Next month, three dozen Chilean wine producers will be in Vancouver to headline the 34th Vancouver Playhouse International Wine festival. It's been over two decades since Chile first appeared in numbers on government liquor store shelves in BC. That means it's been spanning an entire generation of wine drinkers and is currently working on a second generation of wine drinkers.
Experience counts for something, but in my estimation what worked in the 1990s or even the 2000s in wine is unlikely to be successful over the next decade. In the case of Chile, what's required is a new way of thinking, one that is more longitudinal than latitudinal.
So in warm, central Chile, moving toward the coast or up the Andes to cooler sites is a must in a world in love with cool-climate wines. That said, precision wine growing is useless without precision marketing (and precise appellations), and it's along this track that Chile's future in the world wine business will be determined.
I've long been interested in Chile's ultimate development, which surely must move beyond the "value for money" moniker that attaches itself to the Chilean wine section like an early morning Pacific fog blankets coastal vineyards.
There's nothing wrong with offering value, especially at all price points, but countries, and important wine regions, usually build their pedigree from the top down. As they say at Ford, "quality is job one", and it's quality wine from recognised appellations that will reshape Chile's 2.0 wine landscape.
As mentioned, the current Chilean mantra is to get to the coast or up the mountains. Neither area is cheap to farm and we expect to pay more for such wine but the quality and, more importantly, the allure of Limari syrah, Bio-Bio pinot noir, Marchigue carmenère, Leyda sauvignon blanc, Colchagua grenache, San Antonio chardonnay or Elqui riesling, – well, you name the region – is so far removed from those early Chilean wines that it can and should provide the impetus for a major shift in the psychology of Chilean wine among retailers and consumers.
Arguing against value is not something I do lightly, but if it means the end of bland, faceless brands that satisfy the "loss leader" needs of huge retailers I accept the challenge. Chile's identity as "cheap and cheerful" has to disappear if the long, thin country is going to make the jump to prime time wine producer.
Open any interesting wine list in the world you will see what I mean. You can check off Bordeaux and Burgundy. You can see Champagne, Napa, Barossa, Piemonte, Tuscany and lately you can even find Mendoza malbec, Austrian grüner veltliner and German Riesling, but more often than not Chilean wines are nowhere to be found.