One of Chile’s most vibrant export industries — wine — has proven to be resilient after a destructive earthquake and has set out an ambitious plan to fill more glasses around the world.
Chilean winemakers had enjoyed two decades of virtually uninterrupted annual growth until the global economic crisis and a local natural disaster. In 2000, exports were valued at $495 million. By 2008 they had more than doubled to $1.2 billion. Even with key markets like the United States suffering in 2009, the wine continued to flow; exports of Chilean wine edged down only slightly to $1.1 billion that year, representing 2.6 percent of all national exports. More than 100,000 people are directly employed by the industry.
The earthquake that struck on Feb. 27, 2010, destroyed 125 million liters of bulk, bottled and aged wine, equivalent to 12.5 percent of 2009 production output and valued at $250 million, according to the industry group Wines of Chile. Some wineries, especially in the harder-hit Colchagua Valley, suffered damage to their facilities in addition to the loss of wine.
The setbacks are temporary. Chile still boasts ideal growing conditions for a broad range of varietals, and the winemakers are looking to secure a bigger share of the global wine market. The industry has set a goal to reach $3 billion in bottled-wine exports by 2020. The United States, the United Kingdom and Canada are among the most important markets for Chilean wine producers. Brazil has emerged as a leading consumer of wine from Chile, whose winemakers claim one-third of the imported-wine market and where imports have been gaining ground against local Brazilian wines.
Consumption in the United Kingdom reportedly got a boost in October when Britons toasted with Chilean wines the dramatic rescue of the miners trapped in the Atacama Desert.
Cabernet sauvignon accounts for nearly one-quarter of current exports, but producers are looking to expand sales of whites like sauvignon blanc and one of the country’s signature specialty reds, carménère.
The global push will be twofold. While continuing to raise production levels at home and with it the overall volume of exports, wine producers will promote higher-priced wines to consumers in its main export markets and will cultivate new drinkers in emerging markets like Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and China, where wine represents a small percentage of overall consumption of alcoholic beverages but where the potential is enormous.
In 2010 there are 23 million Chinese consumers who can afford to purchase imported wine and 14.3 million who drink imported wine, Wines of Chile estimates. The group plans to open an office in Asia this year.
Photo courtesy of istockphoto
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