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LWF: Santa Rita winemaker talks 120 ambitions

Published:  23 May, 2017

Harpers caught up with Santa Rita to discquss the launch of their refreshed 120 brand which is being launched with two new varietals at this year’s London Wine Fair.

The top selling Chilean brand in Ireland has had a facelift to celebrate 50 years of production and has also added its first Pinot Grigio and Malbec to the 120 range.

On day two of the fair, Harpers spoke with head winemaker Oscar Salas to find out how the refresh and a new distribution deal to bring the majority of parent company’s Santa Rita Estates (SREs) brands under Conviviality’s large roof is a new letter of intent for the company within the UK market.

The 120 label, which is named after the 120 patriots who hid at the Santa Rita winery following the battle of Rancagua, is currently the leading Chilean wine brand in Ireland.

The brand is now hoping to achieve the same recognition in the UK through the consolidation of the majority of Santa Rita Estate brands under the Conviviality umbrella, and also via the refresh.

Santa Rita has it sights on securing a top-three brand position in the UK trade which is currently dominated by Concha y Toro’s Casa del Diablo in first place. 

They currently sit at around eighth position in terms of Chilean UK trade sales. 

“Santa Rita is one of the oldest brands in Chile,” said Salas. “The winery is a national monument and it’s the only place in Chile where a town has grown up around a winery.

“In Chile, 120 is absolutely global and people feel represented by the brand. In the UK less people know it. We’re trying to show 120 as a global brand.”

One way they are doing this is by activations such as the sponsorship with Arsenal Football Team and also adding two of the most popular grape varietals in the UK to its 120 portfolio, the Pinot Grigio - which is one of the most widely drunk white varietals in the UK - and also Malbec – one of the fastest growing. 

Santa Rita currently owns 5% of total Pinot Grigio surface area in Chile and also between 5% and 6% of all Malbec.

This has grown from a base of around 0.5% of Malbec surface area 20 years ago, but their share has grown thanks to the growing demand for Malbec driven by their Argentinian neighbours.

“Santa Rita owns a winery in Argentina for Doña Paula, which is named after the woman who hid the 120 patriots at the Santa Rita winery in Chile,” Salas explained.

“So, Santa Rita does have experience producing Malbec. Many wineries in Chile are planting Malbec as we are getting extra demand. ”

While there has been pressure to pursue the steam train that is Malbec and other popular styles in the UK, Cabernet Sauvignon from the Cab-loving slopes of the Maipo Valley continues to be 120’s flagship and most widely sold wine domestically and internationally, while their Casa Real Cabernet Sauvignon sits at the top of Santa Rita’s premium portfolio in their Iconic range,

With an average retail price of £8.99 public relations and events manager Caroline Park describes the positioning of the re-launched 120 line as ‘affordable’, but says it eschews Chile’s safe image.

“I would say Chile is still pushing the safe and affordable image,” she said. “Although they are trying to change that with premiumisation, and there is evidence to suggest that Chile is no longer necessarily seen as go-to country for inexpensive merlot, with consumers moving towards choosing it for occasion drinking.

“But with the 120 re-fresh we want to increase awareness with an eye-catching label refresh and show its quality. If you look at the label, it’s not overtly Chilean. It’s not that we are trying to steer it away from Chile. Rather we’re focusing on instilling confidence in the 120 brand and uniform quality across the varietals.”

Part of the move to Conviviality is part of this plan to consolidate the quality message and carve new footholds in the UK via the distributor’s various routes to market.  

In January, the majority of brands within the SRE group moved from a segmented distribution model via Berkmann Wine Cellars and Hallgarten Druitt.

Santa Rita is now looking to secure listings of its new 120 50th anniversary range via PLB in the off-trade and Matthew Clark in the on-trade.