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The South American adventure of a Morrisons wine buyer

Published:  05 October, 2016

Andrew Ingham, wine buyer at Morrisons Plc, recounts a recent buying trip to Chile and Argentina. 

Andrew Ingham, wine buyer at Morrisons Plc, recounts a recent buying trip to Chile and Argentina. 

The South American wine category is enjoying some great growth in the UK and customers are looking to Chile and Argentina for good value wines as always. But they are also starting to consider more premium or serious wines, such as Malbec and Torrontes from Argentina or Carmenere from Chile.

The purpose of my trip this year was to taste as many wines I could that fitted into the range at Morrisons, at price points our customers are happy to pay and to find some real gems. I think there is much to do with South America - I'm always trying to look at how we can add more authenticity and credibility into the range. So, boom, we're off. 

First things first, the 2016 harvest has been pretty awful in South America. Some vineyards have seen up to a 35% loss in yield versus last year and this is causing all sorts of problems to cost.  Luckily, some vineyards were able to pick early for various reasons and therefore only lost 5% of their yields.

Others, usually the ones that don't buy grapes but grow their own, have been unaffected because they can sell excess grapes. Obviously, this year there has been no excess for them, but it hasn't affected their production of their own wines.

The D-Day for the change in weather that has caused the difficulty was 20th April. Anything picked before that was ok. Anything after, botrytis started to kick in. As a result,  the wineries were not able to pick quickly enough or have capacity in the winery to handle the volume of grapes that they'd normally pick over a longer time.

The difficult harvest has't dampened anyones spirits, however. Everybody I met in South America (and I mean everybody) was incredibly friendly and hospitable. I really feel like I've made some friends on this trip. There is an energy in the wine industry here - they want to make better wines, vintage after vintage. They are looking for help and advice and they are rightly proud of what they produce. The winemakers are down to earth and open to good discussions about the right approach to make and the styles of wines that may work.

I tasted some Pinots that rivalled Burgundy in France, I tasted some Sauvignon Blancs that rivalled Marlborough in New Zealand, but the thing that I was most interested in was the unique personality in the wines from Chile and Argentina. I'm not looking to replicate something from somewhere else. I'm looking for how I can best showcase the best South America has to offer to my customers. I tasted wines that even with the narrow taste profile of Sauvignon Blanc for example I could see the difference region to region. It was incredible.

The challenge for me following this trip is ranging wines now that add authenticity, credibility and the sense of place. That's what I came here to find out.