Rio de Janeiro: When Portuguese winemaker Joao Santos first viewed his company's new vineyard in Brazil, he was crestfallen. How could he ever produce wine anywhere nearly as good as that made in Europe?
The trouble was the palm trees.
“Wine and coconuts,” Santos, director of the Dao Sul vineyard, said with a chuckle in a phone interview from Fazenda Planaltino in northeastern Brazil. “One is completely different from the other. Palm trees you find by beaches. Wine comes from France, Italy, Spain, where they don't have palm trees. Making wine here didn't seem to make sense.”
Today, four years after Dao Sul purchased land with some grape vines in Brazil's semi-arid desert just south of the Equator, it all makes perfect sense. Thanks to hard work, better technology and hundreds of miles of irrigation pipes snaking in from the nearby Sao Francisco River, Dao Sul has overcome the coconut conundrum and produced one of the most successful tropical wines yet.
In doing so, it has given a new push to the growing cluster of “new latitude” wines, those produced outside the traditional geographical heartlands of wine country.
“For years, we have drawn two bands around the globe, roughly between latitudes 30 and 50, to denote those parts of it deemed suitable for viticulture,” Jancis Robinson, a well-known British wine expert, wrote of the new phenomenon on her Web site.
But now, adventurous winemakers are taking on nature in nations like Brazil.
Wine is becoming more popular in countries like Brazil, China and India because of a growing middle class and publicity about its health benefits.
Producers in all three countries are betting those markets will grow, and there are figures to back that up. The London-based research company International Wine and Spirit Record estimates that by 2011, wine consumption will rise by 12% in Brazil, 39% in China and 82% in India.
The new latitude winemakers are still relatively unknown compared with the traditional European powers of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal, and they lag behind even the New World producers from Argentina, Australia, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa and the US.
But investors have taken notice. In addition to Dao Sul's decision to buy into Brazil, Pernod Ricard owns brands in Brazil, Georgia and India; LVMH has invested heavily in Chandon, Brazil's award-winning sparkling wine; and the French Champagne maker Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin is 11 years into a partnership with Grover Vineyards, one of India's biggest producers.
“The first thing they do is establish a foothold there so they can sell to the domestic market,” said Joe W. Ciatti, the founder of the California-based Joseph W. Ciatti Co., the world's largest grape and bulk wine broker. “Then they can think about exporting afterwards.”
Ciatti and other US producers said the new latitude producers were still so small that they had not yet registered on US radar screens. New World producers worry more about Old World producers and vice versa, Ciatti said.
The two dominate production, with 62% of the world's wine coming from the big five European producers and 26% coming from the New World nations, according to the Paris-based International Organization of Vine and Wine.
But while the two dominant players vie for a share of a market now worth $91.6 billion (Rs3.75 lakh crore), according to the organization's figures, Vinibrasil is quietly working away in this sweltering desert south of the Equator.
One important advantage it shares with many new-latitude wine producing nations is year-round sun. The region gets sunlight 12 hours a day, and in contrast to Bordeaux, which gets sunlight 12 hours a day only during the summer, there are cloudless skies here 300 days a year. Winemakers can harvest all year round, and thus sharply cut production costs.