April 14, 2009 / 10:04 AM / 10 years ago

Brazilian wineries focus on quality, not quantity

GARIBALDI, Brazil (Reuters Life!) - One winery is among the largest in Brazil and has a French winemaker partial to Italian methods, while the other is much smaller and run by a Brazilian who favors French techniques.

A man samples a glass of wine in a file photo. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

But both share an obsession with quality.

Philippe Mevel, of Brazil’s Chandon, arrived from France for what he thought was a six-month stay. Now, 23 harvests later he has five different sparkling wines, three of which he created.

“We are Chandon Brazil,” Mevel insists. “We are Brazilian wines for Brazilian people,” which means his creations are available only in Brazil.

His sparkling wines, from a Chandon Brut to his latest, a papaya and lychee-nosed blend called Passion - are made using the Charmat method, which is faster and cheaper than methode champenoise.

Mevel said he uses Charmat for temperature control because in Brazil it would be very expensive to have cool caves like those of the Champagne region.

He also lets the wines stay on the lees - the bits of dead yeast that remain after fermentation - for months at a time. The results are wines that have elegance and finesse.

Mevel, who has increased the winery’s sales from 950,000 bottles in 1999 to nearly 2 million bottles this year, says he is more interested in retaining the wines’ freshness and lightness than in quantity.

Don Laurindo’s winemaker, Ademir Brandelli, faces a similar challenge, though on a smaller scale.

His family-held 30 hectares near Bento Goncalves produce about 120,000 bottles of 10 different wines ranging from varietals such as Merlot, Ancellotta and Tannat to a grand reserve made only in vintage-worthy years to a sparkling wine of Chardonnay and Riesling.

Brandelli’s great grandfather came from a small village near Verona, Italy to Brazil’s land of the gaucho - Rio Grande do Sul - in the late 19th Century. He brought with him the rough-hewn techniques for making wine and his family carried on that tradition.

About 20 years ago, they started changing the varieties grown from table to wine grapes and the way the vines were trained to allow for more ventilation, sunlight and fewer pests.

“I still remember my grandfather making wine,” Brandelli said as he recalled working in the vineyards at the age of six.

“When I was in high school I did not agree with what my father and grandfather and two uncles were doing, so I went to study wine,” the 51-year-old Brandelli said.

But he soon realized that his ideas were not very well received by them, so when he graduated he started to work for another winery, Dal Pizzol.

After 16 years at Dal Pizzol, another Brazilian winery that focuses on quality over quantity, Brandelli returned to Don Laurindo to concentrate on making quality wines for export.

“We will produce less, but better grapes,” he said, knowing that best wines are made in the vineyard.

Editing by Patricia Reaney

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