Chile & Ecuador: Democratizing a wine culture

07/Septiembre/2012 | 17:13

By Lance Brashear

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The most interesting aspect of a recent interview with wine expert, Patricio Tapia, was that he freely discussed his favorite beverage while drinking a beer. 

Without saying a word, and drinking straight from the bottle, Tapia spoke volumes about his attitude towards wine.  “I like to drink beer when I don’t have to think. Wine is more reflective,” he says.   

Tapia is not just an expert about wine, he is also a journalist and like all writers he sees a story in every label.

“As a journalist, I am very much interested in what happens around a bottle – the histories around the wine.  Wine is not what is inside the bottle, it is what is outside – well, twenty percent is inside, but if it were just this then it would be like a beer, like this one,” as he points to his Pilsener.

“The history of a wine is what makes it interesting,” he insists.  “When you know the history you can better understand what is inside.”

Truthfully, the same also could be said about many special beers – micro brews with great stories behind their creations – but that is not what Tapia was drinking.  He was downing a mass-produced, industrialized beer – a sort-of every man’s drink, unpretentious and democratic.  And it led to the next question, which was born from comments he made in a previous interview in Vinos & Sabores where he said, “Wine is an every-increasing product of status, a material symbol, a motive for Latin American snobs.”

Tapia’s point is that wine should be anything but a product for the elite.  “We have the sensation and the idea that elegance can be associated with a consumer product, not tradition…I feel that wine is one more food item on the table.” 

He elaborated on this idea from a historical perspective: “When water was not drinkable, wine was the water.  It was placed on the table next to the olive oil, the bread, the meat...It had no special, higher ranking…the place for wine is at the table, next to the food.” 


Tapia was in Ecuador as the official ambassador of the promotional, four-country tour of Latin America sponsored by ProChile, the commercial branch of the foreign relations ministry of Chile, called “Tour de Vinos Chilenos.”  The tour was coordinated in collaboration with Vinissimo, the only magazine dedicated to wine in Ecuador. 

The Chilean Comercial Attache in Ecuador, Ricardo Arriaga, says, “The tour’s objective is to promote a variety of wines and the quality of our wine in the countries where we export.”  He says that Ecuador, despite its small size, is seen by Chile as an important market for potential growth. 

Chilean wine first entered the consumer market in Ecuador more than sixty years ago.  Today, seventy percent of all imported wines into Ecuador are Chilean and the country overall has seen a remarkable increase in wine consumption over the past decade. 

“The wine culture in Ecuador has had an important, and overall sustained, development,” says Vinissimo co-founder and director, Maria Cristina Jarrin.  “At first many people thought that wine was a fashion phenomenon but the presence of the Cofradia del Vino (which is completing 10 years in October) and Vinissimo (which is celebrating seven years of circulation) show that the wine culture is rooted in the country and will continue to develop.”


The Cofradia de Vino, a non-profit organization formed to promote the development of wine culture in Ecuador, shares with Tapia a very democratic attitude as it attempts to foment wine appreciation and consumption.

Through two key programs the Cofradia is making every effort to reach as many people from as many different socio/economic backgrounds as possible throughout Ecuador.

The first is a project called “Sembrar la cultura de vino,” (Planting a wine culture) in which the Cofradia reaches out to 1,500 university students each year.

Cofradia Director, Patricia Donoso, says the program “allows us to visit different universities around the country to give initiation seminars.  We simply tell them (students) what wine is – it is a drink to be enjoyed in moderation, it is healthy, made from a natural process.”

Why universities?  “First, they (the students) are drinking age (18 years of age or older).  They are kids who are immersed in a strong alcoholic culture…we try to change the alcoholic culture [by encouraging] always to drink alcohol with food,” says Donoso.

The Cofradia hopes to develop that habit of selecting wine as the first choice of alcohol, a custom that will take time to develop.

“These are people who have never in their lives had the opportunity to drink a glass of wine,” Donoso points out.  “You have to plant the culture in them.” She stresses the difference between this activity and simply promoting wine via an advertising campaign.  “One thing is to disseminate, another is to cultivate.”

The Cofradia’s attempt to further democratize the culture of wine is through their “Veladas de Vino” (Evening of wine) program.

“This is a wine tasting, open to the general public and not just for Cofradia members, as it used to be.”  The wine tastings have a cover price - this year they range from $15-26 depending on the venue - that aims to simply cover the cost of hosting the event.  Through this program the Cofradia has reached 1,600 people in three different cities.

Though they are open to anyone that will pay the admission, Donoso admits that these events may seem exclusive.  “Wine is somewhat selective because people have fear, they think it is only for those who are knowledgeable [about wine]…we are breaking this idea.”

And there is perhaps no better way to break that idea than with Chilean wine.   Donoso says, “Chileans are the market leaders…they always maintain a stable quality.  They are the wines that have been commercialized throughout the world.”

With the Tour de Vinos Chilenos, Chile has effectively announced that they are making a commitment to the local market.  “I think what ProChile is doing by including Ecuador in the tour is solidifying a wine culture here, maybe not one that has a millionaire status but one that sells good, Chilean wine,” says Tapia. 

And he believes in what he sees. “Chile is not gaining in volume.  It is costing to come here, but Ecuador, in thirty or forty years, will be a refined, wine culture.”

To be part of Ecuador’s wine culture:


Hectares in production (2011):

116,830 (288,693 acres)

Total exports (2011)

Liters: 666,562,637

Dollars: $1,696,015,469

Chilean wine Imports into Ecuador

Kg: 2,799,600

Dollars: $5,600,790

Market share: 70%

Most common variety produced:

Cabernet Sauvignon

Biggest importer (2011)

U.S. ($215 million)

Sources: ProChile, Ecuador Central Bank,


• Diploma from FACULTÉ D’OENOLOGIE  in Burdeos, Francia

• Columnist for various newspapers and magazines

• Wine critic for Wine & Spirits Magazine.

• Consultant for Gourmet Channel

• Owner and director of for Magazine Vinorama



Favorite chilean dishes…

“I am a fanatic for seafood, especially Chilean seafood.”

Ecuadorian seafood…

“I tried some oysters that were amazing.  I liked them a lot.  I tried some empanadas with plantain dough, with crab.  Impressive…and the encocado was brilliant.

Wine and Ecuadorian seafood…

“Ideally, a light, acidic wine like Sauvignon Blanc…with plates like encocado a chardonnay that has less acidity and more body.  Maybe a pinot noir.”

The worst wines…

“Wines without identity”

Favorite wine region outside of Chile



Ciudad Quito

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lbrashear - en Diario HOY - Noticias de Ecuador.