Brazil, the largest country in Latin America and the fifth largest wine producer in the Southern Hemisphere, has been producing wines since the beginning of its colonization. However it was the arrival of Italian immigrants, a process initiated in 1875, which brought importance to the activity.
Over the past 15 years, the Brazilian wine industry has made major investments in technological innovations and the management of vineyards. The result? Products with excellent quality, recognized with more than 3,000 international awards.
The first vines are brought to Brazil by Martim Afonso de Souza, who comes from Portugal with the aim of disseminating agriculture in the new colony. The Vitis vinifera seedlings are planted in the Captaincy of São Vicente in the Southeast, but the unfavorable conditions of climate and soil do not allow the experience to continue.
Member of the colonizing expedition of Martim Afonso de Souza, the young Brás Cubas insisted on the cultivation of vines, moving his plantations from the coast to the Atlantic Plateau. In 1551, he manages to extract the juice of Vitis vinifera grapes, producing the first Brazilian wine. His initiative, however, does not last long due to the climate and soil conditions.
The arrival of the Jesuits at the region of Missões boosts the viticulture in southern Brazil. The introduction of vines in Rio Grande do Sul is credited to Father Roque Gonzalez de Santa Cruz, who was helped by the Guarani native community to maintain the vineyards and make wine, a key element in religious celebrations.
The first guided tasting is held in Brazil, reported in 1st Proceedings of the Chamber of São Paulo. The goal is to standardize the wines sold in the country, discarding those that do not meet the minimum quality requirements. The action is aimed primarily at southeastern producers, who follow the footsteps of Brás Cubas and persist in growing grapes in inappropriate places.
Portuguese immigrants, especially Azoreans, settle in the coastal zone of Rio Grande do Sul, forming colonies in the cities of Rio Grande, Porto Alegre and Pelotas, in a process that lasts until 1773. They bring in their luggage seedlings of Vitis vinifera from Azores and Madeira islands, but the lack of incentives and adequate cultivation techniques result in poor crops.
Realizing the multiplication of initiatives regarding viticulture in Brazil, the Portuguese court prohibits the cultivation of grapes in the country in order to protect its own production of wine. The measure inhibits the sales of the drink in the colony and restricts the activity to the domestic environment.
The year the Portuguese royal family moved to Brazil, not only the prohibition of grape cultivation is banned but also wine consumption habits are developed. The drink is incorporated into meals, social gatherings and numerous religious festivities.
The pioneering winemaking in Rio Grande do Sul is represented by the figure of Manoel Macedo, producer located near the city of Rio Pardo. In a period that extends until 1835, he records the production of 45 barrels a year, thus receiving the first charter for the production of the beverage in the country, granted by the Chamber of Commerce of Rio de Janeiro.
The beginning of the German settlement expands the number of immigrants interested in grape growing. At the same time, Italian João Batista Orsi settles in Serra Gaucha, and with the permission of Dom Pedro I to cultivate European grapes, he became one of the pioneers of the wine production industry in the region.
The English trader Thomas Messiter introduces to Rio Grande do Sul Vitis labrusca and Vitis bourquina grapes, native to the USA. More resistant to pests and diseases, the seedlings were initially planted on Ilha dos Marinheiros (island), located in Lagoa dos Patos, but soon spread throughout the state.
Isabel grape, one of the American varieties introduced to Rio Grande do Sul, is quickly accepted by farmers, for its resistance to diseases. Records dated of 1860 show that there were vineyards of this grape in Pelotas, Viamão, Gravataí, Montenegro and municipalities in Vale dos Sinos.
The big leap in the national wine production occurs with the arrival of Italian immigrants in Rio Grande do Sul. Bringing from their homeland the technical knowledge about the production and the culture of wine, they improve its quality and give a bigger importance to it as an economic activity.
The oldest record of winemaking in Vale dos Vinhedos, in Rio Grande do Sul, shows that 500,000 liters of wine were produced in the town of Garibaldi. This figure is part of a report made in 1883 by the Consul of Italy, Enrico Perrodo, after visiting the region.
Due to the disorderly competition, the variation in quality and the growing importance of the activity, Sindicato do Vinho – a wine association – is established in an attempt to organize the sector. The initiative is coordinated by Oswaldo Aranha (photo), State Secretary of Governor Getúlio Vargas.
The association system is taken up again by grape growers. In a period of 10 years, 26 cooperatives are founded, including some that continue to exist today. With this model, small producers become competitive gaining a more stable position over the next decade.
The year Georges Aubert winery moved from France to Brazil marks the beginning of a cycle that leveraged the national viticulture. The interest of foreign companies in the country, which would be consolidated in the 70s, brought new techniques to the vineyards and wineries and raised the quality of production, in addition to expanding the areas of grape cultivation.
The improvement in wineries, which throughout the 1980’s improved their vineyards, gains momentum due to the economic openness of Brazil. Access to different styles of wines and the competition with imported products make national wine makers enhance the quality of their products.
After the viticulture is consolidated in different regions, from the South to the Northeast of the country, each productive zone invests in developing their own wine identity. The pioneering region is Vale dos Vinhedos, obtaining the protected designation of origin in 2002.