‘Aromatic varieties are part of Cono Sur’s DNA’

13 October 2016

Aromatic varieties are “part of Cono Sur’s DNA” and represent the biggest growth category for the Chilean wine brand, head winemaker Adolfo Hurtado has said.

By Darren Smith, The Drinks Business

Speaking to the drinks business during a promotional trip to the UK, Hurtado said that aromatic varieties such as Riesling, Viognier and Gewürztraminer were integral to the Cono Sur brand and were “growing fast” in key markets around the world.
“One of the main aims of Cono Sur since the beginning has been innovation. So when people think about Cono Sur, they relate us with different grape varieties. “Aromatic wines are part of the Cono Sur DNA. It’s not something we are pushing so much because we don’t need to push it – it’s part of our philosophy. “We are seeing a big trend in aromatic varieties right now. I would say that in the last three or four years, they are really taking off, and really growing fast.”
The winemaker’s comments come as the latest data from market research company IRI reveal that Chilean Riesling has enjoyed a massive 586.9% jump in value sales in the 52 weeks to 13 August 2016. While this is from a small base, the figures indicate the beginnings of a surge in popularity of the variety. IRI figures also show that Chile has become the third-biggest Riesling producer in the world by volume after Australia and Germany – overtaking New Zealand with a 704.9% jump from 1,000 to 8,000 9l cases in just 12 months.
Chile has also seen a 24.5% jump in value sales for Viognier over the same period, and a 29.3% jump in volume sales – more than any other country in the world for this variety.
Cono Sur was the first company to plant Viognier in Chile, in 1997, and now produces 190,000 9l cases per year, making it the country’s biggest producer of the variety. It is also Chile’s biggest producer of Riesling, controlling 200ha of Riesling vineyards, principally in Bio Bio, as well as leading on production of Gewürztraminer. “Cono Sur was established in 1993 and since the beginning we have tried to do things in a different way” Hurtado explained. “Our goal since the beginning was trying to push the innovation and trying to put different grape varieties into the Chilean wine industry. “When you think of Chile you normally think of varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc, which of course we produce, but we also produce a lot of the aromatic wines.”

Viognier

Hurtado explained that the growth in exports of its aromatic varieties was region-specific, with the UK, US and Japan the three key markets and Nordic countries also experiencing substantial growth. “It really depends on the market which variety they like the most,” he said. “If, for example, you go to Japan [Cono Sur’s third-biggest export market], Gewürztraminer is huge. In the UK it’s Viognier. Finland is all about Riesling. They love Riesling. “In Canada, they like Viognier also. In fact, the biggest-selling white wine from Chile this year in British Columbia, which is our Bicicleta Viognier, is selling more than any of the white wine coming from the rest of Chile.” Cono Sur was the first winery to plant Viognier in Chile, in 1997. Hurtado explained how he switched on to the potential of the variety following a trip to Mondavi in California 1995.
Two years later, after going through the necessary administrative work to import the variety, as well as the required quarantine process, he took the step of grafting Viognier wines to Cono Sur’s existing Chenin Blanc vines at the company’s Chimbarongo estate in Colchagua. Cono Sur produces most of its Viognier from Chimbarongo, but also from Peralillo, to the west of Colchagua, closer to the ocean. Viognier is the most important aromatic variety at Cono Sur in terms of production, Hurtado said. It is followed by Gewürztraminer, at around 85,000 9l cases, and then Riesling, at around 60,000 9l cases. The first Viognier that Cono Sur produced and exported was from the 2000 vintage, and the UK quickly established itself as the biggest market.
Today Cono Sur sells around 40,000 9l cases (or half a million bottles) of Viognier per year in the UK. Total production is around 120,000 9l cases.

Riesling

In the UK, Cono Sur Bicicleta Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Pinot Noir and Merlot represent around 80% of the volume sold by the brand. However, in the past two years, Cono Sur Riesling has experienced massive growth, growing almost 600% in value sales, albeit from a small base, since 2015.
Fundamental to the growth of aromatic varieties is the ability of the brand to leverage its brand power to encourage consumer to try less common varieties. People trust the brand and therefore are willing to experiment within the portfolio, Hurtado said. “The first reason people try this wine is because of the brand,” Hurtado says. “They think, if it’s Cono Sur, I know the other wines, they’re good, maybe this wine could also be good. So more than because it’s a Riesling, it’s because of the brand.” In a sign of the increasing importance of Rielsing to the Cono Sur portfolio, Hurtado revealed the company was about to begin planting of a brand new 212ha estate in Bio Bio, which would be planted predominantly with Riesling and Gewürztraminer.
“We just signed a new estate in Bio Bio valley, which is 212ha, which we will start to plant next September,” he told db. “In that estate we will mostly plant varieties like Riesling and Gewürztraminer; also Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.” Gewürztraminer Hurtado also has high hopes for Gewürztraminer which, thanks to its food-friendly flavour profile and the fresh, unoaked style in which it is made by Cono Sur, he believes huge potential in this market, describing it as a “ruby in the dust”. While in the UK, Hurtado was preparing to have a meeting with CYT UK to discuss ways in which to promote the variety in the UK. “I think Gewürztraminer could be a really good next one to develop in the UK market. It’s perfect with Asian food, with Indian food, with Japanese food. We will see, but I think it’s a ruby in the dust – there is a lot to win with Gewürztraminer.”
In terms of style, Hurtado emphasised that for all aromatic varieties, the signature of Cono Sur across its three quality tiers – from the entry-level Bicicleta to Reserva Especial to Single-Vineyard – was freshness, purity of grape expression and a lack of manipulation. “We try to give all the responsibility to the grapes, to make clean, fresh, aromatic wines with nice acidity,” he said. “Even the reserve level does not see wood, nor malo[lactic fermentation]. “They really represent the expression of the variety. They are fresh on the palate. There are not too many people working in that way [in Chile]. “People sometimes get a little it desperate about how you can add value, or how you can add cost to a wine if it’s a reserva or single-vineyard wine – how to make it more complicated – but when have good grapes you don’t need it.”

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