Chilean wine and fruit empire

Author: Karin Heinze

Over the last 25 years, the Chilean family Guilisasti has created an organic empire. The bio-dynamic top wines produced by the vineyards of the Emiliana winery have for years repeatedly been among the highest award winners in Chile and in international competitions, and they are exported all over the world. The firm Organiktime, that belongs to the holding company, is one of the biggest exporters of organic apples in Chile. The company not only has high-quality wines and fruit but also sets high standards in terms of sustainability in production and its social responsibility towards its employees. (Picture: Tourists learning about bio-dynamic wine growing and the special quality of Emiliana wines in the visitor centre in Casablanca Valley)

 

Right at the start of 2011, Viñedos Emiliana S.A. added to its list of awards: at the eighth Annual Wines of Chile Awards (AWOCA), in competition with 100 Chilean contenders, Emiliana won the gold, silver and bronze medals, and the Best in Category Trophy with its white wines. At the end of last year too, Emiliana bagged various international wine prizes. (Picture: Tasting room in the Visitor Centre. The list of awards received by Emiliana wines is long)

Chile is the third biggest wine exporter worldwide. With its production of 6 million bottles of wine and exports to 30 countries all over the world, Viña Emiliana is one of the big players in the wine industry in Chile. Moreover, this exemplary company has made a name for itself as an organic winery. It all started with the vision of José and Rafael Guilisasti, two of seven brothers in the family. At the beginning of the 1980s, they noticed a shift of priorities in society in the direction of more awareness of the environment and sustainability, and they responded with their holistic concept. “That change has continued,” says oenologist César Morales. “Today, wine lovers are looking more than ever before for quality.” He says that, with its concept, Emiliana is on the right track. (Picture: The committed team, from the left: Miguel Elissat, César Morales, Claudia Martinez, Fernando Pavòn)

The Guilisasti brothers – both with experience in the wine business – were not unfamiliar with sustainability and environmental protection. Then they came in contact with the ideas and practitioners of organic and bio-dynamic agriculture and innovative wine growers like Alvaro Espinoza. Miguel Elissat, himself the owner of a Demeter farm, adviser and president of the organic association AAOCH, encouraged the Guilisastis to convert their 17 vineyards to organic, and he assisted them along the way. In the 25 years since Emiliana was founded in 1986, 1,100 ha in different wine growing areas in Chile have gradually been converted: 440 to bio-dynamic cultivation and 760 to organic production. (Picture: Adviser Miguel Elissat and oenologist and manager César Morales)

Spaniards brought grapevines to Chile as early as the 16th century. The long, narrow strip of land between the Pacific coast and the Andes not only has the longest experience of wine growing in the southern hemisphere but also a particularly favourable climate and many very good terroirs. These exceptional conditions are exploited to the full by Emiliana to produce exclusive wines. “Cultivating our vines organically means the vines give full expression to the characteristics typical of a particular variety,” explains Morales. Using bio-dynamic preparations is important in achieving quality grapes. Morales noticed that vitality and reproductive power have increased significantly with the use of organic methods. Coming originally from the conventional sector, he also noticed that after conversion the acidity of wines decreased. He attributes higher acidity levels to the input of synthetic fertilizers. (Picture: Vines receiving bio-dynamic preparations are grown between the rows. Picture top left: The preparations are stored in a special cellar)

“The first years after conversion to organic wine growing were not easy,” confesses Fernando Pavòn. However, a committed team of agricultural engineers and wine growers succeeded in creating a range of white and red wines that today are regularly among the prize-winners at international award ceremonies. They were also able to revitalize the original but also almost defunct grape variety Carmenera. At the same time Emiliana undertook to operate all aspects of the business according to the principles of sustainability – from waste and energy management to packaging in light bottles that are 14 % lighter than traditional wine bottles. The biggest wine producer, Los Robles, even operates as CO2 neutral, and the flagship wines Gê, Coyam, Novas and Winemaker’s Selection are certified organic by the German inspection organization TÜV Süd. (Picture: Chile has a variety of top-rate terroirs)

An integral part of Emiliana’s holistic concept is social responsibility. Thus gardens and arable land (1.5 ha) have been made available for the workers. This is an opportunity for employees and their families to attend courses to learn organic gardening and bee-keeping, and they can set up their own micro-businesses by producing and selling honey, olive oil, grape-seed oil, herbs and vegetables. Other company initiatives are an education programme for children and a house-building programme. Emiliana is certified in compliance with the IMO Fair for Life standard for social responsibility. (Picture: Gardens on Emiliana farms for use by company employees)

Emiliana spreads the message about the special quality of organic wines far and wide, resulting in between 7,000 and 8,000 tourists coming every year to the visitor centre in the Casablanca Valley to experience the wines for themselves. “Bio-dynamic wines have become chic now,” says Morales, and in consequence the future prospects are good.

Another arm of the Guilisasti group’s business is exporting fruit in general and organic apples in particular. The firms Greenvic (2005) and Organiktime (2008) are among the biggest organic apple exporters in Chile and globally. Greenvic’s managing director Rodrigo del Sante Lira is delighted with an 80 % market share in the export of Chilean apples. In 2010, around 11,000 t were sold, an increase of 30 % compared with the 2007 season (8,400 t), and they have an increasing share in organic apple production – about twice as much as five years ago. The area of the plantations has also increased. Greenvic owns about 1,000 ha, but the company also receives supplies from contracted farmers. The total turnover of Greenvic is approximately 70 million US dollars. (Picture: Greenvic’s managing director, Rodrigo del Sante, is pleased with the rising demand for organics. His company can meet the demand and is investing in converting more farms to organic production)

The first conversion to organic cropping took place as early as 1995, making Greenvic a pioneer in Chile. “We took the risk even though all our colleagues thought we were mad,” declares del Sante. He admits that they made mistakes and the early years were difficult, but their conviction was stronger, demand increased and the business grew. The result of this development was building a packing facility in 2005 with storage exclusively for organic fruit (apples, plums, cherries, kiwis and blueberries). In 2008, Organiktime was founded as a 100 % organic marketing company. As in the case of Emiliana, Greenvic/Organiktime has a comprehensive environmental and social programme that benefits the approximately 150 employees and the roughly 1,000 seasonal workers. (Picture: Organiktime’s company building, where the packing and refrigerated storage facilities are located, is architecturally impressive and offers a pleasant working environment with plenty of natural light)



(Picture middle: packaging, left: Miguel Elissat)

In Chile today, there are about 150 conventional fruit and vegetable exporters and 10 organic exporters. For Organiktime, North America is the main customer, taking almost 80 % of exports (USA 67 % and Canada 11 %). A good 20 % goes mainly to Scandinavia, Britain and Germany. Del Sante says the Asian markets Taiwan and Hong Kong are developing well too, but he would like to grow his company’s business with Europe, especially with Germany. He sees steady growth in the German market. He prefers to work direct with wholesalers and chains. “We look for direct contact with our customers because it ensures we can respond to what they want.” In order to give end-customers an insight into company philosophy and to get across to them their ecological and social sustainability strategy, for one big customer Organiktime produced, for example, a special brochure. (Picture: About 70,000 containers are stacked over a huge area in front of the packing facility at Organiktime. Farmers come and fetch them for their harvest. If they have a good season, the 3,500 m² of storage space and 5,000 m² of refrigerated storage are full to capacity)

http://www.huertosorganicosdechile.cl 

07.04.2011

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