Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

CHILE-ECONOMY: Chilean Wines Conquering the World

Luis Cordova

SANTIAGO, Nov 18 1997 (IPS) - The export of Chilean wines is running at record levels and could be worth around 400 million dollars by the end of 1997, according to trade officials.

Jubilant officials at the Vinsud (South wine) expo that has just closed its doors here predicted that by the year 2000, sales would probably top 550 million dolars.

“Not bad when you consider that at the end of the last decade overseas sales were between 10 million and 20 million dollars,” said Robert Echeverria, president of the organization ChileVid, that comprises exporters of fine wines.

Organizers of “Vinsud,” an annual exhibition that brings together manufacturers, merchants and wine connoisseurs, stated confidently that more than 10,000 people attended the exhibition which lasted four days, and they said that many of these were foreigners interested in doing business.

The genial atmosphere was even more cheery with an announcement by Minister of Agriculture, Carlos Mladinic, that if growth in the sector continued at its present rate Chile would be the world’s fourth largest supplier of wine in 2000.

Mladinic noted that by the end of the century, exports were expected to exceed 550 million dollars, and that the area set aside here for the growing of grape orchards would reach five percent of the world’s total.

These forecasts may even be conservative if the expansion recorded in 1997 is maintained. From January to September, deliveries abroad netted 291 million dollars in revenue – an increase of 46 percent compared to the same period in 1996.

Shortly after the opening of Vinsud, Chilean wine exporters amended their prediction for year-end sales, upping the goal to 350-410 million dollars.

These figures refer to some 240 million liters which will have arrived at markets in more than 50 countries and which represent 56 percent of the wine growers’ production in this South American country.

A ChileVid spopkesman pointed out that over the last few weeks there has been an important difference in the composition of these exports, as their growth is responding more to an improvement in prices rather than an increase in sales volume – as demonstrated by a decrease in wine sales by the case in favor of by the bottle.

The average price of Chilean wine rose from 1.10 to 1.90 dollar per liter, revealing a higher percentage of fine wines in the total package of wines for export.

The best example of this change was in Vinsud where new wines were introduced, with new tastes and more refined packaging, whose price can go higher than 20 dollars per bottle, making it prohibitive for the local market.

“Cabo de Hornos,” “Caballo Loco,” “Don Melchor,” “Magnificum,” are the names of some of the new wines seeking to compete with upscale European wines in Chile’s traditional foreign markets which are the United States, Britain, Japan and Germany.

Also observed is a growing diversification in varietals. In a country which traditionally grew only Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvigon Blanc, now one frequently sees Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot, Malbec, Sirah, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and even rarieties such as Zinfandel and Carmenere.

The Chilean wine industry took hold in the sixteenth century and the first varietal was named “Pais” (country). Although the origin of these grape vines brought by the Spanish colonizers isn’t clear, it is known that the vines which arrived in the nineteenth century were of French origin.

In the 1870s, when a disease nearly wiped out vineyards worldwide, the Andes mountains, the sea and the desert protected the central zone of this narrow country, where the bulk of the vineyards are located.

The Vinsud expo, in its second consecutive year, emerged from a private initiative which had the support of business and state agencies promoting exports, and it is linked to other expos such as the Feria de Verona, in Italy. (FIN/IPS/lac/dg/if/lv/mk/97)

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