by Juel Mahoney
As the handover to Rio 2016 begins, all eyes will be turning to Brazil. With little information available about the region apart from a few cursory paragraphs in reference books, and not knowing a lot myself, I asked our South American wine buyer, Iain Muggoch, about this emerging wine region and what we can expect leading up to Rio 2016.
Isn’t it too humid in Brazil to make wine?
Humidity is a huge problem for winemakers. Mould and mildew attack the vines and devastate grapes. So how do winemakers cope with the humidity in Brazil – isn’t it a tropical, humid country of rainforests, beaches and sunsets on Copacabana with a nice cold Caipirinha?
Brazil spans from Venezuela in the north to Uruguay in the south. It takes about 6 hours on a plane to get from one end to the other. On the one hand, you have regions such as Val do San Francisco, which is is the closest wine region to the equator in the world and even has two summers a year. On the other hand, there are the cooler regions in the south.
Iain replied, “The quality resides in the south, where the night temperature, humidity and rainfall are closer to what is found in southern Europe.”
“In the newest region of Campanha, in the Pampas lands that border Uruguay in the south of Rio Grande do Sul, it is very dry with an annual rainfall of only 1200ml of rain and has a Mediterranean climate.”
What sort of wines do you see when you are in Brazil?
Don’t fall in the trap of thinking Brazil is like Chile and Argentina, as many visitors to South America soon discover, these countries may share a continent but they are distinctly different.
Brazil is the third-largest wine producing country but the scale of production is a lot smaller than either Chile or Argentina. They have a thirsty (and growing) middle-class domestic drinking population of 20.8 million people. Brazil is an important export market for premium Chilean wines.
In the 1970s foreign investors such as Chandon (of Moet & Chandon) foresaw this opportunity and set up operations in Brazil. Chandon produce sparkling wines only available for the domestic market but other Brazilian sparkling wines are exported. From this week, Brazil’s sparkling Miolo Cuvée Tradition Brut Rose NV will be available in the UK at Waitrose.
Is there potential for fine wines in Brazil?
Yes. Apart from the sparkling wines, the cool region of Campanha is where it’s at for Iain:
“What they are doing in Campanha with grape varieties is much more interesting than other regions in Brazil. The Bordeaux blends you often see everywhere in Brazil are only copying what Bordeaux already does but doing it badly. In Campanha, they are making exciting wines with their blends of Tempranillo and Touriga Nacional. Varietals that have come over from Spanish and Portuguese immigrants to Brazil.”
It is also cool enough in Campanha for dry farming, which is always a good sign of quality. Dry farming, rather than mechanical irrigation, allows nature to temper the alcohol levels and phenolic ripeness in Campanha to 12.5 to 13% alcohol. Dry farming is also labour intensive, but this constant attention produces better quality wines overall. Iain explains:
“The fresh wind (Alisios) that blows through the vines acts like the Mistral or Cape Doctor in terms of vineyard hygiene and is a key to their quality wine production – alongside the dry farming they have organic control over their alcohol levels without chaptilisation or adjustments required.
“This is their phenomenon …. balanced, flavoursome, concentrated wines, at comparatively low alcohols levels we haven’t seen in the new world for a long while. Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon at 12.5% … makes it very exciting for a new region with young vines.”
Ordem e Progesso
As the national motto that stretches across the starry globe on the Brazilian flag says, Ordem e Progresso. Order and progress is the key to Brazilian wines export success.
There has been a huge response to Brazilian wine during the London Olympics, and we are sure there will be more when the world turns its attention to Rio de Janeiro in 2014 for the World Cup and the Olympics in 2016. Personally, I cannot wait to see more from Brazil. A new door has opened up in the house of wine, and like Brazil itself, it is a vibrant and intense style developed from waves of immigration and the energy of independence.