A café might offer a colourful array of ice creams but it can take time for customers to feel brave enough to try out new flavours. Chile, of course, is nothing like an ice cream shop but one of its clear strengths is diversity and consumers are now recognising this by branching out of their vanilla comfort zones and exploring new variants of the country’s wines.
Chile can produce most styles of wine – it is long and thin but has the benefit of the Andes, where many of its key wine regions sit in the foothills or are planted on the slopes. It is also flanked by the Pacific Ocean, which has an impact on its coastal wine regions, and in the middle is Central Valley, a warm agricultural basin where almost anything can grow.
Ben Smith, head of communications for Concha y Toro UK, says: “Chile has a great advantage over many other countries in that it has so many different climates and soil types, once the right region is married to the right grape it is possible to produce fantastic results.”
CHILE IN THE UK OFF-TRADE
In the UK off -trade CYT’s Casillero del Diablo is the leading Chilean brand and it recently jumped up the table to fourth place in the Top 10 Wine Brands by value, with a growth of 34% to £120.2 million in the year to July 2016 (IRI). It now sits behind Hardys, Blossom Hill and Echo Falls. Currently Chile is the seventh largest country of origin by volume and value within the off - trade and its year-on-year performance is strong with 2.8% value and 3.7% volume growth. Chile is also one of the few wine nations that is currently in growth in the UK.
“Growth in Chile has now converted into an ongoing trend with more than £55 million added from June 2014 to June 2016,” says Pete Fairclough, brand manager at Kingsland Drinks, which has the Viña Quintay range for the off - trade. “Growth has been driven by shoppers buying Chile more often.”
Chile also provides “great value for money”, according to Chris Appleby, brand manager for Sogrape Premium Wines, which has the Viña Los Boldos Chilean brand. “Our key messages that we are aiming to put to our customers is that the wine is great because it comes from European heritage (the Guedes family of Portugal) with Chilean roots in the Cachapoal Valley. We want our wines to be considered to embody the spirit of this rather unknown and under-appreciated region.”
But producers also point out that the global wine market remains tough and, according to Maria Luisa Errazuriz, marketing director at Viña Errazuriz, “the image of Chilean wines still needs some work”. She adds: “That said, for Errazuriz 2015 was a good year.”
Others say Chile needs to work on pushing its premium-priced tiers. A spokesman at Santa Rita says: “While Chile is making progress in terms of consumer varietal recognition, more work needs to be done in educating consumers to what exceptional value Chilean wines are within the £10-£20 price bracket compared to the Old World. Consumers who take the time to attend educational tastings and events are always impressed, but persuading buyers at point of purchase to spend just that little bit more is the greatest challenge.”
At present the £7-£9 price bracket is still relatively small for Chile but it is seeing double digit growth. And producers are increasingly finding success with higher-priced wines in the UK. Smith at CYT says: “We have a good customer base for our more premium wines. The Marques de Casa Concha wines in particular are showing good growth. Our insights tell us that education is key to making wine drinkers feel comfortable spending a bit more on their wine, and we are working with the WSET this year to offer educational courses on-pack on Marques wines as an incentive to trade up.”
Similarly, Sogrape says it has rationalised its premium offering and will be releasing a prestige cuvée red called Amalia in October. It has also revamped the label of all of its ranges.
WHICH VARIETIES ARE STRONG?
Sauvignon Blanc is by far the most popular variety from Chile in the UK, and it remains a strong contributor to growth, up 4.4% in value last year.
Other whites are seeing much stronger growth, but from a smaller base, such as Pinot Grigio (up 31.6%) and Viognier (up 21.1%). Similarly, single varietal reds are showing more promise than blends.
Fairclough from Kingsland explains: “Unlike other countries of origin, there is more diverse interest in Merlot, Malbec and Pinot Noir – all of which are in notable growth, perhaps as a result of the growing frequency of purchase as shoppers broaden their repertoires.”
Amy White, marketing director at Accolade, agrees. “Some indication of consumers trading up is shown through the growth of Pinot Noir and Malbec in Chile. Pinot Noir is the sixth best-selling grape in Chile and is growing by 29.2%, with an average price in the UK market of £6.01.”
Maria Luisa Errazuriz agrees that consumers are diversifying their choices more. “We see consumers are very confident in Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenère,” she says. “However, we are seeing a trend of exploring more in the cool-climate varieties, specifically Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but most importantly seeing the spend increasing from entry-level to premium wines.”
Producers are also working to highlight their sparkling wines. Smith at CYT says: “Cono Sur has definitely joined the sparkling party. Its Sparkling Pinot Noir rosé has been hugely popular.
“The sparkling rosé comes from Bío Bío in the south of Chile where there is abundant rainfall and the resulting wines are fresh, crisp but with the trademark approachability which makes Chile such a popular country of origin for UK wine drinkers.”
And Errazuriz also has “a very exciting sparkling project” on the horizon. “We expect to launch it in 2018. It is a small production of a Blanc de Blancs and traditional blend from Aconcagua Costa,” says Maria Luisa Errazuriz.
INVESTMENTS SPORTING CHANCE
Many of the key Chilean wine brands in the UK are continuing to invest regularly, and sporting partnerships have been popular. CYT’s Cono Sur recently partnered with the Tour de France, while its Trivento linked with Premiership Rugby and Casillero del Diablo recently set up a partnership with Sky Cinema. Accolade, which acquired Chilean brand Anakena last September, recently launched the Anakena Birdman range. It has been supported by the sponsorship of Davis Cup Winner and ATP World number one doubles player Jamie Murray. Amy White at Accolade, says: “Having agreed to a long-term partnership with the LTA earlier this year, we are delighted to have partnered with a British tennis player who has a worldclass reputation and global appeal.”