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. Around the city of Bento Gonçalves and in the picturesque neighbouring Vale dos Vinhedos (‘valley of the wineries’ ) 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 vinfera stock – are produced.
The statistics vary, but there are at least 800 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 cooperatives and others smaller, family businesses. About 5%, or forty, producers are engaged in export but of these only twenty or so have regular business in the major markets of the USA, UK or the rest of Europe.
Many wineries have a long and proud Italian heritage, and it is not uncommon for fifth or 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. To add to this complex ethnic mix, there are also some Japanese-Brazilian wine-makers, including for example one of our suppliers, Sanjo.
As well as wine production, a number of wineries have expanded into the hospitality and tourism business, so vineyard tours, restaurants, accommodation and souvenir shops are well represented. For the serious wine enthusiast, Go Brazil is proud to be offering UK clients bespoke, escorted tours of the region: we 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 and the majestic Foz de Iguaçu waterfalls can also be organised.
Geography & Topography
Forget the glossy brochures advertising endless sun-kissed beaches! The south of Brazil is green, 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 or autumn.
Vineyards typically are located at around 600m in the Vale dos Vinhedos, in the Serra Gaùcha mountains, while further south towards and on the border with Uruguay, altitude drops to 350m. In the more northerly state of Santa Catarina, many of the vineyards lie at least 1000m, and some as high as 1400m. All the vineyards are well inland (150km+ ), so are not affected by any maritime factors. The latitude covering these main wine-producing areas goes from around 29C to 32C, so 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 Gaùcha, to limestone or granite in the most southerly Campanha region.
The Lesser Known Regions
While the Serra Gaùcha very much remains the centre of Brazil’s wine production, all of the favoured vineyard sites there have long since been taken. With growing urbanisation also conspiring to reduce the 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 – the area extends for hundreds of miles and is traditionally cattle-raising country. Mainly limestone soils and a warm breeze make for good drainage, while a long ripening period ensures good fruit concentration.
Watch out too for the ‘Vinhos de Altitude’, a group of wineries from inland Santa Catarina whose vineyards all lie above 1000m. Some of these are young businesses but they have great potential and we expect some exciting developments from them in the next few years.
In complete contrast, 3000kms away in the northeast of the country, there are a series of vineyards which produce at least two harvests per annum. Irrigated by the waters of the nearby River São Francisco, and situated only 8-9C below the Equator, vines here grow freely and crop on a continuous basis. While some grapes here are destined for table eating, the wines which are produced are of a consistently good if not spectacular quality. Read more about the Rio Sol brand, which originates in this region.
Go Brazil are the principal Brazil wine importers to the UK, supplying trade customers from our London warehouse.
Our Wineries in Brief