Walking down Mercer Street on May 12th to attend an ICFF related event, I passed by something I didn’t know about in advance which was also timed to coincide with the furniture fair – a pop-up exhibition space called Casa Brasil. During the last iteration of the Interior Design confab – which atypically unfolded in November 2021, due to the Covid lockdown canceling the event from its normal Spring occurrence in both 2020 and 2021 – the Brazilians showcased their prodigious variety of interior design and furniture products at a temporary showroom in SoHo. With the ICFF restored to its habitual place on the calendar of May in 2022, the Brazilians upped the ante, with the trade organization ApexBrasil renting out a vast exhibition space spanning the block between Mercer Street and Broadway (with entrances on both), and featuring not only design and furniture from Brazil there but also hosting talks and programming focusing on other aspects of the nation encompassing manufacturing, travel, cuisine and wines.
Yes, wines. Seemingly unlikely for a land sitting bestride the equator, with the often steamy climate(s) found within the tropics, Brazil nonetheless has a fair chunk of land extending below the Tropic of Capricorn, with the more temperate weather there suitable to the cultivation of grapes and wine production. Though the most famous product of the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul may be the model Gisele Bundchen, the wines from the region, which accounts for 90% of production in Brazil, are beginning to emerge from primarily local consumption and take their place among international markets.
On May 20th a wine Master Class was held at Casa Brasil, which was educational both for those unfamiliar with Brazilian wines and attendees like myself who’d been to previous wine tastings focusing on Brazil. Guests sampled foods from a sumptuous platter of Brazilian foods arrayed in the space, and five wines were poured over the course of the evening. Informative promotional materials were given out, including a brochure detailing the history, the regions, the grape varieties and data points of wine cultivation and production in Brazil.
Given the tradition of winemaking in Portugal, not long after people from that nation arrived in the region which became Brazil, attempts arose to import viticulture to South America; in 1500 Pedro Alvares Cabral set foot on the continent, and in 1532 Martim Afonso de Souza brought the first vines to Capitania de São Vicente. From that beginning, however, progress was slow – and in fact the Portuguese court prohibited grape cultivation in Brazil in 1732 due to fears that wines developed there would threaten production in the homeland – until three centuries later when two things happened. In 1808 the Portuguese royal family fled Napoleon’s army and moved to Brazil, establishing the seat of government there as a kingdom under Dom Joao VI – whereby they ended the proscription against wine production and sales; upon the royal return to Portugal the king’s son Pedro remained in South America, proclaiming the independence of Brazil in 1822 with himself as emperor.
Then in 1875 Italian immigrants began arriving in Brazil and, as they would also do in neighboring Argentina, they applied their technical knowledge to greatly advance the development of wine production and culture there. As they concentrated in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul it resulted in the most established wine regions being situated there; these include Campos de Cima da Serra, Campanha, Serra do Sudeste, and the most prominent area of cultivation Serra Gaúcha – where 80% of national production comes from. There are two other more well-established wine regions – Planalto Catarinense in the neighboring state of Santa Catarena, and Vale do São Francisco in the northern state of Bahia. In addition to these a number of areas are characterized as ‘emerging regions’ – comprised of Norte do Rio Grande do Sul, Sul de Minas Gerais, Interior de São Paulo, Eastern São Paulo, Paraná, and Goiás.
The main red varieties of grapes produced in Brazil are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, with Tannat, Syrah and Cabernet Franc also noteworthy, while the main white varieties are Chardonnay, White Moscato and Glera, with Italian Riesling also. Varieties characterized as “curiosities” include Ancellotta, Egiodola, Arinarnoa, Marselan, Teroldego and Vitis Labrusca. There are over 80 thousand hectares of planted areas. More than 15,000 families are engaged in wine production in Brazil, totaling more than 200,000 people involved in the industry. Brazil is the 6th largest producer of wines in the Southern Hemisphere (behind Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand), the 18th largest national producer of wines world over, and the largest producer of sparkling wines in Latin America – sparklers being particularly prominent among Brazilian wines, as they are exported to 76 countries. In 2020 the estimated size of the wine market in Brazil was $3.5 billion (US dollars), and the total value of exported product in that year was $8.2 billion.
For those in the New York City area curious about Brazilian wines, there are a number of places where they can be acquired – Astor Wine & Spirits (astorwines.com); Grand Cru Wines & Spirits (grandcruny.com); Dittrick’s Wine & Spirits/Mario Brothers Liquors (mariobrothers.net); and in the restaurants Texas de Brazil Yonkers and Texas de Brazil Long Island (texasdebrazil.com).