Saudades do…. Brunello di Montalcino in Brazil

When I first was asked “could you organise us something in Brazil for a group of 15 wine producers from Montalcino” if I tell you the truth, I was slightly worried. I’d first stepped foot in Brazil 13 years ago, at that time it was all about beer and cachaca and the only wine I’d seen and tasted there (in a small town in Rio Grande do Sul) was a Brazilian copy of Asti..

Since then though, recently affluent Brazilians have moved steadily up the list of “potential wine consumers” just as Brazil has moved up the world power rankings and nowadays for wineries looking to escape the depression of their domestic markets, indeed finding an importer in the land of Samba and Pele, is top of many a wish list.

So last week I headed over to Expovinis, Brazil’s main meeting point in the wine industry calendar accompanied by a cheerful group of wine producers from the picturesque village of Montalcino in central Italy. It was the first group outing of Cooperativa La Spiga Montalcino, an association of farmers that over the years has seen the importance of viticulture amongst their members grow. Founded back in the 1950s, the association was used to share  machinery between the local farmers and built an olive mill for all to use. Nowadays their members include some of the most important wine houses in the region and together they decided to pool resources, take advantage of EU subsidies and explore new horizons. They’d brought with them a selection of their Rosso di Montalcino, Sant’Antimo, Moscadello and the jewel in the crown of Tuscan viticulture – Brunello di Montalcino.

Stand 66 Expovinis Cooperativa La SpigaAfter a frustrating day of set-up followed by an evening of churrasco, beer and caipirinha to ease everyone into the mood, we headed over to Expo Centre Norte, a modern Expo centre located between the city centre and the airport (30-40mins from each). After much persuasion we’d been allocated a stand close to the French pavilion in the logic that the Gaullic dominance of international markets would pull visitors past our stand. Once the doors opened though, the crowds flocked around the top Tuscan’s like bees around honey. A lot  lot of hard work by producers to ensure high quality in their winemaking and promotion done by the Consorzio Vino Brunello di Montalcino means that Brunello enjoys a reputation (despite the glitch in 2008) that many other appellations can only dream of.

Day 1 empties ExpovinisDay 1 went busily but smoothly and by the time the clock struck 9, many of the producers had emptied 30% of their wines and I was starting to get worried we’d be left dry by Friday. Expovinis may be the only wine fair for professionals in Brazil but it’s also one of the main wine events for consumers. From 5pm doors are opened to consumers and inevitably, the post-work crowds give the fair a whole different meaning. Perhaps quenching the local’s thirst for “vinhozinho” with 150$ Brunello is not what the producers had in mind but in a market where wine is still a relatively new trend, it’s part of the deal.

ImageOver the 3 days of the fair, the producers were kept busy with B2B meeting with importers and distributors and on day 2 we decided there was no better way to demonstrate how well the rich wines of Montalcino marry with the meaty cuisine of Brazil by taking them to a nearby churrascuria. A few of the producers are already distributed in Brazil whilst others are looking for importers meaning that despite having on the whole similar offerings, the targets were often different : importers or distributors. The sheer size of the country means that many companies do one activity and not the other.

On the last day of the exhibition we involved one of Brazil’s most prominent wine journalists, Jorge Lucki, to lead a Masterclass on the wines of Montalcino. Press, importers and sommeliers were lead through an hour’s presentation on how and where these wines are made illustrating the particularities of Montalcino:

– the hill of Montalcino is like a pyramid meaning that vineyards on each side produce very different wines. Wines made from grapes in vineyards to the North of the village are lighter with more elegance whilst those from the South have more power and structure. Many producers have vineyards dotted across the village and use these cru to make very different Brunellos

– the area’s flagship wine is the Brunello which takes over 5 years to make (the longest aging wine in Italy) yet the Rosso di Montalcino far from being a less aged Brunello, has its own fresh, easy-drinking identity

– the Sant’Antimo appellation allows wine producers the freedom to use grape varieties other than Sangiovese in their wines and can be produced in white and red versions as well as various monovarietals where the include at least 85% of the stated grape. These include Merlot, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

– the Moscadello di Montalcino – produced in still, frizzante or late harvest ensures the area produces wines for all occasions and dishes

Lineup of wines shown at the Montalcino MasterclassTo complete the programme the wineries of Cooperativa La Spiga hosted a closing soiree in a restaurant in the hip quartier of Itaim Bibi. BOS bbq run by Brazilian born Gustavo Bottino who spent a lot of time in the US was our chosen venue. The relaxed ambiance of the place along with the simple yet tasty food was the perfect setting for an evening of networking. I’d organised the event for the producers to have more one on one time with people in the wine industry – to get to know their thoughts on what they drink, when and how much they spend. We invited selected wine consumers, some friendly importers and a few press to the evening which finished with a charity sale of the remaining wines. The opportunity to take home wine that cost a fraction of what they would normally be available for in Brazil was not missed and at the end of the evening we’d raised 1000 euro for Gustavo’s chosen charity Projeto Sol that works with children of the favelas. There was nothing left to do now but enjoy dancing the night away to the beats of Samba..

Cooperativa La Spiga Producers
The line-up of producers outside the exhibition centre

The day after it was time to head home and take stock of what we’d done and learnt. The week had finished well – my 15 wine producers had made contacts with importers, distributors and wine consumers, started understanding how complex the Brazilian market is (the government imposes high taxes on wines and is toying with introducing protectionist policies), helped a local charity and had a fair dose of indigenous culture. Some even had the luxury of heading home with an order in their briefcase.

When I got back to grey-skied Munich I was definitely suffering from Saudades do Brazil or should that be Saudades do Brunello? ..

Many thanks to: Bellaria, Cantine Luciani 1888, Capanna, Collelceto, Collematoni, La Fornace, La Mannella, La Rasina, La Serena, Lazzeretti, Lisini, Mastrojanni, Podere La Vigne, Solaria, Ventolaio for their good humour and patience.