Can Brazil's Wine Industry Capture an American Audience?

The South American nation's wine industry has tripled in value over the past 10 years, and vintners see opportunity in the United States
Can Brazil's Wine Industry Capture an American Audience?
Brazil's Serra Gaúcha region is known for quality sparkling wines. (Dandy Marchetti)
Dec 3, 2018

Brazil's wine industry is more than 100 years old, but until recently, very little of its wines have left the country. However, for the past five years, the South American nation's vintners, with government support, have ramped up their export efforts. And their three major targets are the United States, China and the U.K.

“The U.S.A. is our No. 1 target export country,” explained Diego Bertolini, director of marketing for Wines of Brasil. “The fact that more than 120 million Americans drink wine, and the market continues to grow, makes the U.S. an ideal export destination.” But Brazil faces several challenges, none more significant than Americans' unfamiliarity with Brazilian wine.

"Brazil is a country more famous for its colorful culture, rain forests and pristine beaches than the quality of its wine, although this is quickly changing,” said Master Sommelier Ian Cauble, cofounder of a digital wine merchant. “A dedicated wine-producing community, centered mostly in the Serra Gaúcha region, is producing delicious wines in many styles and colors."

Brazil's wine industry dates to the 1880s, when a handful of wineries were established by northern Italian immigrants, but has now grown to more than 1,100 wineries. During the past decade, the wine industry has expanded, with revenues increasing from US$213 million in 2007 to more than $640 million in 2017. Production was 33.7 million cases last year, according to Wines of Brasil. Today there are 195,000 acres of vineyards in the country.

Close to 90 percent of Brazil's wine production comes from the Serra Gaúcha region of southern Brazil. The lead grapes there are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for sparkling-wine production. Farther south, near the Uruguay border, Cabernet Franc, Marselan and Merlot are popular varieties. Asti-style sparkling Muscat and sparkling Glera (the grape in Prosecco) are other growing categories.

“Our expertise is sparkling wine,” said Bertolini. “We have been making it for decades, and it matches our culture of celebration. We make all styles of sparkling, from high-end méthode traditionnelle aged for years on the lees to semi-sweet sparkling Moscato.”

Some industry experts agree. “Sparkling wine is a particularly bright spot on Brazil's diverse and far-flung vineyard landscape,” said Doug Frost, a Master Sommelier and wine consultant. “There are worthy red and white Brazilian wines, but I think that there is value and even novelty in offering Brazilian bubbly.”

That focus on sparkling wine is the foundation of Brazil's export strategy. They're hoping to take part in the growth in sparkling wine sales around the world and continued growth in the category in the U.S. market—according to Impact Databank, a sister publication of Wine Spectator, sparkling wine sales grew 3 percent in 2017, compared to 0.3 percent for all wine. And Brazilians believe bubbly sets them apart from the two leading South American wine-producing nations, Chile and Argentina, which are best-known for still reds.

Currently only 11 Brazilian wineries export wine to the U.S., primarily to cities on the East Coast, such as New York and Miami. But Brazilian wine remains relatively unknown among American consumers. And the wines are still arriving in small numbers, with only 16,739 cases of Brazilian wine shipped to the U.S. in 2017, according to U.S. Customs reports. So there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.

“It's not that we don't want to have wines from Brazil,” said Wine.com founder Mike Osborn. “We simply don't seem to have suppliers or mainstream wholesalers making them available nationally yet.”


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