The Rio de Janiero Olympics are upon us and we’ve been exploring all areas of Brazilian culture to help get in the carnival mood.
Perhaps one aspect of the country that wouldn’t come to mind straight away is its burgeoning wine scene. Once overshadowed by its neighbours, Chile and Argentina, Brazil is making a name for itself on the wine map. We caught up with Nicholas Corfe of Go Brazil Wines to find out what makes this country such a great producer of fine wines.
Brazil isn’t the first place you think of for wine; tell us why you think Brazil is a great wine-growing country
Agreed! Brazil is known for many things, many of them perhaps rather clichéd, but certainly it isn’t a country which one immediately associates with wine. However, I like the fact that there are actually many Brazilian wineries, many of which are small, dedicated family-run businesses with a strong European heritage, who for decades have been working against the odds to make a product that is distinctively Brazilian.
Costs in Brazil are relatively high, so can it be difficult for local producers to compete with wine from near neighbours Argentina and Chile. Furthermore, climatically the vine-growing areas of Brazil are more demanding and quite different from these other countries – much cooler and wetter than many people imagine – and this is reflected in the resulting wines. In general we can say that Brazilian wines sit between the ‘Old’ and the ‘New’ World, in the sense that they tend to be not full-on fruity, but rather more subtle and aromatic, food friendly, and with only a modest amount of oak ageing being used.
You’re actually based in Suffolk and your warehouse is in London, how often do you visit your vineyards in Brazil?
My wife and children are Brazilian, so there is never any shortage of excuses to return to their country! That said, we usually go once or twice a year to Rio de Janeiro. In terms of visiting Go Brazil’s suppliers in situ, it really is a long haul to the south of Brazil, so for example last year I met several of them at their annual trade show in São Paulo. For next year I’m planning a trip to visit new suppliers in Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina.
Do you think the Rio Olympics will help advocate the country’s wine production? And indeed other foods and drinks native to the country?
The Olympics are the world’s single biggest sporting event, so the focus on Rio – and by extension the rest of Brazil – is certainly helpful for our business and I imagine will be for many other companies importing Brazilian products.
While there was a significant boost to Brazil’s wine exports before and during the FIFA World Cup in 2014, the uplift this year in advance of the Games has been less marked. However, the overall effect of having these two major sporting events in quick succession is undoubtedly positive and, for Brazilian wine, has provided a very solid springboard from which to progress.
In common with many, my main hope is that the Rio Olympics will be remembered as a fantastic spectacle and that the less positive elements we have heard about recently can at least be temporarily forgotten.
If we were to visit Brazil, where do you recommend going for best wine and picturesque vineyards?
The greatest concentration of vineyards, and the area which produces around 90% of fine wine, is in the South of Brazil. My recommendation would be to start in the unofficial wine capital, the city of Bento Gonçalves. Bento sits in a lush, hilly region, known as the Serra Gaúcha, and features the Vale dos Vinhedos, a scenic horseshoe shaped itinerary along which many of the country’s best known wineries are located. Along the route you should drop off for a quick drink at the Hotel & Spa do Vinho – and you might even want to try their ‘grape skin massage’ if you have time!
Your road trip should ideally take you further afield, so head north towards Santa Catarina, Brazil’s coldest state, before coming down from the mountains and perhaps stopping off for some R & R in Florianópolis, the local capital, which lies on an island just offshore.
The best time to visit is in spring - October and November – or autumn – March and April. Neither seasons are too hot and visibility is good. There’s nothing worse than experiencing poor visibility; I once visited in August and we experienced rain, mist fog and even snow!
What is your preferred tipple - red or white? And is Brazilian wine always your wine of choice?
I always try and choose an appropriate wine to suit the mood, occasion and of course the food that we, as friends and family, may be having. I’m also one for experimentation – there’s nothing worse than sticking with the same drink, week in, week out!
It would be a sad individual who drank wine just from one country, so am glad to report that my palette extends (way, way ) beyond Brazil. And, while attending wine trade tastings sounds like a dream job, frankly spitting one’s way through dozens of wines is only for the dedicated few: better to have a decent slug of something you actually like!
So in light of this, my summer tip: try some of the crisp whites made from the native grapes of Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary or Austria.
What’s next for Go Brazil? Do you hope to supply London restaurants with Brazilian wine?
Strategically, the business will continue to become more consumer-focused. We’ll be travelling around the country visiting various consumer shows and we’ll also be focusing on our social media following and online communications. Finally, we’re looking to extend into the mainstream market - it’s a busy but exciting time!
Regarding supplying London restaurants, we have supplied our wines directly to a number of places in the past but our current business in this channel is almost exclusively through third parties. The London wine market is arguably the most competitive and demanding in the world. Being a small independent based outside the city, with a single niche country portfolio, certainly puts as us at a disadvantage – but being the underdog is a position we thrive on!