We Brazilians still cannot believe that we lost a soccer game 7 to 1 against Germany in the World Cup, but despite this sports tragedy we still have managed come out on top within the economic arena: 2,000,000 pounds worth of wine were exported to the UK in 2014.
Exports to the UK grew by more than 400% in 2014, according to Wines of Brazil, and it is our biggest import market, accounting for 40% of all Brazilian wine exports.
Despite the wonderful news, many people still do not know much about wine production in Brazil. As a tropical country, Brazil is seen as a land of beaches, rainforests and caipirinha—a traditional drink made with lemon and cachaça, a sugar cane distilled beverage.
Wine production started in Brazil with Portuguese settlers and Jesuites in the 16th century, similar to most other countries in South America. But the industry gained momentum with the Italian and German immigrants in the 19th century. They established vineyards in the South of Brazil in an area called Serra Gaucha, where the climate is temperate and the altitude helps cool the vines at night.
Nevertheless, at that time, the main planted vine varieties were American, such as Isabella, some hybrids and of course some Italian vines, such as Barbera, Bonarda, and Terodelgo.
The modern industry began to take shape in the 20th century with new cooperatives, Aurora and Garibaldi, and familiar wineries such as Casa Valduga and Miolo investing in and planting European vinifera varieties. Foreign companies were also looking at Brazil and, as a result, Chandon do Brasil was established in 1973 to produce sparkling wine.
Serra Gaucha is now a well-established wine producing region, with appellation laws, dozens of small boutique wineries and good enotourism. More recently, new regions emerged—first, in Santa Catarina, another Brazilian state in the South, and then Pernambuco, in the tropical Northeast, Minas Gerais and São Paulo.
Vale do Rio Sao Francisco is a region up in the north, close to the Equator. Santa Maria produces a wine called Parallel 8, which is made, you guessed it, in parallel 8. Generally wines can only be produced from parallel 30 to 50, but this is an exception. There are two or three harvests per year, which means the vines cannot rest, which might compromise the quality. Nevertheless, beach resorts in this area are stocked with easy-to-drink sparkling wine made in Vale do Sao Francisco.
Brazil focuses primarily on the sparkling wine production. With the rainy season coming exactly at harvest time, it seemed logical to harvest earlier and produce sparkling wine. Moscatel, a sweet sparkling wine, was the benchmark, and later some serious companies decided to produce sparkling wines using traditional methods. Cave Geisse, Estrelas do Brasil and Adolfo Lona are good examples of producers aiming for high quality and balanced wines.
But the market for sparkling wine represents roughly 7% in the world, and rival Italian Prosecco hit a record in 2014 with booming exports. Champagne is also on the rise after the difficult years following the financial crisis in 2009, so Brazilian sparkling wine doesn’t seem to have as bright of a future in coming years.
However, in Brazil, red and white wines are also produced with many grape varieties, including Isabella, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Touriga Nacional, as well as the white grapes Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc—and are gaining market share among consumers. Two wineries that had a previous history of cultivating apples, Aracuri and Suzin, the latter in the Santa Catarina region, are producing good, balanced and affordable wines.
I was really surprised last December when I tasted a Merlot from a producer called Luiz Argenta. This 2009 Merlot showed aromas of strawberry, dried fruits, balsamic, with earthy notes. On the mouth the wine had a refreshing acidity with soft tannins and medium alcohol. A balanced, complex wine, which reminded me of a good Old World wine, produced in Brazilian Serra Gaucha.
Brazil is still discovering its vineyard potential, new regions, new varieties and is experimenting to produce wines that represent its origins. At the same time, consumption is growing in Brazil too. Brazil is a land of 200 million people who consume a mere two liters per capita per year, and with import taxes reaching an all-time high, we must learn to appreciate our own wines.
The World Cup was a great way to promote and to put Brazilian wines on the map, but now we have to keep up with that by showing that we are more than a soccer country that just happens to have exotic wines as well.