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Chile winemaker Concha y Toro heads further upmarket, helped by a French château

Among the many French premiers crus and prime bottles from California and Italy, Bordeaux’s historic superb wine market La Place traded a minimum of six wines final season from Chile, a rustic previously related to easy-drinking, good-value tipple.

One of many six was Almaviva, the Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon-led mix which first broke open the historically French-only market to international wines in 1998 and now retails for as a lot as $200 a bottle. Named after a personality in The Marriage of Figaro, Almaviva is a logo of its maker’s dedication to develop by shifting upmarket.

Concha y Toro is Latin America’s greatest vineyard, with gross sales of about $1bn and an empire stretching past its native Chile to natural vineyards in California and vines in Argentina.

Virtually half of the corporate’s income in 2022 got here from premium wines and Eduardo Guilisasti, chief govt, is redoubling efforts on the push upmarket regardless of internet revenue slipping 2.9 per cent within the first 9 months of 2022 to 66.1bn pesos ($82.6mn).

“Chile has lots of house to develop within the [fine wine] class as a result of it’s solely simply changing into identified,” Guilisasti instructed the FT in a uncommon interview on the nineteenth century Concha y Toro mansion and winery outdoors Santiago. “Our enterprise segments with the best resilience [last year] had been probably the most premium ones, displaying that the technique adopted by the corporate 5 years in the past was appropriate . . . the tendency in the direction of premiumisation will proceed.”

Over a lunch of Chilean abalone, mushroom risotto and slow-cooked pork ribs, paired with completely different wines from the household portfolio, the Guilisastis mentioned Concha y Toro’s greatest problem: construct a brand new world premium wine model positioned above Casillero del Diablo as a part of the push upmarket. The group’s Trivento model from Argentina may very well be a template, as a result of Argentina’s wine has traditionally offered at a premium to Chile’s.

A advertising and marketing take care of Manchester United in 2010 helped to deliver Casillero del Diablo to a worldwide viewers

On the prime of the Concha y Toro vary sits the prized Almaviva wine. A three way partnership with France’s legendary Château Mouton Rothschild, it was conceived after a visit by Guilisasti’s father to the highest Bordeaux vineyards within the Nineties seeking superb winemaking experience.

One château proprietor stood out for her willingness to assist: Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, then the proprietor of Mouton Rothschild. Earlier than signing any deal, De Rothschild despatched her chief oenologist Patrick Léon to pattern Chile’s wines. “He will need to have tried 50 of our wines and people of the competitors . . . and he went again very excited,” Guilisasti recalled.

Concha y Toro had began to make superb wine within the Eighties with Don Melchor, the primary Chilean bottle to win a prime accolade from worldwide critics. The partnership with Rothschild introduced Previous World experience and the status of a prime château, serving to to gasoline worldwide progress.

“Very similar to Penfolds in Australia, Concha y Toro is an organization that produces each giant volumes of dependable, well-priced branded wines — Casillero del Diablo and Cono Sur — plus a smaller variety of prime superb wines equivalent to Don Melchor,” stated Julie Sheppard, regional editor for South America at Decanter journal.

“That’s the key of its success. As Chile’s largest producer it controls a big provide of grapes . . . that means it will probably monitor high quality rigorously. That prime high quality, mixed with prime winemakers, plus savvy branding and advertising and marketing, is a successful system.”

The Rothschild partnership was not the one profitable worldwide alliance Concha y Toro has fashioned. A advertising and marketing take care of Manchester United in 2010 introduced the model’s bigger-volume Casillero del Diablo wines to a worldwide viewers. The group now sells in 130 nations.

The soccer membership was drawn by the emblem of the vineyard, which suggests “Satan’s Cellar” in Spanish after a legend invented by its founder to scare away thieves. “Due to the connection of Casillero del Diablo with the purple satan and their purple satan, one thing clicked,” recalled Isabel Guilisasti, the agency’s vice-president of superb wine and company picture. “The satan linked us”.

Concha y Toro negotiated for its wine to be marketed on the digital screens on the membership’s Previous Trafford stadium, lifting gross sales within the UK and elsewhere. “In Asia, Korea was crucial as a result of at the moment there was a Korean who performed with Manchester,” Isabel recalled.

Sir Alex Ferguson, the group’s legendary former supervisor, additionally grew to become a fan. “He’s probably the most passionate individual we’ve ever identified about wine,” Isabel stated.

Eduardo Guilisasti
Eduardo Guilisasti: ‘The tendency in the direction of premiumisation will proceed’

Regardless of Concha y Toro’s finest efforts — its superb wines obtained greater than 150 scores of 90+ within the main wine publications in 2022 — and the assistance of the Rothschilds, Chilean wine has not utterly shed its low-budget picture.

“Chilean wine has been getting higher and higher, with Concha y Toro and its many manufacturers very a lot shifting with the instances,” stated Jancis Robinson, the FT’s wine critic. “The issue with all Chilean wine is that the apparent export market, the US, has been gradual to recognise the development in high quality and nonetheless sees Chile . . . as a supply of low cost wine.”

Concha y Toro’s gross sales within the US fell 18.6 per cent by quantity within the first 9 months of final yr, making it the corporate’s worst-performing division, though the push upmarket noticed gross sales by worth rise by 2.3 per cent. The corporate “has for lengthy didn’t ship on its progress expectations within the [US], suggesting that the aggressive panorama is proving fiercer than anticipated”, analysts at BTG Pactual stated in a report.

Listed on the Chilean bourse, Concha y Toro remains to be managed by the Guilisasti household, with 27.9 per cent of the shares, and one different Chilean household, the Larraín Santa Marías, with 9.3 per cent.

The 140-year-old winemaker is consistently innovating. It runs a analysis centre which has developed new irrigation strategies to chop water use and the corporate is making an attempt out new premium manufacturers, equivalent to Diablo, a Syrah/ Malbec darker mix focused at youthful drinkers which has been piloted in Chile and offered within the UK.

The group additionally owns the natural Bonterra winery in California however most of its 12,500 hectares of vines are in Chile. Among the many most prized are these descended from Carménère inventory imported within the nineteenth century from France. One of many six unique Bordeaux grapes, Carménère was devastated in France by the phylloxera insect pest however survived in Chile, the place it’s a staple purple grape.

“What we have now in Concha y Toro [portfolio] . . . can evaluate with . . . the most effective American [wines],” Eduardo stated. “I wouldn’t say the French or the Italians, as a result of that’s one other story. However for New World wines, Concha y Toro has completely nothing to concern in a head-to-head comparability”.