Brazil Produces Award-Winning Wine

There are wines of the Old World, the New World, and now the Developing World. Brazil is churning out award-winning wine at unlikely latitudes. Technological advances in both irrigation and refrigeration have made vast parts of the globe ideal for viticulture.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Don't take any special meaning from the fact that we're following a report on France with a report on wine. The developing world is joining the world wine market. Technological advances in irrigation and refrigeration have made vast parts of the globe which were once unsuitable for grape growing ideal.

NPR's Julie McCarthy discovered that Brazil is churning out award-winning wine at unlikely latitudes.

JULIE McCARTHY: Vineyard owner Walt Santos(ph) aggressively approve the vines on his 2,000 hectare spread along the banks of the San Francisco river in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco. In Brazil's vast Northeast, the climate hardens inhabitants the way it hardens the Earth. But vintner Santos says the life force of the San Francisco River that runs past his land, quenches his fields, and makes them bloom.

Mr. VINCENT SANTOS (Resident, San Francisco): (Through translator) The river is responsible for everything. Without it, nothing would grow in this parched land. There have been times when it hasn't rained for years. It's practically a desert.

McCARTHY: A long-held theory among wine aficionados is that growing quality grapes closer to the equator than 30 degrees latitude is impossible. But wine growers like Santos are challenging that assumption. His vineyard lies along the eighth latitude south of the equator.

In homage, the corks of his wine called Rio Sol, river and sun, bear the figure eight. Decanter.com online editor Adam Lechmere says new latitude wines are sprouting up from Brazil to Thailand to India.

Mr. ADAM LECHMERE (Online Editor, Decanter.com): With the advances in technology, and with vineyard management techniques, it's not difficult to make good wine nowadays. We're not so dependent on climate, for example.

Mr. SANTOS: (Portuguese spoken)

McCARTHY: Santos, an agronomist and native of Portugal, says specialists from Lisbon are here with him cloning grapes from Shiraz to Chardonnay to cultivate on his land, an experiment he hopes will develop the varieties most apt to thrive in this dry climate.

Santos says with the drift irrigation and more than 300 days of sun annually, he is able to produce harvests throughout the year. Brazil's traditional wine-growing region, farther from the equator, has just one harvest.

Wine in the first stages of production gushes from stainless steel tanks through strainers into vats. The deep purple grapes are new, harvested just last week. The Rio Sol winery is only four years old, the result of a Brazilian-Portuguese venture called (unintelligible) Brazil.

Despite its young age, its reserve blend of shiraz and cabernet, served to the pope on his recent visit, was voted Brazil's number one wine last year. Rio Sol is being sold in 22 countries, including France, Italy, Spain and the United States. Santos says nearly half of his production is for export.

Mr. SANTOS: (Through translator) I don't think I'm a pioneer, but our company had the courage to invest in a region that has risks, and that we had to research. It took entrepreneurial courage to come to another part of the world, all to show we could make great wine in another region.

McCARTHY: Santos's new goal is to produce a signature wine that everyone associates with Brazil. He says people here are prejudiced against domestic wine and tend to drink imports. But Globo newspaper wine critic Luciana Freu(ph) says there is something evocative of this country in the San Francisco River wines.

She writes, I like the aromas of the wines, so very Brazilian, with touches of guava and the tart fruit devasarolla(ph). Where else, she asks, can you find this?

Julie McCarthy, NPR News, on the San Francisco River.

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