Interviews

The Ambitious “Wines of Chile” Organization: An Interview with Julio Alonso

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12/03/2024 Julio Alonso Unveils Wines of Chile's Vision: From Global Prominence to Sustainability Goals

For a trade promotion organization, Wines of Chile has an ambitious agenda: to be the number one producer of sustainable and diverse wines in the New World by 2025. 

Julio Alonso is the Executive Director for Wines of Chile North America. He works towards the organization’s goals: Position Chilean wine as a premium and sustainable product both at home and abroad. “We believe in working together to create an export ecosystem that is both collaborative and supportive,” says the website. Sustainability means ecological and financial.

Julio Alonso when he worked as Executive Director in Asia. Source: Vinos al diario 

Alonso has held his current position since 2019 and just prior served as Executive Director of Wines of Chile Asia. Educated as a lawyer with an MBA from China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) and a diploma in US law from Boston University, Alonso has unique insight into the wine industry. He plans events in the US, such as a 2023 wine promotion event aboard a ship in San Francisco Bay last year. This celebrated 200 years of diplomatic relations between Chile and the United States. And it was a bold step: showing Chilean wines at the epicenter of the US wine industry. 

"It's like sticking a toothpick in the heart of that industry," Julio Alonso stated. He characterized the US as "a difficult market: it's a producer, people know about wines, and they have a tradition." Eighteen Chilean producers were on hand: Los Vascos, Sutil, Ventisquero, Escudo Rojo, Aquitania, VSPT Wine Group, Marty, Garcés Silva, Bouchon, Casa Silva, Andes Plateau, Kofkeche, Concha y Toro, Terranoble, Santa Rita, Montes, Miguel Torres and Matetic. 

More recently, Alonso was kind enough to take some time during a recent vacation to answer a few questions. 

Please describe in a few sentences the history, background, and purpose of Wines of Chile as well as your role within the organization. 

Wines of Chile (WOC)—Vinos de Chile in Spanish—is a non-profit, private organization of Chilean wine producers dedicated to promoting the quality and image of Chilean wines. It is the oldest such organization in the New World, formed in 1919 as the Liga de Defensa del Vino. These days, WOC thinks globally. With offices in the United States, Canada, China, the United Kingdom, Brazil, and Chile, and working closely with ProChile, the country’s government trade commission, WOC develops and offers promotional and educational programs for its members. Activities include lobbying, research and development, worker assistance, and serving as a network hub for associates.

A powerful group, WOC’s close to 100+ members represent over 85% percent of Chile’s bottled wine exports. Once dominated by a handful of large wine companies, today’s membership has expanded substantially to embrace mid-size and small concerns. 

I am the Executive Director for North America, USA, Canada, and Mexico. From NYC we help, advise the trade, and strategize on how to position Chile in these markets, executing a generic marketing campaign and communication plan that support the above.

Image: Honoring two centuries of commerce and innovation, ProChile Los Angeles, in collaboration with Wines of Chile, hosted an unforgettable event in San Francisco

The Wines of Chile website is intriguing, with its statements about "Chilean wines proudly shaking up the global wine scene" and "Chilean winegrowers don’t try to imitate the Old World." What strategic vision does Wines of Chile have for Chilean wines within the global marketplace? What misconceptions about Chilean wines need correcting? 

Chile boasts an uninterrupted winemaking tradition of 480 years. Wine Day in Chile commemorates a letter sent to Europe by the father of our country in 1545, emphasizing the unique conditions for winemaking in Chilean lands. Today, we proudly cultivate 96 official grape varieties across more than 17 regions, spanning from the world's most arid desert (Atacama) to the icy landscapes of Patagonia. Chile stands as a formidable contender for any European country, showcasing unparalleled terroir and a rich diversity of wine concepts. 

In my view, misconceptions about Chilean wine are not inherent; rather, they stem from a lack of comprehensive and widespread education about the profound layers that define Chile as a wine-producing country. Our viticultural heritage is deeply ingrained in the soul of every Chilean, and it is my belief that with proper understanding and awareness, Chile's unique contributions to the world of wine can be fully appreciated. 

Chile has wine producers both very large and quite small. What opportunities do the US and UK markets present for these different types of Chilean producers? How important is market segmentation when looking at exports? 

We currently rank as the 4th largest wine exporter globally, securing our place as the leading "new world" country on the list. Chile's journey into the world of wine exports and recognition began with international recognition at the Paris World Exposition in 1889. Despite our geographical seclusion, nestled behind towering mountains and embraced by a cold ocean in South America, we have harnessed expertise and talent in wine, particularly in the realm of exports.

Our success stems from the exceptional quality of our products. In the face of evolving markets, we have adapted and ventured into new territories, making strides in emerging markets like Mexico and India, while maintaining a strong foothold in traditional markets such as the USA and Canada. Our approach involves strategic collaboration with producers, and supporting overall trade initiatives that express interest in Chile. The achievements we celebrate today are the culmination of years of in-depth analysis and strategic planning. 

What challenges exist for Chilean wine producers within the next five years? Climate change? Cost of production? A changing marketplace, with diminished wine consumption? 

A sustainability benchmark, conducted by Intertek and commissioned by Systembolaget in Sweden, has positioned Chile at the pinnacle of sustainable countries, lauding our successful sustainability code. Particularly noteworthy was our exceptional performance in the social aspect, where we achieved the top ranking. This accomplishment underscores the holistic approach embraced by both producers and the entire sector, showcasing Chile's relevance and authenticity on the global wine stage. 

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I firmly believe that the New World is spearheading sustainable innovation in the wine industry, and this is a narrative that our new consumers should and must witness. Wine is not only ingrained in our nature but resonates with the essence of new consumers as well. We extend an invitation to these emerging enthusiasts to choose wine, an agricultural product, over industrial alternatives. In embarking on a journey to savor authentic and untouched offerings, we invite them to taste the untamed. To taste Chile.

The 2024 Sommeliers Choice Awards results are out! View the results here.