salton, Valduga, Carraro or Pizzato. Vinícola Salton – with over 25 million litres of wine, of which 7.5 million is sparkling wine – is ranked third in the country behind Miolo and Vinicola Aurora, a large cooperative based in Sao Bento Gonçalves. “Happiness, a lot of fruit and freshness” – this is what constitutes the special feature in “Vinho do Brasil” for Luciana Salton, Executive Director of the Salton family business. The wines from Brazil come across just as youthfully fresh as the CEO, who is only 31 years old…
Photo: Vinicola Miolo
Photo: Luciana Salton
Photo: Campanha: the current Eldorado of winegrowing
Photo: “We are Brazil’s best region”, says Ricardo Haas, cellarer at Almadén in Santana do Livramento
Photo: Gauchos in the South
Photo: The Pötters: infected by the “wine virus”
Photo: Brazilian vintners does not even shy away from craggy mountain ridges and altitudes beyond the 1,000-metre mark
Photo: Warm air blower machine against frost
Photo: Celso Panceri with daughter: a long-established vintner family
Photo: Dari Scaraboto: leader of the Vinicampos cooperative – established in 2006
Photo: Vale do Sao Francisco
Photo: Dégorgement at Geisse
Ten years ago there were very few wine-growing estates in the giant country to be taken seriously. Today the statistics list 1,162 of them in four different federal states. This includes the Campanha region in the very south along the border to Uruguay, Serra do Sudeste, Serra Gaúcha, Campos de Cima da Serra, Planalto Catarinense as well as Vale do São Francisco near Petrolinas in the hinterland of Bahia. Two harvests per year are possible thanks to abundant sunshine and irrigation in the semiarid tropical climate in the northeast of Brazil. This is not the only reason why the valley has a special position. There is a distance of 3,000 kilometres between the valley and Campanha as the current Eldorado of winegrowing with constant newly emerging businesses. Roughly 80 per cent of the total Brazilian vineyard acreage (82,000 hectares) is still cultivated with hybrids and American Vitis labrusca vines, but areas cultivated with Vitis vinifera vines are constantly emerging in the new wine-growing regions.

A spirit of optimism prevails everywhere, particularly in the very south, in Brazil’s pampa. The vineyard acreage has increased to 2,500 hectares within a few years, with emphasis on red varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Touriga Nacional, Tempranillo, Pinot Noir and Tannat. Similar to neighbouring Uruguay, many experts believe the Tannat grape variety offers perhaps the highest quality potential. But Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and some Riesling grapes are also being planted. “We are Brazil’s best region”, says Ricardo Haas, cellarer at Almadén in Santana do Livramento, a business belonging to the Miolo Group. Virgin soils, great differences in temperature between day and night in the maturity stage of grapes as well as sufficient rain at the right time ensure wines with lots of fruit that are not too heavy.
Photo: To this day 85 per cent of Brazilian wine production stems from the Serra Gaúcha region
But not only the great vintner dynasties from Serra Gaúcha – with its Vale dos Vinhedos as the first certified appellation – are buying land in the pampa. Newcomers such as former Pernod Ricard manager Rosana Wagner and her partner Gladistao Omizzolo or agricultural entrepreneur Valter Pötter and his daughter Gabriela have been infected by the “wine virus” and established new businesses. The goal for the Pötters and their wine-growing estate named Guatambu is 200,000 bottles. For the time being! A wine tourism project is already in the planning stage.

With so much dynamic it is no wonder that the ambition of Brazilian vintners does not even shy away from craggy mountain ridges and altitudes beyond the 1,000-metre mark. In the highlands – the so-called “Planalto” in the adjacent federal state of Santa Catarina north of Rio Grande do Sul – there are in the meantime about 400 hectares of vineyards with European grape varieties around São Joaquim, Campos Novos, Tangará and Videira. The grape harvest time is from mid-March to the beginning of May, two months later than in the lower-lying locations. Even ice wine from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes has already been harvested. This “vineyard patch” is cultivated by the offspring of long-established vintner families such as Celso Panceri with his 14-hectare vineyard in the wild and romantic mountain landscape near Tangará as well as by the members of the Vinicampos cooperative – established in 2006 – with their leader Dari Scaraboto, or by industry newcomers such as Fumio Hiragami and Walter Kranz.
Photo: Gilberto Pedrucci
The long and winding route up into the mountains of Santa Catarina towards Treze Tilias – a small town founded in 1933 by 80 families together with the pastor and schoolteacher who all emigrated from Tyrol – is worthwhile solely because of the encounter with a man who only came to the realm of wine late, but “lives” this today with his entire passion. Walter Kranz was active worldwide for 32 years as an international executive in the top management of Mercedes-Benz when he decided once again to venture something entirely new in his early fifties. Without owning vineyard acreage, the former mechanical engineer today produces wines and sparkling wines – in addition to 400,000 litres of fruit juice in his high-tech winery, which is worked out down to the last detail – which are among the best in Brazil and regularly hauls in medals at international competitions such as the “Concours Mondial de Bruxelles”. Kranz obtains the grapes from contractual vintners. The vinification is in the hands of oenologist Dr Jean-Pierre Rosier, who was trained in Bordeaux. The portfolio includes delicate Viognier, rosé sparkling wine and an exceptionally mineral-laden Sauvignon Blanc from an altitude of 1,430 metres as well as Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon with crystal-clear fruit and freshness. Together with five colleagues the 64-year-old recently established the “Brazilian Highland Wines” association; this association will present their wines for the first time in Germany at the ProWein 2014 fair.

It may well be that they will be welcomed with open arms by one or another importer. A whole series of co-operations between the local trade and Brazilian producers was already concluded at the trade fair in March of this year. For instance, Mack&Schühle (Owen) has meanwhile launched four different bottled varieties featuring Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat under the “Brazilian Soul” label together with Vinicola Aurora. In Düsseldorf, Aurora may also be pleased that in the future Japan’s largest online dealer will carry wines from Serra Gaúcha in the product range. Fabiano Maciel, Export Manager of the Miolo Group, rushed to more than 50 meetings at ProWein, and Vinicola Lidio Carraro announced at the trade fair that they will be the official supplier of the 2014 FIFA Football WORLD CUP. It really looks as if “Vinho do Brasil” has emerged from the shadow of obscurity. In particular, the fresh Spumanti – regardless of whether in brut version or as a sweet sparkling wine in the style of Moscato d’Asti – is finding more and more fans. The Chandon Group set up business in the small town Garibaldi as early as 1976 because they recognised ideal conditions for the production of sparkling wine there. Mario Geise, who originates from Chile, has produced first-class sparkling wines near Pinto Bandeira since 1979, and oenologist Gilberto Pedrucci from Garibaldi has repeatedly set exclamations marks in recent times. He only produces 15,000 bottles a year – all in the highest quality according to the “Méthode classique”.
Brazilian wine producers have quite a bit in store for the future. After the expansion of vineyard acreage by 50 per cent in the past ten years, a significant increase of the domestic market share from currently only 20 per cent as well as intensified export – especially to the USA, Great Britain, Germany, China, Canada and Scandinavia – is on the agenda for the near future. The 39 member businesses of “Wines of Brazil” have increased their export quantities by 23 per cent in 2012. Trade fair participations and intensive marketing work ensured a very different public perception of the exotic wine destination in the southern hemisphere. If the organisation could now also manage – beyond all export dreams – to significantly increase the per capita consumption of Brazilians themselves from a current level of only two litres, the producers could probably forget all worries in light of the 192 million inhabitants in the country. But up to now these inhabitants still prefer to drink caipirinha, cachaça and beer. Or they resort to wine from neighbouring countries Argentina, Uruguay and Chile - that is cheaper than Brazilian wine. 

Thomas Brandl