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Q&A: Anita Jackson, Wines of Chile

Published:  23 February, 2018

With a special focus on Chile at Spring SITT, Harpers caught up with UK director Anita Jackson for a lowdown on the current buzz. 

What lies behind Chile’s generally positive performance in the UK?

It’s definitely the off-trade that drives the UK for Chile; the performance in the on-trade is less impressive. When you look at the key varieties, Chile has increased its UK Sauvignon Blanc sales by 6% and has 26% of all Sauvignon sales in the UK. It’s not all about traditional styles, but they are a major part of what is driving the market for us – Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, then red blends, and then Chardonnay.

An interesting fact is that Malbec sales are up 51%, quite a substantial rise although from quite a small base. Consumer say ‘I didn’t know Chile grew Malbec’, but a lot of vines are more than 100 years old and it’s long been a stalwart there, so there’s a lot of potential.

What of the new wave of wines causing the buzz?

I love what is going on, with a lot more boutique wineries growing for Chile. It’s what really impresses – a wave of innovation, of new styles, of thinking outside the box. País is seeing a massive renaissance, as is Cinsault, with a lot of developments in the south, while it’s also very interesting in Maule. This used to be a workhorse region, but it now has a renegade image, as have Itata and Bío Bío, and what we are finding is a lot of wineries going even further down, to the Lake District. So Chile is really exciting now, pushing the boundaries, still discovering what works. It’s exciting times.

Where do you see the most potential for growth?

We definitely want to target the on-trade. We’ve just had a group of sommeliers go out to Chile and come back completely wowed – people such as Ronan Sayburn, Gui Mahout, Laure Patry and Martin Lam. These are high-profile people and their peers respect what they are saying. If they are spreading the message that Chile is exciting, looking beyond the tick-box of house wines, this will have a trickle down effect.

We are also going to younger sommeliers who are more impressionable and open and don’t have a preconceived idea of Chile. Budgets are limited, but where we can, we also want to work with the independents. It’s a sector that can hand-sell premium Chile, so it’s also about getting that message across to them, to look beyond the entry-level Sauvignon and Cabernet and Merlot.

How important is the UK market to Chile?

Chile knows that the UK market is in decline, but fortunately for Chile we are still in growth, and also going great guns in places such as Asia. The strategy is that the UK is still a very important market for Chile, with a raft of opinion formers who are listened to internationally, and we feel that this is the market where we can launch the innovations and exciting stuff that is going on. So it’s exciting for the UK, which is probably going to see all these new things coming through before countries such as the US and Asia. I’m very comfortable talking about the País and even natural wines here, because the market is much more open to new ideas. And this is helping dispel the idea that Chile is only safe.

You will be showing New Wave Chile at SITT – what can visitors expect to discover?

We can tick the boxes in the traditional styles, we’ve had a very good vintage and prices haven’t increased too much, but also look out for those cool-climate styles, the new blends, and the more Mediterranean styles available. It’s really about the excitement. And also don’t forget the Malbec – it can be extraordinarily good, some sublime styles.