Brazil is the fifth largest producer of wine in the southern hemisphere, with an industry based principally in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil’s most southerly state, which shares a border with both Argentina and Uruguay. Around the city of Bento Gonçalves and in the picturesque nearby Vale dos Vinhedos (‘valley of the vineyards’) dozens of wineries are headquartered, and it is in this region that around 85% of Brazil’s fine wines – defined locally as being from vitis vinifera stock – are produced.
It is difficult to be precise but there are approximately 1250 commercial grape producers in Rio Grande do Sul and neighbouring Santa Catarina state. The vast majority of these supply fruit into established wineries, some of which are large co-operatives while others are smaller, family-run businesses. A very small number of wineries (around 30) are actively engaged in exports but of these many have regular business in the major markets of the USA, UK, Europe, South America and, increasingly, China.
Many wineries have a long and proud Italian heritage, and it is not uncommon for fifth or even sixth generation family members to be involved in these businesses. However, reflecting the region’s mixed European ancestry, some wineries are run by Brazilians whose descendants are from Germany or Hungary, for example. To add to this complex ethnic mix, there are also some Japanese-Brazilian wine-makers, including one of our suppliers, Sanjo.
As well as wine production, a growing number of wineries have expanded into the hospitality and ‘oeno-tourism’ business, so vineyard restaurants, hotels and souvenir shops are widespread and usually of very good quality. For the serious wine enthusiast, Go Brazil can recommend specialist travel agencies who will take clients to visit some of the key wineries, meet the wine-makers, enjoy wine and food pairings, and stay in luxury accommodation. Side-trips to Rio de Janeiro, the Pantanal wetlands and the majestic Foz de Iguaçu waterfalls can also be organised.
Geography & Topography
Best to forget the glossy brochures advertising endless sun-kissed beaches! The south of Brazil is green, very hilly – mountainous in parts – and at times can get very cold. Rain and hail are common here during the winter, so vineyard location, soil type, drainage and vine protection are all factors which wine producers must consider. The lush, undulating landscape is, however, very scenic, reminiscent perhaps of the foothills of the Austrian Tyrol or Swiss Alps, and for tourists, is best enjoyed during spring (September-November) or autumn (March-May).
Vineyards typically are located at around 600m in the Vale dos Vinhedos, in the Serra Gaúcha hills, while further south and west towards the borders with Uruguay and Argentina, altitude drops considerably to around 150m on average. In the more northerly state of Santa Catarina, many of the vineyards lie at above 1,000m, with some as high as 1,400m. Most of these are sited at least 80km inland, so do not enjoy any maritime influence. The latitude covering these main wine-producing areas runs from around 29° to 32° and there are four distinct seasons, albeit with slightly longer and hotter summers at the southern end of this band.
Soil types vary from the predominantly gravel and clay over basaltic rock in the Serra Gaúcha, to limestone or granite in the most southerly Campanha region.
The Lesser-Known Regions
While the Serra Gaúcha remains very much the centre of Brazil’s wine production, all of the favoured vineyard sites there have long since been occupied. With growing urbanisation also reducing the amount of land available, winemakers have started to purchase plots in the extreme south and southwest of the country, bordering Uruguay and Argentina respectively. Known as Campanha, or Fronteira, this remote area extends for hundreds of miles and is known principally as sheep and cattle-raising country, although rice production is also important. Mainly limestone soils and a warm breeze make for good drainage, while a long ripening period ensures good fruit and sugar concentrations.
Notable too is the ‘Vinhos de Altitude’, a group of wineries from the interior of Santa Catarina state, whose vineyards all lie above 1,000m. Some of these are still young businesses but have great potential and we can expect some exciting developments from them in the coming years.
Very new to the wine-making scene is the more northerly state of São Paulo, Brazil’s most populous and wealthy which, at first glance, is not an obvious candidate for wine production given its location on the Tropic of Capricorn. However, wine-makers there have devised an innovative double-pruning technique that delays the harvest by several months, meaning that grapes can be picked in the cool and dry winter months of July/August rather than in February/March, when it would be too hot and/or wet. The Guaspari winery, located at 900-1,300m on the site of an old coffee plantation, employs this unusual system and the resulting wines -some of which Go Brazil import- are of very high quality.
In complete contrast, 2,000kms away in the northeast of Brazil, there are a series of vineyards which produce at least two harvests p.a. Irrigated by the waters of the nearby River São Francisco, and situated only 8-9° below the Equator, vines here grow freely and crop on a continuous basis. While many of the grapes grown in the region are destined for table consumption, the wines produced are of a steady, consistently good quality. Read more below about the Rio Sol brand, which originates in this region.
Our Wineries in Brief
Founded in 1875, Casa Valduga can lay claim to be one of the oldest wine-making houses in Brazil. Still a family concern after six generations, the company now occupies a huge site in the stunning Vale dos Vinhedos. With the added attraction of two restaurants and upmarket guest accommodation, Valduga is deservedly one of the most visited of all the vineyards in the region.
Familia Geisse, or ‘Cave Geisse’, is unique among our suppliers in that its owner, Mario Geisse, is Chilean. Back in 1976 he left his native country, where he had been Master Winemaker at the Casa Silva winery, to manage Moet & Chandon’s Brazilian operations. Then in 1979 he left to set up his own business, which he had always intended would produce sparkling wines. Its wines are popular with people looking for the best South American wines, and indeed only Traditional Method sparkling is produced by this highly regarded, family-run business.
Anyone looking for unusual Latin American wines will be interested in those produced by Lidio Carraro. Although one of the youngest Brazilian wine producers, founded only in 1998, the Lidio Carraro family has been growing grapes for four generations. Their current plantings are located both in the Vale dos Vinhedos and also in the Terras do Encruzilhada do Sul, part of the more southerly Serra do Sudeste region.
The Miolo Wine Group is one of the largest players in the Brazil wines industry, boasting a share of 40% in its domestic fine wine market. It is also Brazil’s largest wine exporter by value. The company, which is headquartered in the picturesque Vale dos Vinhedos near Bento Gonçalves, is also involved in a number of joint ventures outside Brazil, including in Chile, Spain, Italy and France. Given this scale of operations it is not surprising that Miolo also owns the greatest amount of land under vines in Brazil , currently around 1,150 hectares, and produces 12m litres of fine wines (defined locally as coming from vitis vinifera vines) under more than 100 different labels.
Many wines of South America have links to other parts of the world. Another Brazilian wine business of Italian origin, Pizzato Vinhos & Vinhas (to give the full name) originally produced wine from Bonarda vines, whose rootstocks the Pizzato family had imported from their homeland. Curiously, it was a doctor at the local hospital who started to prescribe the wine as treatment against typhoid!
As fine wine importers and distributors, Go Brazil supplies the trade with quality Brazilian wines from a range of wineries including Rio Sol. Reputedly the world’s closest lying winery to the Equator, Rio Sol remarkably sits just 8 degrees south, on the border of the states of Bahia and Pernambuco in northeast Brazil. This predominantly flat, arid vineyard borders the river São Francisco, downstream from the man-made Sobradinho lake, and forms part of a much larger irrigation project which focuses on commercial fruit production.
As wine suppliers to the trade, Go Brazil imports wines from producers including Aurora. The largest producer of Brazilian wine by volume, Aurora is a co-operative which relies on more than 1100 small scale producer-members to supply approx. 50m kgs of grapes annually. The company’s HQ is located in Bento Gonçalves, the town situated at the heart of the Serra Gaúcha wine-growing region.