Chilean vineyards

Changing Chile

20 June, 2014

Long seen as the dependable but unexciting workhorse of the wine world, Chile is starting to show new colours. Jamie Goode reports

Chile’s reputation came from making cheap, tasty wines. This viticultural paradise, short on vine pests and diseases, but big on sunshine and long, dry summers, has proved adept at meeting the demands of export markets. Its scale of production – unlike so many other wine countries – is better suited than most to the needs of modern retail. 

But it is at the higher end of the market where Chile has struggled, finding it hard to shake off the impression that Chilean wine is good value for money, but nothing more. 

And, despite the efforts of some, there have been few globally recognised Chilean fine wines to create a halo effect, benefitting the overall image of the Chilean wine industry. There are signs, though, that this is in the process of changing.  

First, let’s look at the big picture. The latest official figures on exports of bottled wine (from December 2012) show that the two most important markets by some distance are the UK and the US, but these markets are not the most profitable and are contracting slightly. The UK is the largest, with 8.8 million 9-litre cases exported in 2012, but also has the lowest average price, at US$22.9 per case. 

The next three countries are Brazil, Japan and the Netherlands, with sales of around 3.4 million cases each. Then come China and Canada, at around 2.3 million cases. Ireland, Denmark and Russia make up the top 10, each with around 1.5 million cases. 

In terms of growth, Japan and China both grew more than 20% between 2011 and 2012, and Russia grew 10% over the same period. The average case price for exported wine is US$29.1 – China ($35.3) and Canada ($40.9) are the most profitable markets.

Between 2005 and 2012 exports grew from 31.9 million cases to 48.8 million, with price per case rising from $24.90 to $29.10. It is worth emphasising that these figures relate solely to bottled wine, but they are a useful guide as to what is happening overall. 

It seems that Chile is holding its own, showing modest growth, but perhaps less growth in price per case than it would like. These figures reinforce the observation that Chile has always been strong at the more competitive commercial end of the market. There are very few countries which can boast such a strong offering at such low prices. 

Felipe Tosso, chief winemaker with Ventisquero, is well placed to comment on export markets. “Today markets all over the world are quite tight, but there are ways of working them,” he says. “It’s really important to understand the different markets and of course have good partners in the countries. “Today the markets that are growing strongest are mainly in Asia, with China, Vietnam, Japan and Korea.” 

He adds that the most important markets at the moment are US, UK, Brazil, Canada, Japan and Chile’s domestic market, but points out that the UK, Thailand and Ireland are either not growing or declining.

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