Comparative tasting wins, top scores from wine critics, and French distribution models, have ensured that ‘Chile has entered the club of world class wines’, according to Eduardo Chadwick, president of Viña Errázuriz.
Addressing a group of 30 Masters of Wine on a tour of Chile at the end of last year, Chadwick explained how Chile has managed to successfully break into an exclusive set of top-end collectible fine wines.
As owner of Viña Errázuriz, Chadwick has overseen the development of a set of Chile’s finest wines, from the Alto Maipo’s Viñedo Chadwick to Seña – a red blend from the Aconcagua valley that started life as a joint venture with the late Robert Mondavi of Californian wine fame.
Before such labels had been created, he said that the path had been laid for fine wine recognition from New World sources due to the 1976 Judgement of Paris, when Cabernets from Napa beat great Bordeaux blends from Pauillac.
“It destroyed the myth of French supremacy, and the idea that terroir wines could only be produced in France,” he said.
He also said that the launch of Robert Parker’s 100-point scale had also helped, as it provided an easy way for consumers to understand and classify wine quality, even if they knew little about the product.
Mentioning a range of great red wines from Chile, such as Don Melchor, Don Maximiano, Almaviva and Clos Apalta, as well as the aforementioned Seña and Viñedo Chadwick – the latter launched in 1999 – he said that all these brands, which are made from Bordeaux varieties, had helped Chile to become “known for world-class wines”.
However, it wasn’t until more recently that Chile was able “to prove that we could compete with great wines from other world class regions”.
Chadwick then drew attention to the challenge for Chile to receive fine wine recognition by recalling the difference in the level of attention given to Bordeaux versus Chile. “Six thousand people go to primeurs in Bordeaux every year, but Parker never came to Chile.”
“Chile was not in the index, and people would ask, ‘where is your Parker rating?” he said, adding, “The critics were not recognising the quality [of our wines] because they were Chilean.”
It was for this reason that in 2004 Chadwick began a series of comparative blind tastings of his top wines from Chile against other greats from established regions, notably Bordeaux, starting with a big event in Berlin.
Having run similar events around the world during a 10 year period, he said he has overseen 21 tastings in 18 countries, reaching 1,400 ‘key opinion leaders’, and, crucially, “90% of the time we had one of our wines in the top 3”.
Then came the high scores, with, Chadwick commenting, “James Suckling gave 100 points to Viñedo Chadwick from the 2014 vintage, which was the first time a Chilean wine had reached 100 points, and this was closely followed by others, with Seña and Clos Apalta also getting 100 points.”
He also mentioned the rise of new wine lovers in counties such as China and Japan as a boon for Chile’s top-end labels, because such consumers were more open to fine wines from non-European sources. “It was easier for Chile to gain recognition [for its fine wines] because it was a blank page,” he said.
This was in contrast to European nations such as the UK, where Chile was best known for suppling entry-level wines, sold mainly in mass retail.
Indeed, Chadwick admitted that Chile’s image would be stronger if it produced less cheap wine. “Instead of 130,000 hectares I would redraw Chile’s vineyard area as 60,000ha with much more focus on fine wines, because the bulk shipper is not helping our image, but we can co-exist,” he said of the two ends of the wine spectrum.
New distribution techniques have further helped Chile establish fine wine credentials, with, in particular, worldwide dissemination ensured by a listing on La Place de Bordeaux, which, historically, saw the city’s négociants distribute only wines from Bordeaux, but now sees them also handle around two dozen fine wines from outside the region.
“We needed to get distribution and La Place de Bordeaux has helped us,” began Chadwick.
He continued, “10 years ago we entered with Seña, and at the time, the négociants didn’t want anything that wasn’t Bordeaux, but now they have a campaign [for non-Bordeaux wines] every September, and the Bordeaux marketplace has given us distribution and visibility.”
As a final point, Chadwick mentioned the use of state-of-the-art wine technology to craft high end wines in Chile, such as optical sorters, which are used to prevent any under or overripe berries entering the fermentation vessels.
“We have many elements that position us as a fine wine producer,” he stated, mentioning sustainable vineyard practices too, although mourning the fact that, unlike France, “Chile doesn’t have a history of producing luxury products”.
Nevertheless, he said, “Chile has entered the club of world class wines,” while recording that today, “The biggest growth we have as a company is in our icon wines.”
Concluding, he promised, “In the next 10 years Chile will consolidate its position in the fine wine world.”