Some of that willingness to think outside of the box comes from necessity. While Brazil’s wine history is long, its history in making fine wine is modest, really only beginning in earnest some 15 to 20 years ago. The vineyard situation in the region remains rather, shall we say, picturesque, because of the ramshackle state so many vineyards are in and the wide selection of grapes being grown.
Not surprisingly, much of the region’s vineyards were originally planted to supply home winemaking. As such, they are rather small and were planted with quantity as opposed to quality in mind. That means that many of the vineyards continue to be trained as pergolas. At first glance, this might seem to be a problem for quality. Many of the vineyards of quality-conscious producers have moved from pergola to more traditional fine wine training techniques, such as cordon spur and guyot. It is worth remembering that pergolas are used to help lift the vines out of the low lying humidity.
Closing the Box
While the replanting of Brazil’s vineyards will undoubtedly alter the landscape from a visual perspective, the changing composition of those vineyards will do the same for the commercial landscape on which the wines of Brazil are built.
With so much of the region’s history devoted to home winemaking, its no surprise to see varieties traditionally associated with Italy continuing to play a role. Varieties such as Ancellotta, Teroldego and hybrids are losing ground to international fighting varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. This makes sense in the short term, but producing cookie cutter value wines is not something Brazil seems well positioned to do. These are not easy lands to farm, nor is that a good strategy for real growth in international markets.
Opening the Box
This is not to say that Brazil is headed down the wrong path. I have to say that one of the biggest surprises while in Serra Gaucha was the very high quality of the Merlot from numerous producers, a grape that often leaves me cold. Ditto for Chardonnay. The style of the wines here, with few exceptions, works with the lean, mineral nature of the fruit instead of fighting against it in an effort to create a fruit bomb.
Another shock, in fact the biggest shock of the entire trip, was the tremendous production of delicious Moscato. Historically, this is an important variety here that seems to come from every producer. We’re talking big numbers of great juice in the hottest market segment in the U.S.. No one has thought that these wines might be worth importing? The fact that we do not see Brazilian Moscato on our shelves is testament to a system that is either unable or unwilling to respond to the wants of consumers effectively, but that is a story for another time. The point is that while there are plenty of wines from Brazil that I do not want to drink, there are plenty that I do want to drink. I’m betting that there will be more with each passing vintage.
The Next Step
I’ve compiled my notes and brief overviews of the wineries I visited on my trip and I’ll publish them next week. While this covers a large portion of Brazil’s fine wine industry, there are developments taking place around the country that I really didn’t get to learn enough about.
For example, the investments in vineyards in Campanha, south of Serra Gaucha close up on the border of Uruguay, are beginning to change the financial calculus for many producers. As opposed to the difficult to farm hillside vineyards, Campanha is flat and easy to farm efficiently. Will the wines be as good as those that come from the Vale dos Vinhedos? I doubt that. Still, the wines should be very good and the cash flow they create for Brazilian producers should go towards improvements in quality, marketing and education, three things that are vital for Brazil’s long term success in the wine industry.
Brazil’s wine industry is still quite small and when you look at their fine wine industry, it’s not much bigger than the biggest global producers. Much of that wine happens to be sparkling wine, fitting for a country that seems to have perfected the art of celebration.
So, why should we be interested in Brazilian wines? Why do they matter?
To start with, they offer yet another interpretation of wine. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that the wines of Brazil somehow fit into a South American wine pigeonhole. These are truly fascinating wines, modest in alcohol and body, ripe with good acidity and fine tannins, expressing a balance of fruit and soil that will please many a palate. They can be a revelation for an Old World palate and a fascinating new discovery for one who prefers New World wines!