The wine industry can trace its roots back to at least 5,000 BC, where evidence exists that it was being consumed in various parts of Southern Europe and parts of Asia. Despite having a much more recent history in relative terms in Latin America, the wines of Chile and Argentina, (so-called ‘new world wines’) are already commonplace on the wine lists of the world’s most exclusive restaurants.
One such winery is Santa Rita in Chile. It has been producing fine wines in Chile since its foundation in 1880 when it took up its base in historic wine cellars of Chile. The same wine cellars just decades before had played a pivotal role in Chile’s fight for independence. Over 130 years later, the Santa Rita family of wines has over 100 brands in its stable, made across several vineyards in Chile and Mendóza in neighbouring Argentina.
The Sustainable Business Review Latin America recently spoke to Elena Carretero, Manager for Corporate Affairs and Sustainability at Santa Rita about the company’s journey, how it has integrated sustainability into its day to day operations, how the wine is becoming a flag carrier for Chile abroad – already the world’s fourth largest exporter of wine – and its plans for the future. What emerged from the interview was a company which Latin America as a whole, and Chile in particular, can be proud of.
From Chile to the World
The world has a lot to thank Ricardo Claro Valdés for if international sales of Santa Rita are anything to go by. Mr. Claro Valdés is the owner of the Claro Group, a Chilean investment firm, which first saw the export potential of the Santa Rita vineyards at the end of the 1970s. In 1980, his firm took over the winery, and from a high quality regional producer of wine, a soon-to-be internationally recognized brand was born.
Elena Carretero explains: “The firm is currently the second biggest exporter of wine in South America, exporting more than 3.5 million cases of its wine each year. These are exported to 73 countries across the globe, with the main destinations for the product being the UK, the US, China and Brazil.” It’s quite a remarkable statistic when one considers that, until recently, most people only ever considered wines from traditional sources such as France, Italy and Spain.
But perhaps what’s more impressive about the statistic is that it has been achieved without compromising price or quality: We are told: “‘One of the values that Ricardo Claro instilled in the company was excellence and to be a leader in quality. This is reflected in the prices of our wines, which are among the highest priced wines in the Chilean market. We want to be one of the most recognized brands in the world. One of our flagship brands is 120 and we’re looking to bring that global.”
She continues: “We have strategic alliances with some big players like Arsenal Football Club and the National Gallery in London. Arsenal is really big in Africa, so that partnership has allowed us to reach into Africa. The African market is very difficult, so we’re trying to do it from Chile. But it’s a matter of time – just like China was difficult a few years ago. Now China and Korea are very important in the wine industry.”
Sustainability and CSR
Agricultural and the environment go hand-in-hand. Vineyards are also particularly reliant on climate, with a few months of inclement weather being the difference between a wine reaching vintage status or not. Miss Carretero informs us: “One of our priorities in this area is renewable energy and moving away from fossil fuels towards cleaner, renewable energy. Sustainability for us is the convergence between being environmentally and socially responsible and economically viable. We want to continue business long into the future and to do that, we have to look after our resources.”
She continues: “We’ve developed a social plan which focuses on the workers and the community. With the worker, the focus is no longer just on them but their families too. In the community, we focus on education. Last year, we granted 40 educational scholarships. In the area of health, we’ve set up a small medical centre inside the winery for the workers and their children. Every year, it has around 5,500 consultations with the community.”
The firm also works closely with children in Chile. Here, Miss Carretero says: “We’re also work with kids in schools to show them how wine culture is important to Chile, from a historical perspective and how it gives back to the economy. Then the kids can come to the winery and work on a harvest themselves. This was one of the contributing factors to the awards which we won in the past three years. It introduces kids to the traditions of the area and getting them in touch with their Chilean identity.”
Supply Chain and Partners
Another of the positive aspects of exporting wines to over 70 countries across the globe is that it has been a catalyst for the Chilean wine industry as a whole. As Santa Rita grows, so do its extensive range of partners on the company’s supply chain. They too have contributed to the company’s growth story. Elena Carretero is keen to note: “We’ve worked closely with our supply chain to improve the quality of our product. For everything to work perfectly, it’s better to bring in the experts than to go alone.”
The distribution of agricultural products is catered for by local firms such as Tattersal, Copeval, Agrium Chile, Martinez y Valdivieso and Quimental. Further along the supply chain, companies like Navarro y cia, Laffort Oenologie Chile, AEB Andina and Lallemand Chile y Compania provide oenological products. Elsewhere, MM Packaging Marinetti, AMF Packaging and Selecta Envases have taken on the considerable task of packaging 3.5 million cases of Santa Rita wine.
Mr Claro’s vision to bring a regional vineyard Santa Rita to the world was a management masterstroke. And 36 years after his takeover, there’s every chance that Chile will surpass one of the world’s top producers in the coming years. As Miss Carretero explains: “Chile’s size and topography make it the ideal country for wine production. A long coastal country with over 1,000 kilometres of coastline, it gives wine producers like the Santa Rita Group an opportunity to produce in different microclimates for a rich variety of wines.”
Variety, in a world with increasingly diverse tastes, may be a boon to the firm in the years ahead as it reaches new markets and palates. Elena Carretero notes: “We’re experimenting with vineyards in the south of Chile to work with new wine varieties.” This scope of kind of experimentation is probably only possible in a country with Chile’s geography. The firm has invested significantly in its existing vineyards over the past decade and has plans to invest several million dollars more as it continues to reach out to new markets.
“Wine is an unusual product in that is always on the table of the final consumer with the label,” says Elena Carretero. Thanks to Santa Rita, more and more of those labels are from the once small regional winery whose cellars played a special part in the creation Chile.
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