Eduardo Chadwick couldn't be more proud of Chile's wines, and is heading a drive to further improve his home country's winemaking, and gain recognition in the UK. JOHN STIMPFIG meets the charismatic owner of premier producer Errazuriz
Although it seems somewhat incongruous sipping afternoon tea in the Oxford home drawing room of Eduardo Chadwick, there’s also something symmetrically appropriate about our interview venue. Most obviously, there’s Eduardo’s Anglo-Saxon surname, which can be traced back to the Domesday Book in 1086. However, much later, I discover that another ancestor actually lived amid Oxford’s dreaming spires before emigrating to Chile. If it weren’t for the Chilean accent, you’d swear blind that Chadwick’s charming courtesy was English to the core.
In fact, anglophile Chadwick has been based in the UK for over a year and has loved every minute. ‘I’ve always wanted to bring our family here. But, until now I have never had the chance. There was too much to do running the family business back in Chile.’ Finally, having got a team of experts and managers in place at Errazuriz, he was able to sever his day-to-day links. And here he is in Oxford’s leafy environs.
Mind you, Chadwick’s two-year stay in the UK is no sabbatical. ‘Although we came for the family, it’s good for the business too. As president of the company, my job is to take an overview, provide support and promote our wines. Living in Europe, I’m much closer to our main export markets. And you get a very different view of the industry here than you do in Santiago.’
Of course, he has witnessed plenty of progress on the part of his own Errazuriz and Caliterra wines over the last year or two. But during the same time, the view of Brand Chile hasn’t been quite so edifying, particularly when compared with its extraordinary growth spurt in the 1990s.
So, at this year’s keynote Wine & Spirit Education Trust Lecture, Chadwick revealed his honest and insightful assessment of where the Chilean bandwagon is heading. He asserted that a number of things needed to be put right if Chile was to achieve its full wine-producing potential. In particular, it had to ‘understand the UK marketplace better’ and ‘change current negative perceptions’. He also urged Chile to continue to establish a reputation beyond that of a producer of everyday drinking wines. ‘We must develop a more exciting, dynamic and premium image which consumers can latch onto.’
Given the intense competition from his own southern hemisphere, this sounds like a tough and ambitious call. Nevertheless, Chadwick firmly believes that Chile is already well on the way to achieving all this and more. So why is he so optimistic?
‘Firstly because I don’t accept the situation today is as bad as some journalists make out. There was a time when wineries were all going for growth and doing much the same things. At that point, you could have argued that the Chilean wine industry was a little bit flat and the engine did stall temporarily. And this is perhaps why journalist Tim Atkin unflatteringly compared our wines to a certain Swedish car a couple of years ago. But now I really think that this is a vision of the past. As I once told Tim, I used to drive a Volvo myself in the late 1990s. But I updated mine quite a long time ago – and so did a lot of my colleagues.
‘For instance, one perceived problem with Chile was that we didn’t have enough grape varieties beyond Merlot, Cabernet, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. But today, Chile has plenty of new and exciting grape varieties coming from different terroirs and appellations.
‘Firstly we have Carmenère, which is completely unique to Chile. We’ve really mastered its personality and the results are incredibly encouraging. We also have Syrah, which I am even more excited about – partly because I was the first to plant it in Chile in 1994. Having been to the Rhône and talked to [producers] Chapoutier and Guigal, I felt it had incredible potential and this is starting to bear fruit, especially in Aconcagua and Rapel. I truly believe Syrah could be as good as Cabernet Sauvignon in Chile,’ Chadwick enthuses. ‘Meanwhile we are growing more Pinot Noir, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc with greater success. We’ve even planted Sangiovese up in our estate in Las Vertientes.’
Given its warm temperatures, Chile’s list of whites is bound to be shorter. But even here, Chadwick argues that Chile’s cool-climate regions can put up a decent variety act. ‘Gewurztraminer and Viognier all add diversity,’ he says. ‘I know that many of these new varieties represent small percentages alongside Sauvignon and Chardonnay but why is it so difficult for them to get retail listings?’
Chadwick also draws attention to the fact that Chile has been criticised for a lack of high-profile viticulturalists and winemakers, with the possible exception of Ignacio Recabarren, Aurelio Montes and Pedro Izquierdo. ‘But today, there is a new generation of talented young Chilean viticulturalists and winemakers including Alvaro Espinoza, Marcelo Papa, Adolfo Hurtado as well as our own Francisco Baettig and Sven Bruchfeld. There are also many other less well-known rising stars. Our industry’s future is in their hands.’
Yet if there’s one thing that miffs Chadwick above all others, it is the lack of recognition for Chile’s new premium and super-premium wines. Possibly because Chadwick (along with Mondavi) was the first to pioneer Chile’s growing band of super-premium reds when his Seña wine was launched in 1997 to a blaze of publicity. ‘I think it has been hugely important for Chile that we have established this showcase category, even though some people think we were a bit crazy pricing Seña at $50 a bottle. But before then, all our top wines retailed at below £10. This obviously meant no one had the cash to invest in the expertise which you need in order to produce these great wines.’
Since Seña, Chadwick’s vision has been vindicated by similar French and Chilean investment in more icon wines including Almaviva, Montes M, Clos Apalta and Don Melchor, not to mention his own Don Maximiano and Viñedo Chadwick labels.
For Chadwick, their raison d’être is part passion and part hard-headed business. ‘I feel that they are as good as the best in the world.’ But he also knows that if these top wines perform well, it gives credibility and momentum for Chile’s small but growing premium sector to follow in their wake.
‘Today, 90% of Chile’s wines are sold at below £5,’ he points out. ‘And yet we have only 105,000 hectares of vines. Of course, we want to keep our value for money reputation. But it would be madness to be recognised just for that. Our real, long-term potential has to be in fine wine.’
Chadwick believes that Chile is already offering better value for money than Australia and challenges anyone to blind taste a range of both countries’ wines at £5.99–7.99. ‘I have done it myself and I know that, normally, we come out on top.’
Of course, Chadwick would say this. But I get the impression that he is both a pragmatist and a realist and is not given to such a claim without believing it. ‘One of the big differences between Australia and Chile has been the gap in marketing. But now we have addressed that missing element too.’ Last year, Chadwick was instrumental in bringing the industry together under the new Wines of Chile organisation in Santiago. Not surprisingly, he was a key player in setting up the recent UK marketing office as well.
What this means is that Brand Chile could be in a position to regain the excitement of the 1990s glory days in the UK. ‘However, for everything to work we need to be brave and to convince our consumers and critics that we are as good as we say we are. But I am incredibly excited about what we can achieve. Once again, there is a great Chilean wine story to tell and we are going to shout it as passionately as we can.’ Perhaps Eduardo Chadwick isn’t so English after all.