10 April 2013 - webeditor - Concha y Toro, Errazuriz, Guest Blog, News & Events, Viña Maipo, Wine Talk

Chilean Wine: Keeping ahead in the UK Market

Wine Source Chile is thrilled to welcome Stuart George, Wine writer and sought after wine competition judge, as our Guest Blogger this month. In his first blog for Wine Source Chile he shares his views on the success of Chile, and what Chilean vineyards need to do now to keep ahead in the UK market.



Chilean Wine and the UK Market

Chile has long had connections to the English wine trade. It is praised in The Narrative of the Honourable John Byron, a 1768 account of how he was shipwrecked on the coast of Patagonia and the survivors decided to split into two teams, one to make its way by boat to Rio de Janeiro, the other, Byron’s, to sail north and meet Spanish-speakers. Nearly 250 years later, the UK is one of the most valuable wine importing markets in the world and is Chile’s number one export outlet.

Despite the great challenges of the current UK market to all wine producers, Chile has much to be pleased about. It has many things in its favour – good quality, recognised brands such as Concha y Toro, Errázuriz and Viña Maipo; a relative lack of internal politics (think of how this continues to hobble France and Italy); and excellent viticultural resources – a great diversity of microclimates and Phylloxera-free soils, much of which can be farmed in an environmentally-friendly manner. The climate change and water issues faced by other countries are far less grave in Chile.

There is undoubtedly great winemaking expertise in Chile. But perhaps Chilean wine needs to decide whether it wants to be big or beautiful. The wines seem to have lost the leafy freshness that made them so appealing a decade ago, with some winemakers nowadays trying too hard to gain power and richness at the expense of elegance and freshness. High alcohol and low acidity is an increasingly unfashionable pairing in the UK market, so Chile must strive to achieve freshness and civilised alcohol levels. The emergence of new, cool climate regions such as the Leyda Valley bodes well for producing wines in this style.

It is quite possible that the best sites in Chile have not yet been planted or even discovered. The possibility of greatness is there – as the vines get older the wines should get better – but it is still too soon for Chile to claim it has world-class wines.

To continue to make progress in the UK market, Chile needs to continue to provide good value for money at all price points, particularly in the £5-10 range; it needs to offer a broad range of varietals and styles – “Day-coloured wine / night-coloured wine / wine with purple feet / or wine with topaz blood,” as Pablo Neruda puts it – but without sacrificing Chilean typicité or character.

There is a scene in Pablo Larrain’s 2008 film Tony Manero in which the film’s protagonist Raul, who models himself on John Travolta’s disco king, is told by his girlfriend, “Manero is an American. You’re not. You belong here.” Chilean wine should not try and be Tony Manero. It should be Raul.

For British people, however, there is nothing that immediately comes to mind that is uniquely and recognisably Chilean. There is a lack of cultural links with the UK, no direct flights and little of the tourism that has assisted the wines of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, but this can be overcome progressively.

Gazing into the crystal ball, there is likely to be ever-increasing taxation on wine and other alcoholic drinks in the UK, making price points harder to maintain and squeezing suppliers’ margins. It is and will continue to be a tough place in which to sell wine.

Best to keep it simple, then: Make good, fresh wines that are value for money and have something uniquely Chilean about them. There is no need to complicate things like Joseph Conrad does in his Chilean-set novel Nostromo.

I would urge Wines of Chile not to be like the Chilean government was in 1859, when it abandoned all the hard work done by William Wheelwright in establishing a railway over the Andes to join Chile and Argentina. Be like Wheelwright – and keep building that line to Britain!


About Stuart George

Stuart George has 16 years experience of working in the wine industry. He is a sought-after wine show judge and has been a jury member at wine competitions in Austria, Brazil, Chile, China, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, and Spain. He has visited most of the world’s wine regions and worked harvests in France, Italy, and Australia. He writes extensively on wines and was UK Young Wine Writer of the Year in 2003. He was the major contributor to the best-selling 1001 Wines You Must Try Before You Die and Editor of the award-winning Finest Wines of Champagne and Finest Wines of Tuscany and Central Italy. His website and blog is www.StuartGeorge.net




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