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Chileans reassure trade over new rules on adding water to wines

Published:  10 February, 2014

The Chilean wine industry has moved to reassure its UK customers that new rules on adding water to wines do not breach international guidance.

An amendment to Chilean legislation, allowing up to 7% of water to be added to wine, appears to have been made without any consultation with trading partners elsewhere in the world, and some suggest it could fall foul of EU rules.

But Wines of Chile told that the added water was only permitted to dissolve additives needed for vinifying or adding yeasts, adding that it was in line with regulations in other New World wine-producing countries operate.

Anita Jackson of Wines of Chile stressed that adding water to correct acidity or alcohol strength was "totally prohibited".

She said the new rules were set up to give "greater transparency" around water management in winemaking. The only times adding water is permitted is when it "is needed to dissolve additives and oenological products and the norm establishes a maximum of 2%; and also to rehydrate yeasts and dissolve other additives during fermentation; also to clean the equipment which cannot accrue more than 5%," she said.

She added: "This is no different to what any other wine producing country throughout the world allows, and is the criteria prevailing in the EU and was Chilean criteria until the amendment of the regulation was added to avoid any vulnerability internally and abroad. 

"No country such as Australia, USA, New Zealand, Argentina, nor any other have ever been questioned on this and they all have specific rules similar to the ones established by Chile. There is no approval required by the EU on these rules which are natural and form part of winemaking and which is certainly not a new practice."

Carlos Serrano, of Viña Montes, which supplies Liberty Wines, said the process was strictly controlled by the government and that water was only added alongside powders necessary for vinification.

"The use of water is allowed only at the level of vinification process when some powder products need to be used in its liquid form. For example yeast. They are sold in bags containing yeast in powder. To use them, they have to be in its liquid form and to dilute them it is allowed to use water. Same with other "powders". During the process of vinification it is allowed to use up to 5% and post vinification a 2%, total 7%.

"The government agency that controls this, is extremely strict, to the point that all wineries must have a "book" of water use. It is NOT allowed to add water to reduce alcohol in wines. We at Montes do not add water to wines."

Alerting its customers to the change, wine broker Murphy Wine Company said: "We suggest that as a precaution, buyers inform their supplier wineries that any addition of water to the wine is not acceptable and will be a reason for rejection."

Sainsbury's moved to reassure its customer base that its wines would not be affected. Its Chilean wine buyer Michelle Smith said: "All of Sainsbury's own brand wines are blended by our own winemakers, who agree a precise and fully documented specification with each winery for each of our wines.  As well as working with trusted suppliers with whom we have built up strong relationships over many years, we also undertake regular tastings and lab analyses of all our wines to monitor their quality against the agreed specifications."