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Wine on the River Tours South America and Beyond

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Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge is gateway to the world as Nashville’s annual Wine on the River offers global fare for cultural exchange and community relief. Held on Saturday, September 14, 2013 from 3 PM-7 PM, the annual event features live music, wines and culturally themed foods. Proceeds support Hands on Nashville which partners with nonprofits to provide over 300 diverse local volunteer opportunities monthly in meeting needs, such as shelter, food, mentors, education, and animal welfare.

Wines represent vineyards domestic (California, Washington, Oregon, Tennessee) and international (Australia, South Africa, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain). As a WOR volunteer I’ve poured South American varieties the last two years and can attest to Nashville’s love of wines from Chile and Argentina. Last year I served beside Guillo Barzi on his first trip to Nashville. The winery owner and great grandson of Humberto Canale, founder of the 100-year old Rio Negro estate in Patagonia, Argentina met patrons. Most popular was his Denario Reserva Malbec, a limited-edition wine made from grapes from a 70-year-old vineyard aged twelve months in French oak barrels.

This year’s Wine on the River will again host Chilean wines—this time from Vina Maipo. According to Vinexpo, one of the world’s leading wine trade fairs in the world, France is still the biggest producer of wine, followed by Italy and Spain. But while production of the top three is predicted to level off or fall, that of Chilean wine, ranked 7 now, is expected to grow by 31 percent by 2016. Wade Grote, Regional Manager of Fetzer Vineyards, says Tennessee is the fourth market to go live with Vina Maipo in the US. Grote explains the piqued popularity in Chilean wines and the promising premier of Vina Maipo’s offerings on Saturday:

These are brand new to the states, so currently only listed in Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky and now Tennessee. As for the fit in Tennessee, there are numerous reasons but, simply stated, Chilean wines are offering the best quality to price ration on the market. The Varietal Selection is our everyday tier which gives consumers great wines at a tremendous value, with rich, fruit forward flavor. We then step into the Vitral Reserva tier which focuses on particular appellations in Chile that are the best locations for each varietal. In terms of sales, the Chilean category is a big portion of the South American sales, along with obviously Malbec from Argentina. Between the two, it covers the bulk of the business.

Jaime Vargas, Global Marketing Director, concurs: "Americans love Chilean wines because of their quality taste at an affordable price. Likewise, our higher-tier, premium wines compare in quality with wines of, say, Burgundy, but sell for far less." Vargas spoke to me from Santiago about the wines of The Maipo Valley, the heart of Chile, exported to seventy countries. An area rich in faith and tradition, each year since 1583 villagers at the celebration of the Virgin Mary pray on December 8 for protection of their lands: "It is a gathering to pray for the harvest, which in Chile, is in January. Like our television commercial says, we feel 'Passion for our Roots.' We are passionate about our wines and the people who grow them."

I asked about the portfolio premiering Saturday: the Varietal Selection Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sauvignon Blanc with the Vitral Red Blend and Carmenere. He shared the story of Chile’s Carmenere, a source of pride since its grape survived in his country after the mid-nineteenth century plague caused by phylloxera, an insect that ravaged European roots. Carmenere disappeared from Bordeaux, its original home, but in the 1990s was discovered in Chile. Chile’s unique geography provided natural barriers against pests and diseases: desert in the north, the Andes in the east, the Patagonian glaciers in the south, and the coastal mountains and Pacific Ocean in the west. The carmenere grape strongly resembled that of merlot. Because it was harvested as such, it hadn’t had time to ripen. Once the discovery was made, Chileans and the world began enjoying the true fruit of their labor. Vargas visited Nashville just before we spoke. He commented: “Nashville is a fun place. There is a lot of spirit there like we have in Chile. You will see even more Chilean wines served in restaurants there.”

Likewise the Chilean expat community in Nashville will celebrate Chilean Independence Day on September 18. Nashville Pablo Bodini, Organizer of The Nashville International Cultural Exchange Meetup who grew up from Santiago near the Maipo Valley, says “I am very pleased that they are showcasing Chilean wine given their worldwide good quality reputation and affordability.”

To taste other cultures—their histories and stories—and for an afternoon of, as my Chilean friends say, “enjoying the life,” book a ticket to Wine on the River here.

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