El Conquistqdor Francisco de Orellana

El Conquistqdor Francisco de Orellana
The Conquistador who put the Amazaon baisn "on the map"....Francisco Orellana

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The new wine culture of Ecuador

By Lance Brashea

Estella de Frutos, the representative of Uruguay Wines at the Gala de Vino III Exposition in Quito this past October was asked what she thought about Ecuadorian wine. This was her response:

"For me, it deserves an honor. It is exciting.” She shared her encounter with a local winery, Chaupi Estancia, where she discovered a Palomino variety. "This means a lot for the history of wine in South America because in the history of wine it is said that the Spanish conquest introduced wine in Peru, which was the head of the empire. From there it descended to what is now Chile and Argentina. If there was Palomino in Ecuador it means the grapes also traveled north. From a cultural point of view this is very important. Here there is a wine culture."

The Gala de Vino, an event sponsored by the Cofradia de Vino - a non-profit organization that promotes wine in Ecuador - is one of the most important manifestations of Ecuador's developing wine culture.

Wine was first produced in Ecuador almost 500 years ago. Documentation shows that wine-producing grapes arrived to Ecuador in the 16th century, but production was halted early in Ecuador's history only to resume seriously again in the 1990s. Since then people like Estella de Frutos have begun to take notice of the increasing importance of wine in Ecuador and of Ecuador in the world of wine.

IMPORTING CULTURE

Today Ecuador has several local wine producers but production of wine at the Equator remains very modest. The majority of wine consumption in the country comes from imported products, a business that began roughly in the 1950s.

Felipe Cordovez, General Manager of Cordovez S.A., one of Ecuador's oldest and largest importers of wine and liquor, marks the true start of today's wine culture at the turn of the 21st century, a result of the economic situation of the day. Cordovez says sales of imported wines increased steadily at about 20% a year for almost a decade starting in 1999. And then starting in 2005 the industry saw a pronounced increase in the sale of expensive and high quality wines.

He attributes the change to Ecuador's currency conversion to the U.S. dollar in the Spring of 2000. Cordovez says it brought a measure of stability such that importers could more easily issue credit, manage prices, and even start a business. Additionally, he says, "Wine developed in an environment of restaurants and gastronomy…since 2000 gastronomy, especially in the big cities, developed significantly. In Quito now we have restaurants that could be found in any grand capital of the world. This was not the case ten years ago."

Miguel de Arregui first came to Quito in 1999 and since 2008 has managed his own restaurant, Alma. He says he has witnessed a significant change to Ecuador's wine culture during that time.

"In 1999 there were just a few wines, cheap wines..little by little, in 2002-2003 the importers began to bring more wine from Argentina…now you can go to Supermaxi or to a liquor store and find a huge variety of wines from Argentina and Chile, even from Spain, Italy, France, EEUU. Still we are in the beginning of this new stage but it is very good."

Arregui says that 90% of the wines he offers at Alma are from Chile and Argentina, a number that mirrors the overall market, according to Cordovez. Both countries have enjoyed favored treatment for having signed trade agreements with Ecuador. Because their wines have had an economic advantage for so many years, people have become accustomed to drinking them and still favor them today over labels from other countries.

Cordovez explains that all the factors contributing to the developing wine culture in Ecuador seemed to coalesce at the same time. Wine imports and the number of importers increased, the restaurant scene grew, and people began to get excited about wine thanks in large measure to an organization that arrived on the scene at about the same time: the Cofradia de Vino.

COFRADIA DE VINO

In 2002, sisters Patricia and Grace Donoso, with the support of the wine community, helped to found the Cofradia to promote their favorite beverage. Ten years and 1,126 members later, the results speak for themselves.

The Cofradia de Vino recently inaugurated its "Salon de Gusto," located at their main office in Quito, where members can meet and the Cofradia holds tastings. There they also have a classroom for their Sommelier specialization course – a program sponsored in part by the University of San Francisco in Quito and the University of Maza in Mendoza, Argentina. Additionally, the Cofradia has begun to travel around Ecuador educating people about wine. Their goal: "To change the culture of the country," says Patricia Donoso.

"We have a project," she explains. "We are going to reach 1,500 students in one year to initiate them into the wine culture." Donoso says their message is simple: "You can enjoy a wine that has 15% alcohol, a drink where nothing is added, it is a natural drink. It is the juice of the grape with sugar converted into alcohol. A cup a day is very healthy, always with food. Furthermore, drink it slowly, smell it, look at it, appreciate it. Learn a little to enjoy and develop your senses."

The Cofradia de Vino offers three different memberships where members receive, among other benefits, a monthly bottle of wine. And every other month the latest edition of Vinissimo, a wine magazine that began seven years ago, riding the coattails of this new fascination, arrives at their doorstep.

Vinissimo co-founder Cristina Jarrin says, "The inclination to enjoy the consumption [of wine] and broaden our knowledge to discover the secrets of the culture of wine passed from being a fashion to becoming a habit with a new lifestyle that involves the consumption of healthy and more natural products and does not leave behind pleasure and enjoyment."

Though it has taken almost 500 years, it would seem that wine is finally here to stay.

THE COFRADIA WINE

- Celebrating ten year anniversary
- 1.126 members nationwide
- Host of bi-annual Gala de Vinos en Quito
- Founder of the USFQ Sommelier
lacofradia@multienlace.com.ec
San Javier N26-63 - Quito Ph 5932 2501690 // 5932 2564707

THE COFRADIA WINE OF THE MONTH –FEBRUARY

Classic Members: Broquel Bonarda 2009 from Trapiche- Mendoza Argentina

Vintage Members: Red One 2006 Syrah Blend, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Carmenere y Petite Verdot from Via Wines-Chile

Ultra Members: Trapiche Malbec Single Vineyard 2007

THE GALA OF WINE III - 2011

3.320 attendees, 50 wine producers from 9 countries
200 samples evaluated, 40 labels recognized for quality

VINISSIMO MAGAZINE

- Celebrating seven years of publication
- Bi-monthly magazine
- Distributed among all members of the Cofradia de Vino
- Available on newsstand or subscription. Coverprice: $4
www.revistavinissimo.com
Isla Isabela N44-363 & Güepi,
Ph. 2260691 / 2432089 / 09 942862

ECUADORIAN WINE PRODUCERS

Dos Hemisferios, www.doshemisferios.com
Chaupi Estancia www.chaupiestancia.com
Uyama Farms www.miranaturals.com

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