Chile v. Argentina (by a Chilean wine writer)

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Chile v. Argentina (by a Chilean wine writer)

Postby Oswaldo Costa » Tue Sep 02, 2008 5:33 pm

I ran into this informative article about the differences between Chile and Argentina when it comes to wine and obtained permission from the author to translate it for the benefit of WLDG (link to original follows below):

OUR ORIGINS THREATENED
The wine industry in Argentina is rooted in a solid immigrant cultural heritage while in Chile it is rooted in imitation.

By Patrick Tapia

For me, the matter is quite simple. The differences between Chile and Argentina, at the vineyard level, lie mainly in their cultural foundations, in their points of origin. Any review that tries to cover both wine-growing regions should not ignore this fundamental difference and should draw explanations from it.

Discounting their common origin, a "prehistory" that connects wine to the Spanish conquistadors, modern Argentine wine culture is the result of immigration. Italians, Frenchmen and Spaniards, escaping poverty in Europe, found a home in Argentina during the second half of the nineteenth century. They brought not only the desire to start a new life but also their customs, their culture. An important part of that culture was the cuisine and, within that, there was wine, another kind of food, another daily element at table. So, next to the olive trees, they planted vineyards.

The modern history of Chilean wine was born in a different way. By the mid-nineteenth century, enriched by mining in the north, a new breed of aristocrats began to travel to France (the equivalent of Miami today), where they soaked in high culture, the arts, and fashion. They noticed that austere customs, so typically Chilean, could be colored by a good meal and, why not, by wine. And, better to make it oneself. So they built chateaux and planted vineyards, copying what they saw abroad. While the wine industry in Argentina is rooted in the strong cultural heritage of European immigration, the Chilean is the result of imitation.

This difference appears to mark many aspects of both countries when it comes to comparing wine. Domestic wine consumption in Argentina is double that of Chile, generating an industry that only began exporting in significant quantities five years ago. This might explain why Argentine wine has been slow to adapt to what is known as "international taste" (whatever that means), maintaining an identity such as can be found in producers like Lopez, Weinert and others, whose style is not necessarily designed to obtain high scores from critics but, rather, reflects a philosophy created from within, without market orientation.

Chilean wine, in contrast, has been designed since the late 1970s as a weapon to conquer markets. It has been made on the basis of foreign taste, molded to please those who drink, or recommend what to drink, thousands of miles away from our borders. The success of Chilean wine lies precisely in having sacrificed its soul, its personality (or, more gravely, the possibility of building it) in order to please big markets. Given the limited capacity for internal consumption, that was the only way for producers like Concha y Toro, Santa Rita, Santa Carolina or San Pedro (to name the largest) to grow into the giants they are today.

Over the past ten years, some Argentine wineries have also taken a similar path. Catena, Zuccardi or Peñaflor have achieved success beyond their borders by adapting their wines to international taste. Like the top wines of Concha y Toro and San Pedro, the wines of these trans-Andean producers are among the best to be found in the new world, but at the same time run the same risk (or advantage, depending on the viewpoint) of being classified as providers of wines with no defined personality, although tremendously successful in foreign markets. No problem with that, of course. Wine, for most of the producing world, is an industry whose success is measured on Excel spreadsheets more than on emotions that it might eventually arouse in consumers. The personal emotion generated by a bottle of wine cannot finance vineyard expansion, cannot fund marketing campaigns or purchase hundreds of new French oak barrels.

During the past ten years, I have spoken to Argentine producers and many of them have shown admiration for the Chilean model, for its success in international markets. It would not be surprising, therefore, if in the very near future (if it isn’t already happening) the personality of Argentine wines is sacrificed in the race to please international taste. However, in the meantime, Malbec is experiencing tremendous success in foreign markets. Although many of them are full of oak and overripe, they have an identity that comes from the grape, a varietal that, for a more or less informed consumer, has its home in Argentina. Here we return, I believe, to the solid foundations of the wine culture on the other side of the Andes. Is Carmenère a lesser varietal compared to Malbec? Fearing that the markets will label us eccentric, current promotional campaigns for Chilean wines abroad say: "Well, here is our cabernet and here is our chardonnay, and also our excellent sauvignon. And, yes, we also have this thing called Carmenère. If you like, you can try it.” In Argentina they put all their energy into Malbec. Nobody seems to care if you don’t realize that Torrontés is marvelous and, moreover, another exclusivity.

The spirit that led to the commercial success of Chilean wine (and to this increasingly heavy backpack called “good value for money”) is becoming our worst enemy. Now that the domestic industry is talking about wine with origin, as a journalist, I tend to be suspicious that this is the way forward. How much of this is marketing strategy? Of course, not everything we produce has to be full of character or be exemplary of a specific origin. No country in the world can boast of doing that. However, one sometimes wishes there were more projects with soul, and that the people at the helm of the largest producers were not so conservative. In truth, one wants more risk taking, but this is difficult. The people who manage the largest wineries are not only concerned with making money, but with not losing it, and here is the key to understanding our industry.

My hope is that a new breed of wineries will emerge outside the aristocratic tradition, without old family photos, with only the clear objective of taking risks, of making really new things, without thinking about the market. What is needed is to build a personality and, to this end, enologists are key. Today, a typical enologist in Chile works for his boss to obtain a super score in Wine Spectator. Thus is his work justified. Well, let him continue to do that, but let him risk part of that income with something personal, something fulfilling, that justifies the emotion that led him to study enology, that explains his excitement when he realized that the wine would be part of his life.

Of course, for that to happen, there must be courage, decision, strength, vision, enthusiasm. Do Chilean winemakers have these qualities? Part of my hope is that, yes, they do, and that a soul lurks behind the daily work of making massive wines. But there is also a more mundane fact: the owners of wineries forbid their winemakers from having personal projects, a measure born of fear. And, so, once again we return to the prevailing conservatism, to the fear of losing markets, to our insecurity. And our insecurity, for sure, underlies our feeble foundations, the thin and shaky ground on which the wine scene stands in Chile. Imitation. Everything started with imitation.

(original can be found at http://www.planetavino.com/descorchados ... asp?id=171)
Last edited by Oswaldo Costa on Wed Sep 03, 2008 8:50 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Chile v. Argentina (by a Chilean wine writer)

Postby Bob Hower » Tue Sep 02, 2008 11:24 pm

Oswaldo,

Thanks for taking the time to translate this excellent article for us. A very interesting perspective.
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Re: Chile v. Argentina (by a Chilean wine writer)

Postby Shaji M » Tue Sep 02, 2008 11:40 pm

Thank you Oswaldo for allowing us to see a "local" perspective. Somehow, the criticism seems even more harsh as the author himself is Chilean. Do you subscribe to this point of view?
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Re: Chile v. Argentina (by a Chilean wine writer)

Postby Oswaldo Costa » Wed Sep 03, 2008 7:47 am

Shaji M wrote:Thank you Oswaldo for allowing us to see a "local" perspective. Somehow, the criticism seems even more harsh as the author himself is Chilean. Do you subscribe to this point of view?


In 2005 I went to a tasting in New York of the finest South American reds (see Dale's notes in http://groups.msn.com/BordeauxWineEnthu ... age=114592) and came away with the impression that top Chileans were Bordeaux imitations whereas top Argentineans had character. That has continued to be my opinion, though I have little experience of small/off-the-beaten track producers. I always chalked up this difference to the national temperaments of Chile and Argentina, to the extent one can generalize about such things. This article was enlightening for me because it suggested structural reasons for this difference, made all the more credible by the writer being Chilean. I cannot attest to the accuracy of his observations, and find his prescriptions idealistic, but the structural contrast he describes makes a lot of sense to me. I wanted to translate it because I felt that others on the board would, like me, be put in a better position to think generally about wines from these countries with this information in mind.
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Re: Chile v. Argentina (by a Chilean wine writer)

Postby Tim York » Wed Sep 03, 2008 8:04 am

Oswaldo, thanks for that translation of a very interesting perspective. Does it explain why I have to suppress a yawn whenever Chilean wine is mentioned?
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Re: Chile v. Argentina (by a Chilean wine writer)

Postby Alejandro Audisio » Wed Sep 03, 2008 9:16 am

I read this article when it first appeared in Santiago & Buenos Aires a while back. In my opinion, a better translation of this articles title would be " Our Origin is in Danger ".

As to the article itself, first let me say that Mr. Tapia is a wine critic & wine journalist that I do not follow on a regular basis, hence I cant really say if his palate calibrates well to mine.... which would be interesting to know since he is saying that many large Argentine producers are now following the Chilean path of making international wines. FWIW, I think its a rather risque generalization to say that large producers that are conquering external markets are doing so at the cost of losing personality... I cant speak much for the Chilean Industry (will have to take Mr. Tapia's word at face value), but I do know the Argentine Industry in great depth & detail, and cannot agree with various concepts contained in his article which make reference to the Right side of the Andes. The article does however do a good job of describing the historical foundation of the Argentine wine industry, and does add an interesting perspective on the success of the Chilean Export model.

As a closing remark, I also agree with Tapia that many Argentine producers are looking to imitate the Chilean export model... but with the qualification that what they are trying to copy is the successful distribution and marketing network that entities like ProChile and the other organizations that support chilean wines (and chilean exports in general) have created over the past 15-20 years.
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Re: Chile v. Argentina (by a Chilean wine writer)

Postby Bob Parsons Alberta » Mon Jan 31, 2011 1:26 pm

I thought some here might like to revisit this article after my question the other day about changes at Weinert.
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