Interview

just the Answer - Casa Silva MD Mario Pablo Silva

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Family-owned Chilean wine company Casa Silva has been producing wine from the country's Colchagua Valley on-and-off since 1892. But, beyond the company's history, it has one eye firmly on the future. just-drinks sat down with the group's 44 year-old managing director, Mario Pablo Silva, at the recent Beautiful South tasting event to discuss where the opportunities lie and how the Chilean industry is modernising.

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just-drinks: Which global markets are performing well for you?  

MPS: We strongly believe generally in Europe still. We actually grew sales during the (economic) crisis, including in the UK, because of our position as a premium producer. We had one of the best performances of any Chilean winery during the crisis. Brazil is also very important for us. We are number one in Brazil for sales of Chilean wines, and Chilean wines are number one in Brazil among premium producers.

j-d: How do you rate China as an opportunity for you?

MPS: China is very important, but we are not looking for volume right now, that's not our intention.

j-d: Has the opportunity in China been overstated?

MPS: Yes. I think in China we will continue growing, but in the middle (price sector), it's difficult. We are more in the top (bracket). We have a good brand position in China, with a strong basis. We have been in China since 2005 and continue to grow there, not fast, but consistently. 

j-d: How do you feel about Chinese companies buying wineries in Chile?

MPS: Investment is good, but it depends how they are going to develop. If they are going to be 100% dedicated to producing bulk wine to blend with Chinese wine and put ('made in) Chile' on the label, I don't think that's a good idea. The controls on doing this are not very strong. But, as an industry in Chile, we are not closed. We are open to the world for investment and exports and imports. Around 70% of Chilean wine is now exported, 20 years ago the split (between domestic and international) was 50/50. Fifty years ago, 98% of production was for the domestic market. 

j-d: Do you have a market in India for your wines?

MPS: I think India is a country for the future. We are not selling too much wine (there) generally. But Chile recently signed a trade agreement with India - wine was not included, but we developed a contact with the Government and finally it was included. It will be an important market because they are growing very fast. We must be there.

How about your domestic market?

MPS: The Chile market is very important to us. Most of the Chilean wineries are not dedicated to the local market, but our philosophy is you must start by being important in your own country. 

j-d: Is it a struggle to get the younger generation in Chile interested in wine?

MPS: It's a challenge. In Chile we are generally a very serious country, very strict, severe, but now the internet has made them (younger consumers) more connected to the world and now they are more open to new things. 

j-d: Is that a good or a bad thing for wine?

MPS: It can be a good thing for wine, as they are more likely to investigate new things. 

j-d: Has the Chilean wine industry fulfilled its potential yet?  

MPS: Chile is trying to do the best we can, but we have a long way to go. We are developing sustainability certification for wineries. At present we have 40-50% of wineries in that programme. We want to have 100%. We are also creating a lot of new programmes of innovation in the wineries. If we continue being serious in this area, we will have even better quality than we have today. 

j-d: What are your company's ambitions? 

MPS: Our ambition is not to be the biggest, it's to be the best. We do not believe we can sell double the number of cases we are selling now, this is not our challenge. We want to maintain a good volume of cases with wine 100% produced with our own grapes, from our own land. 

j-d: What have you made of the Beautiful South tasting event? 

MPS: I think today has been very successful, we were happy to come here. We cannot be separate from the world. There are three countries offering a new style of wine, like South Africa, Argentina, Chile, so better to have one tasting for journalists, for buyers, than to have three tastings, on three different dates. 


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