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

Among the many French premiers crus and high 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 overseas 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 an emblem of its maker’s willpower to develop by transferring 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.

Nearly half of the corporate’s income in 2022 got here from premium wines and Eduardo Guilisasti, chief government, 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 numerous house to develop within the [fine wine] class as a result of it’s solely simply changing into identified,” Guilisasti informed the FT in a uncommon interview on the nineteenth century Concha y Toro mansion and winery exterior Santiago. “Our enterprise segments with the best resilience [last year] had been essentially 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 totally different wines from the household portfolio, the Guilisastis mentioned Concha y Toro’s greatest problem: how you can construct a brand new international 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 convey Casillero del Diablo to a worldwide viewers

On the high 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 looking for 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 should 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 high accolade from worldwide critics. The partnership with Rothschild introduced Outdated World experience and the status of a high château, serving to to gas worldwide progress.

“Very similar to Penfolds in Australia, Concha y Toro is an organization that produces each massive volumes of dependable, well-priced branded wines — Casillero del Diablo and Cono Sur — plus a smaller variety of high superb wines reminiscent of 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 . . . which means it may possibly monitor high quality fastidiously. That top high quality, mixed with high winemakers, plus savvy branding and advertising and marketing, is a profitable components.”

The Rothschild partnership was not the one profitable worldwide alliance Concha y Toro has shaped. 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 brand of the vineyard, which implies “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 crimson satan and their crimson 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 Outdated Trafford stadium, lifting gross sales within the UK and elsewhere. “In Asia, Korea was essential as a result of at the moment there was a Korean who performed with Manchester,” Isabel recalled.

Sir Alex Ferguson, the staff’s legendary former supervisor, additionally grew to become a fan. “He’s essentially 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 fully shed its low-budget picture.

“Chilean wine has been getting higher and higher, with Concha y Toro and its many manufacturers very a lot transferring with the instances,” stated Jancis Robinson, the FT’s wine critic. “The issue with all Chilean wine is that the plain export market, the US, has been gradual to recognise the advance 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 did not 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 continues 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 methods to chop water use and the corporate is making an attempt out new premium manufacturers, reminiscent of 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 crimson grape.

“What now we have in Concha y Toro [portfolio] . . . can examine with . . . one of the best 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”.

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