An unusual location for quality South American wines, the extreme Southwest of Brazil is predominantly cowboy country: endless rolling plains mainly inhabited by beef cattle and punctuated with numerous natural lakes. Indeed, until the late 19th century, these badlands, which now straddle modern Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina, were essentially ungoverned. Even now the region can only be accessed by a handful of roads, and it feels very different from anywhere else we have experienced in Brazil.
It was a great surprise and pleasure then, in 2013, to meet Hortencia and José Ayub, owners of boutique winery Campos de Cima and pioneers of wine-making in this region of Campanha Oriental. Theirs is a small family operation which was inaugurated only a dozen years ago. It was at this time that Hortencia and José had the vision of creating fine wines originating in their homeland, and which has resulted in a 15 hectare vineyard on a gently sloping, north-facing hillside outside the town of Itaqui. This remote but beautiful spot – and all the surrounding land – has been in family hands for 150 years. A ranch-style farmhouse sits alongside the vineyard and is used for family gatherings, entertaining or simply enjoying the peace and quiet. The business also comprises a brand new, purpose-built winery in Itaqui, a small riverside community and border crossing point between Brazil and Argentina (the border is the river, confusingly called the ‘Rio Uruguai’ ).
Having imported both French and Italian rootstocks, in the early days the family turned to EMPRAPA, the Brazilian agricultural research agency, to help them with the technicalities of making wine. This approach paid off and the company was soon winning medals locally. With an increasing focus on quality over quantity, they then turned to French winemaker, Michel Fabre, and in 2014 he was given sole responsibility for the vintage. Fabre, as well as being a vineyard owner in his native ” Minervois”, southwest France, also has extensive wine-making experience in the north of Brazil and Argentina.
With a brief to bring out the best of the local terroir, Fabre has now produced a delicious clean floral Viognier and a powerful, rich Malbec/Shiraz/Tannat blend, branded Assinatura, both of which Go Brazil are proud to have introduced to the UK market in March 2015. Together with the 2011 vintage Brut (awarded an IWC Silver Medal in 2013 ) and Extra Brut Champenoise already on the Go Brazil range, we feel we have identified some elegant, high quality South American wines which are well differentiated from those elsewhere in Brazil, and indeed further afield.