In Chile, a bicycle isn’t just a bicycle, it stands for a wine company. Viña Cono Sur, Chile’s premier wine company for sustainable wines (and a subsidiary of Viña Concha y Toro SA) has the humble bicycle its icon. Not just to put a fun, quirky symbol on their wine bottles, but because the bicycle ties in with their whole philosophy.
“Bicicleta means bicycle in Spanish,” Asia export manager José Tomás Gillet (aka JT) tells me on his first official visit to India, where the company has been selling its wines since 2011. “Our workers go to work on the bikes, they cycle around the vineyards on them, and it’s our tribute to them. It also represents the ecological way forward, it is funny, cute and a wonderful way to enjoy nature.” Not surprisingly, one of Cono Sur’s 8 brands is called Bicicleta. It is also the wine which is official sponsor of Le Tour de France, the world’s most famous cycle race. But not everyone was happy at this natural association of Cono Sur’s Bicicleta wines with the Tour de France. Some French farmers were upset, and naturally they went on strike. Le Tour de France, a French race, must not have a Chilean wine as sponsor, they demanded. But as per French law, alcoholic beverages cannot be advertised in France, so it all actually turned out to be a storm in a wine glass. So, controversy over, the marketing campaign linking Cono Sur Bicicleta with Le Tour de France continues successfully outside of France – in the UK, Holland, Belgium and elsewhere. “We are very proud of this association,” avers JT, “We have the contract with Le Tour de France until 2017.”
On other fronts too, Cono Sur is notching up a few wins. They have bet big on sustainability, and in 2010 became South America’s first vineyard and the world’s third to measure their carbon footprint under ISO 14,064 standards; was named ‘Green Company of the year’ in 2011 by UK’s Drinks Business; came in at #10 of Drinks International’s Most Admired Wine Brand 2015…. and those are just a few accolades the young company has won. To add to that, their flagship Ocio Pinot Noir 2013 notched up an impressive 95 points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, while Wine & Spirits Magazine 2016 gave 95 points to the Silencio Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, naming it Best Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon of the year – you get the drift.
Cono Sur has more than overcome the popular belief that Chilean wine is cheap and cheerful. José Tomás is quick to riposte, “Yes, it is cheap, but with quality. In fact, our quality is perfect for the price you would pay.” Asia is the next big target for Cono Sur as with many other wine companies, and JT is based in Shanghai, steering this Asian growth. “China has been the biggest market for Chilean wines,” he says, “In the last year there’s been exponential growth.” Curiosity about affordable New World wines and some mutually beneficial trade agreements add to the win-win situation.
Meanwhile, for Pinot Noir lovers around the world, especially India, who might shed tears at the prices of Old World Pinot Noirs (read Burgundy), can rejoice at the fact that Chilean Pinot is delicious and affordable. Here too, Cono Sur has led the way. “We are one of the biggest producers of Pinot Noir in the world,” says JT, “We have many different ranges, including a sparkling Pinot Noir, and all of them have been big successes.” So much so, that their Bicicleta Pinot Noir is currently UK’s best seller, selling more than Pinot Noirs from New Zealand, California or Australia in that country, he adds. Not surprisingly, it’s his favourite Cono Sur, too. So how does JT enjoy his beloved Pinot Noir? “It’s great with sushi,” he says with a laugh, “Also with non-oily seafood – our long coast gives us so much of that. And you can match Pinot Noir with so many different foods. It is simpatico with everything – as an aperitif and also with your meal.”
Cono Sur’s Pinot is grown in 300 ha of its 1600 hectares of planted vines. Much of this is to do with how eminently suited the terroir of Chile is for this delicate, difficult grape: good altitude, cool nights, dry days, sunshine during the ripening season which helps control disease – especially in their vineyards in Limari, Casablanca and its own Colchagua Valley home. All this goes to make a fruity, delicately-balanced nuanced wine. “Chilean weather conditions allow us to combine organic viticulture with integrated vineyard management to get best results.”
As you watch (maybe with a glass of Bicicleta wine in hand), the Tour de France competitors zoom around their gruelling stages a few short month from now, give a thought to how the Cono Sur story began – in the lush green valleys of Chile. After all, as JT says, “if we are taking from the earth, we need to give back to her.”
A selection of the Cono Sur Bicicleta range of wines is available in India. Maximum retail prices:
Cono Sur Bicicleta Chardonnay – Rs 1490 in Mumbai, Rs 1210 in Delhi, Rs 1260 in Bengaluru
Cono Sur Bicicleta Pinot Noir – Rs 1600 in Mumbai, Rs 1300 in Delhi, Rs 1290 in Bengaluru
Cono Sur Bicicleta Cabernet Sauvignon – Rs 1490 in Mumbai, Rs 1430 in Delhi, Rs 1200 in Bengaluru