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Interview: Baltazar Sánchez Guzmán, Chairman, Viña Santa Rita

August 13, 2021

Viña Santa Rita is among the top Chilean wine players in the U.S., with its namesake brand reaching 435,000 cases on 7.5% growth in 2020, according to Impact Databank. Imported by Delicato Family Wines, Santa Rita is known for its flagship single vineyard Casa Real Reserva Especial Cabernet Sauvignon ($150), which is currently receiving a 10-year, $30 million vineyard improvement project, as well as super-premium Triple C ($40), and its entry-level 120 range ($5-8). Lately the company has been looking to premiumize further with wines like Medalla Real Gold Medal ($16) and Scarlet Vine ($20), the latter of which it developed with Delicato specifically to engage the U.S. consumer. SND executive editor Daniel Marsteller recently spoke with Viña Santa Rita chairman Baltazar Sánchez Guzmán to get an update on progress.

SND: Across your 40-year career with Santa Rita, you’ve seen plenty of change in the Chilean wine category. How do you assess the situation currently?

Sánchez Guzmán: We’ve made a big change in our focus over the past few years, refocusing on premiumization both in the U.S. and worldwide. We want to move the image of Chilean wine beyond being just a “best buy,” because it’s so much more than that. Across the industry producers have invested in different varietals, developing once-abandoned varietals like Carménère, and concentrating on where Chile has an advantage. For Santa Rita, especially, that is in Cabernet Sauvignon.

SND: You’re in the midst of investing tens of millions of dollars in your flagship wine Casa Real. What does that effort entail?

Sánchez Guzmán: Casa Real 2018 launched this summer and is the first vintage made from harvest to bottle by winemaker Sebastian Labbé. Next year, with the 2019, we’ll be celebrating Casa Real’s 30th anniversary. Out of our 4,000 hectares (10,000 acres) in Chile and Argentina, we have 80 hectares (198 acres) for Casa Real, and we’ve been replanting in order to get to 350 or 400 hectares (865-990 acres) to provide more wine for both Casa Real and for other brands on the ultra-premium side.

SND: What’s the latest on your activities in the U.S. specifically?

Sánchez Guzmán: Previously, our products above $10 represented only about 2% of our portfolio. Now that has grown to about 13% to 15%, so it proves the strategy and the partnership with Delicato is working. Scarlet Vine is the wine we’ve created with Delicato to align with consumer trends and palates in the U.S. We’ve also adapted Medalla Real Gold Medal for the U.S. (Editor’s note: Scarlet Vine and Medalla Real Gold Medal are expected to sell about 35,000 cases in the U.S. this year combined.) The U.S. market is challenging, but we’re happy with our results and we’ll continue to invest.

SND: How is the exchange rate situation at the moment?

Sánchez Guzmán: It’s horrible. This month last year we were at 820 pesos per dollar. Two months ago, it was about 650, and now it’s around 760. There’s also a political aspect right now, because we’re in the midst of a change in government in Chile, adding to the uncertainty. But for us, we can’t make decisions based on the short-term situation; we’re always thinking of the long term.

SND: Shipping has also become a challenge for many exporters and importers lately. How has Santa Rita been affected?

Sánchez Guzmán: It’s been difficult. There’s a lack of containers in Chile, shipping is operating more slowly because of the pandemic, and some months we haven’t been able to export all of the orders that we had to ship. But we’re focused on solving the problem, and things are beginning to become more fluid.

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