Adolfo Hurtado tells Frank Corr, he has the answer
The issue of ‘wine miles’ has been raised again and again by European producers who point to the environmental impact of shipping large volumes of wine from the Southern Hemisphere.
They have a point because transporting wine in heavy glass bottles over thousands of miles does generate significant volumes of CO2 which often counter-balance good environmental practices in the vineyards.
Adolfo Hurtado, general manager and head winemaker at Cono Sur is aware of the issue and has produced a solution.
‘We are Carbon Neutral’, he says. ‘Our company holds the International ISO Environmental Management Standard and we are also only the second producer to meet the CEMAR standard for environmental practices from the vineyard to bottling. We are however aware of the transportation issue and we have addressed this by sourcing lightweight glass bottles for our Cono Sur and Isla Negra brands.
‘Glass can be quite pollutant and a key agent in the wine’s carbon footprint, as its manufacturing delivers greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) as a result of the CO2 released during combustion. Therefore, using less amount of glass helps to significantly reduce the amount of pollutant agents delivered. The savings are also generated in transportation, due to a more efficient way of managing the load in the containers.’
Adolfo realised however that it would be impossible to eliminate all of the CO2 which the company generates and so he signed up to Carbon Neutral, a UK programme which allows companies to balance the gas which they generate by funding CO2-positive projects such as forestry around the world. As a result Cono Sur makes no nett contribution to world CO2 emissions.
A young company, established in 1993, Cono Sur has grown rapidly to become a major exporter of wines from Chile. Owned by the giant Concho y Toro group, but operated independently, it has been Chile’s second largest exporter of bottled wines since 2007. Growth has been both organic and by acquisition. In 2005 Cono Sur bought Las Lomas de Peralillo, 187 hectares in Colchagua Valley, for the production of premium red wines and Campo Lindo, 130 hectares in San Antonio Valley, near Leyda, for the production of premium white and red wines. Last year it added ‘El Encant, 100 hectares in Aconcagua Valley. To cope with a massive harvest, the company built itself a state of the art winery, with a capacity of 12 million litres of wine.
Cono Sur has concentrated on the quality end, but Adolfo agrees that the image of Chilean wines in many markets is ‘cheap and cheerful’. ‘We need to trade up through quality brands and an emphasis on the different regions’, he says, when I tell him that a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon is selling in Lidl this week for €3 a bottle.
Part of the Cono Sur strategy has been to concentrate on specific varieties of quality wines. It pioneered Viognier in Chile in 1997 and has built a deserved reputation for its Pinot Noir, most of which comes from the Santa Elisa Estate which the company bought in 1996. The 300 hectares was planted with 25 year old vines and it enabled Cono Sur to produce excellent Pinot from the very beginning. It hired Pinot Noir specialist Martin Prieur and made the wine in the best traditions of Burgundy
‘We are now the biggest producer of Pinot Noir in South America, shipping some 650,000 cases annually’, Adolfo said.
Both business manager and chief winemaker at Cono Sur, Adolfo studied Agronomy at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. He joined Cono Sur in 1997 and rose rapidly to his present position. He has won ‘Winemaker of the Year’ awards in Chile and Denmark and the Riedel Japan ‘Best White Winemaker’ title.
He sees a bright future for Chile and for Cono Sur. ‘We enjoy the best climate and landscape in the world for wine-making’, he says, but much remains to be done.
‘We need to educate consumers about our terroir, our valleys, the influence of the ocean and the Andes, our wine-making philosophy and much more. We are a relatively new country on the world wine market and we must emphasise the quality of our wines.’
We conclude the interview with a tasting of Cono Sur wines distributed in Ireland by Findlater Wine and Spirit Group, including Sibarita Selection Chardonnay which is exclusively for the on-trade (young and fresh with good acidity) and Cabernet Sauvignon , a Reserva Sauvignon Blanc from Casablanca which has a striking minerality, an elegant Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon from Maipo and a Reserva Pinot Noir 2008 which had an intense aroma and nicely balanced flavours with soft tannins.
Cono Sur has a motto- ‘No family trees, no dusty bottles- just quality wine’, which was endorsed by this tasting.