I can honestly say that I am as comfortable in Brazil as I am in anyplace else.
My love affair with Brazil began sixteen years ago when, by chance, I met a Brasileira here in Chicago and married her two years later. As a younger man, I had no inkling that my life would be so thoroughly tied to another country, let alone a seemingly-mysterious and exotic country about which I knew next to nothing. Now, I live in a home where Portuguese is spoken as much as English and I have a seven-year-old son with two passports!
I have been traveling to Brazil since 2000 and on business with HDH since 2006. Over many meals, conversations and bottles of wine with Brazilian collectors, one thing has become extremely clear: wine is a natural fit with the Brazilian lifestyle. I can think of no other culture in which a meticulously-prepared, seated meal with family and friends plays a more important role.
Unfortunately, the biggest challenge for Brazilian wine lovers are the difficulties faced in acquiring great wines. Brazil has some of the most restrictive import policies in the world, making it very complicated and expensive to clear items through Brazilian customs – wine is no exception. As a result, most high-end wine retailers have a limited selection of imported wines at prices that would shock any American wine buyer.
Despite the additional costs and hassle, Brazil is still home to many of the most active, knowledgeable and generous wine collectors in the world. For most Brazilians, the “custo Brasil” – or the unique set of factors that make it more expensive to live and do business in Brazil – is a natural part of life. It may be difficult to source great wines in Brazil but where there is a will, there is a way. In Brazil, there is most definitely a will.
Perhaps one of the most surprising aspects of Brazil’s wine culture is the proliferation of wine tasting clubs. Wine tasting groups are nothing new but what makes the Brazilian version unusual is their growth and meeting frequency. A typical Brazilian tasting group consists of 20 to 40 members, meets weekly and achieves attendance of 75% or more. These tastings are nearly always organized around a dinner and will include a theme as well (e.g., Wines of Piedmont, White Burgundy, etc.)
Participating members are expected to dig deep into their collections for these dinners, and they almost always do. No expense is spared for these dinners. Meals will often occur in a private room of a top restaurant or at a member’s home with meals prepared by a well-known chef. Some tastings are very organized with hidden wine identities, formal information packs developed for guests and extensive tasting notes shared among the group.
The mere fact that these events happen so frequently, coupled with the fact that many wine collectors belong to more than one group, demonstrates the devotion that Brazilian wine lovers have for the subject and their insatiable desire to learn. Younger members use these events as a way of educating themselves about the world’s great wines even if they cannot, at present, afford to buy most of what is served. Older, more established members play the role of mentor and are exceedingly generous with their wine and their knowledge. Thus a new generation of wine lovers is conceived.
In spite of the difficulties in acquiring the best wines, it is clear that the fine wine market has taken hold in Brazil and this is a not just a passing fad to be replaced by some other obsession later. What’s more, these wines are not purchased to be stored for years and years in temperature-controlled enclosures. The concept of acquiring a wine for any reason other than opening and sharing it is foreign to most of my Brazilian clients. Wine, perhaps the most social of all beverages, is by its very nature intended to be shared. Wine cannot help but succeed in Brazil, where generosity to friends and kindness to guests and visitors is natural and automatic response.
More to come in Part 2 of this Post!