Monday, March 5, 2012


I hope the rest of you found that as funny as I did.

Now, let's get serious.

Brazil. Not a place that immediately springs to mind when you think of fine wines, is it?

The country was largely colonized by folks from European countries where wine is the tipple of choice and where a meal isn’t considered complete without it, and yet Brazilians, on the average, drink less than 3 liters of the stuff, per capita, per year.

Most drink cachaça, much of it in the form of caipirinhas.
Don’t know what cachaça is?

We also drink lots of beer, most of which is really good. But the making of good wine, until recently, has eluded us – and many would say it eludes us still.

Well, remember those three rules for earning money in real estate?
Location, location, location?

The same applies to fine wines.
In the northern hemisphere, the grapes used to make Burgundies are grown at latitudes in the neighborhood of 47 degrees.
The ones used to make Barolos and Valpolicellas in latitudes of slightly less than 45.
Portugal’s Douro Valley clocks-in at 41.
The Napa Valley, in California, does well at about 39.
Spain’s Rioja region is at 37.
Algeria’s highlands are at 35.
But if you get any further south than that, the quality falls-off fast.

And the southern hemisphere?
Well, our friends from South Africa (my hat is off to you, Stanley and Michael) grow truly superior wine grapes in the area around the Cape of Good Hope. And so do the Argentineans, in the area around Mendoza, and the Chileans in the Maipo Valley, all of which are located at about the same latitude: 34 degrees.

Brazil’s wine-growing country, what little of it there is, lies as far away from the equator as you can get without crossing the southernmost border. It’s an area in which growing conditions are less than ideal and where wine neither travels nor stores well, but it’s the best we’ve got.

Back in the early days, the colonists really missed their wine.

The rich ones had it shipped to them from the mother country.

And many farmers tried to grow it, but they quickly discovered that a terroir suitable for crops like coffee and sugar cane is the last place you want to start planting wine grapes. The climate in such places tends to be humid, and those were the days before disease-resistant vine clones had been developed, so the first vines the colonists planted ( in São Paulo back in 1532 ) died in short order.

Mostly from funghi like the one shown above.

They did manage to find some places in the State of Rio Grande do Sul (map above) where drinkable (although not very high-quality) reds could be produced and slightly higher-quality whites, but getting them to the markets of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro proved well-nigh impossible. Back then, the roads were very poor. And they stayed that way for a long time – all the way up until the twentieth century. But I’m happy to say that, like just about everything else in Brazil these days, the winds of change are blowing through the country.

The new reality has been heavily influenced by the arrival of, and investments by, a number of international wine companies. They brought winemaking technology and vineyard-management techniques to the industry and invested heavily in the planting of the European grape varieties, Chardonnay and Semillon (for the whites) and Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (for the reds).

These days, the area around Bento Gonçalves, the heart of Brazil’s wine growing region, has more than 90, 000 acres planted in vines.

But we still have a long way to go. Last year, Brazil exported only 3.3 million dollars worth of wine.  
And, to give you an idea of how little that is, compare it to the 1.6 billion dollars worth exported by Chile.

Still, we’re getting there.

Click here to take a virtual tour of the facilities of Vinícola Aurora, Brazil’s largest winery:

I daresay the sophistication of the operation will surprise you.

Leighton – Monday


  1. Very interesting, Leighton. Looking forward to a little Brazilian tipple in the near future. You, like Yrsa, will have to travel with some next time we get together. Of course, I hope you wine tastes better than Brinnevin. Cheers,


  2. The good folks at Wines Of Brazil have (quite naturally) taken exception to my remarks about the quality of their products.
    So, in the interest of offering equal time, I'm taking the unusual step of commenting on my own post to offer this video, one for which they sent me the link, which they offer in rebuttal:

    This selfsame Clarke, the fellow who does all the talking, is a well-known British wine critic.

  3. In light of the outrageous conduct that prompted Tim's piece yesterday, I'm somewhat reluctant to make this observation, but what the hell, you put it out there: I dare say that the corkscrew at the top of your piece has some serious 'splaining to do to the lady with the beer.

  4. Brazil has a different take on pregnant women drinking than one would find in the US or most of western Europe. Studies have shown that alcohol has series effects on the developing fetus throughout all stages of pregnancy.

    Michael Doris, a Native American writer, adopted a boy whose problems weren't recognized by experts in a number of hospitals including Boston's Children's Hospital. On a visit to a reservation, Doris saw a group of boys with the same facial features as his son. He learned that all the boys had been exposed to alcohol in the womb. He wrote a heart-breaking book about his son in particular and and fetal alcohol syndrome in particular. the book is called ADAM, the pseudonym he gave his son.