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Brazil’s sparkling wine carves a growing niche

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Aerial view of the Familia Geisse vineyard in Pinto Bandeira, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil. FLORIAN PLAUCHEUR / AFP

Brazil’s sparkling wine carves a growing niche

Four workers in a wine cave quickly rotate hundreds of stored bottles a quarter-turn to help with fermentation.

Are we in France’s Champagne country? No, the scene takes place in Brazil, a country better known for its gorgeous beaches and its refreshing caipirinha cocktails.

“In our Serra Gaucha region, we have the ideal climate to produce a quality sparkling wine,” expert Carlos Abarzua tells AFP.

Abarzua works for the Familia Geisse winery in Pinto Bandeira, in Rio Grande do Sul state, wedged near Brazil’s southern border with Argentina and Uruguay.

When he pops open a bottle of Extra Brut and pours it into a long-stemmed glass, tiny bubbles rise tantalizingly to the surface.

Sparkling wine from Brazil? Not the first thing that comes to mind. The country is better known for its cachaca — the sugarcane-based alcohol used in caipirinhas — and for its big industrial breweries.

Brazil’s wine production is far smaller than that of Argentina or Chile, but the southern part of the country is a sort of oasis for grape production owing to its cool climate and favorable growing conditions.

‘Ideal’ conditions

In the 1970s, big multinational producers such as France’s Moet & Chandon were drawn to the Serra Gaucha, with its rolling green hills and ample rainfall. The region accounts for 90 per cent of Brazilian wine production.

Since then, the area has increasingly specialized in the production of sparkling and Champagne-style wines.

“Argentina is known for its Malbec, Chile for its Carmenere, Uruguay for its Tannat,” said Andre de Gasperin, vice president of the Brazilian Association of Oenology.

“Brazil is not associated with a particular grape variety, but our specialty is sparkling wine.

“The Serra Gaucha is a cooler region, with good altitude, ideal for white grapes, which have good acidity and which ripen well, like in the Champagne region,” he added.

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Director Carlos Abarzua examines a glass of white wine at the Familia Geisse vineyard. CARL DE SOUZA / AFP

A rising profile

In recent years, sparkling Brazilian wines —principally using Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Italian Riesling grapes — have won dozens of international prizes.

In the 2018 Catad’Or Wine Awards competition, the biggest in Latin America, the Moscatel from the Garibaldi cooperative was voted South America’s best sparkling wine.

And Brazilians are crazy about it: 66.2 per cent of the sparkling wine sold in the country is locally produced, according to the Brazilian Union of Viticulture.

For other wines, the reverse is true: only 11.8 per cent are produced in Brazil. The rest is imported, about half from Chile.

The Familia Geisse, situated in a remote and verdant valley covered with vines, is Brazil’s only sparkling wine producer to use the Champagne or traditional method, involving a second in-bottle fermentation.

Most Brazilian wineries use the Charmat or tank method, in which the second round of fermentation takes place not in bottles but in stainless steel tanks.

Along with four other producers in Pinto Bandeira, the Familia Geisse hopes to obtain an Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC) — a protected designation of origin — for its sparkling wine.

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