The Wine Industry In Bolivia and A Bit More

Friday, March 12, 2021

This week we are going to South America to find out a bit about wine growing in Bolivia. Also a bit of a UK update which may interest you…

BOLIVIA: Most Aussies are not even aware that Bolivia (Do you know where it is?) makes wine. Whereas in fact the Bolivians have been making wine since the area was colonized by the Spanish in the 16th Century, that is, roughly around 200 years before Australia was discovered. Initially the Spaniards planted Muscat of Alexandria and Negra Criolla – one of a number of varieties and crosses under the umbrella of being called Creole varieties. These were used to produce the monastic wines that their church needed. Today the industry is focused primarily on Torrontes (a native Argentine variety), Chenin Blanc and Riesling in the whites, and Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Malbec and Tannat in the reds. Almost 80% of the wine produced in Bolivia is red with the balance (including a small proportion of sparkling wine as well) as white wines.

Viticulture in Bolivia is an extremely high altitude affair, with almost all their 3,000 hectares of vineyards being situated at between 1,500 metres and 3,000 metres above sea level. These are considered to be some of the highest vineyards in the world.

The largest growing area is Tarija with over 1,000 hectares, this is followed by Los Cinti Valley with around 300 ha, Santa Cruz with 100 ha and the valleys of Potosi, La Paz and Coachabamba which combined have between 200-300 ha of vineyards. Cinti Valley is known as Bolivia’s viticultural archaeological site due to its having ancestral vineyards and the remnants of “native” varieties. Some of the ancient vines are as large as trees whilst others are trellised onto trees using a method known as arboreal viticulture. Although Cinti Valley is a mere 80 kilometres away from the city of Tarija, the trip takes at least three hours of careful driving along the steep and winding, narrow mountain roads. Marques de la Vine is a renowned traditional producer in the area, whereas Tierra Roja (Red Earth), Vacaflores, La Casona de Molina and Cepa de Oro (Strains of Gold) are producing newer style, more natural and/or organic wines.

Other highly regarded Bolivian producers include Campo de Solana (who have recently made a wine from the almost extinct indigenous variety, Vischoquena, which was discovered intertwined with pink peppercorn trees in a remote orchard), Aranjuez, Bodegas y Vinedos, La Concepcio and Magnus (all from Tarija) and the Samaipata located four centuries old, Bodegas 1750.

The extreme elevation of these wine growing regions helps to protect their industry against global warming, as global warming will in fact allow them to grow more new traditional varieties which up until now were not viable there. However, the challenges they face include, saline soils, very erratic weather patterns and occasional, extremely violent storms.

In more recent times unfortunately the industry’s story, like that in other countries in South America, has been one of political upheaval, class divides and poverty, making things very difficult for their survival, let alone advancement.

UK UPDATE:  Amidst all the chaos of Brexit, the UK wine retailers have a new challenge in that they are finding fake bottles of Yellow Tail wines on their shelves. Several hundred phoney bottles have been uncovered so far with possibly thousands more bring still out there. Authorities have stated that these fakes are coming from China. So here is another way in which China is damaging the Australian wine industry, as both UK retailers and consumers will now be weary of buying Yellow Tail wines, which up until now were the largest selling Australian wines in the UK.

Let us hope that they catch the bastards, remove all the fakes from circulation and that the Poms keep on choosing Australian wine.

Have a great week and remember to #chooseaustralianwine


This Week's Wine Review:

Sparkling red wine is a uniquely Australian wine style. Whilst other countries have sparkling rosé and even slightly darker sparkling wines, nobody, until recently did a full blown sparkling red wine.

In Australia, the style dates back a long way with the most famous such wine being the, Seppelts Great Western Sparkling Shiraz, which until quite recently was called Sparkling Burgundy.

My love affair with sparkling red started in the late-1980s when I had the joyous delight of opening a bottle of McWilliams 1967 Mount Pleasant Sparkling Burgundy – OMG! At 20-years-old it was heaven in a glass – totally, totally divine! It was actually a Pinot Noir/Hermitage (Shiraz) blend.

At the time there were a few commercial sparkling Burgundies which were rather mundane – not to mention the likes of Cold Duck Sparkling Burgundy which was a sweet abomination.

As I could not afford Seppelts Great Western Sparkling Burgundy (which was a vintaged wine) my love affair went on hold for quite some time until in around 1994 when Morris of Rutherglen released its first Sparkling Shiraz Durif and I was totally besotted again.

Recently, I opened a bottle of MORRIS SPARKLING SHIRAZ/DURIF N/V that had been sitting in my cellar for around a decade.

The colour was quite advanced at a brick/red and starting to brown but the wine had plenty of effervescence and a subtle bouquet of maturation complexity with a hint of spice and dried herbs.

It was still a bit tight on the front palate, before erupting into a plethora of divine complex flavours on the mid-palate which flowed through to the slick, silky, refreshing and lingering finish. All I could say was, OH YUM!!

What a cracking wine, so bewitching and enchanting.

I have bought a few bottles of this elixir since that day, and this time I have written 2021 onto the label, so that I will know how old these bottles are when I open them in around a decade’s time. Hmm, maybe I’ll open one in 2026 just to see how it progressing.

In any case whether you tuck them away like I do, or buy and open them straight away, if you are looking for a great taste experience, do your palate a big favour and grab hold of a bottle of Morris Sparkling Shiraz Durif.

Cheers and please enjoy the superb flavours of an Aussie Sparkling red wine sometime soon. #chooseaustralianwine  

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