Wine of distinction

Updated: 2014-07-13 07:03

By Mike Peters(China Daily)

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 Wine of distinction

Former Chilean president Eduardo Frei says his country's food and wine have earned a great reputation for quality and price in China. Wu Chuanjing / China Daily

A former Chilean president has put his name to a special blend of grapes to raise money for his charity foundation, Mike Peters reports.

The alphabet has been a friend to Chile's former president Eduardo Frei. Last month, on his 10th visit to China, he recalled a moment when leading a country whose name begins with the letter C brought a special advantage. In 1994, his country had entered the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, 21 Pacific-Rim economies that seek to promote free trade and economic cooperation throughout the Asia-Pacific.

"That was a key moment for Chile, because we were at the Asian table, and different countries started to know our country much better than before," he says.

"At the table of these meetings, we leaders of the countries were seated in alphabetical order. So I was seated at the side of Jiang Zemin, the president of China at that time."

During the six years of Frei's presidency, in all of the APEC meetings, the two leaders had opportunities to talk directly. An idea kindled: Could the two agree to what would be China's first free-trade agreement with a foreign country?

Over time they did, which is why agricultural products from wine to beef to blueberries from Chile have surged in China, with locals enjoying lower prices than on most imports because the Chilean goods are not taxed.

That has helped make Chilean wine popular.

"Chile today is well-known for its wine, and today millions of bottles of Chilean wine are entering the Chinese market," says Frei, who is visiting China to give his country's vineyards another high-profile boost. Teaming up with the Chilean winemaker Undurraga and the Chinese company China Perfect, he has launched the first in a series of Presidential Wines - this one bearing his name.

"This joint venture created a very special blend of a typical variety of Chilean wine," says Frei.

Indeed, the Presidential Wine is no everyday table wine but, rather, is a premium product with a high-ticket price to raise money for Frei's charity foundation, which was created in memory of his late father, who was also once Chile's president.

Undurraga, which has been producing Chilean wine for 130 years, created the presidential blend with three varieties: cabernet sauvignon, carmenere and syrah.

"The cabernet sauvignon gives structure to the wine," Frei says. "The carmenere is very special, because that grape disappeared in France more than a century ago, and then in Chile we recovered that variety. The carmenere grapes bring the smoothness to the wine, the silkiness. And the third one is syrah - that gives the wine its fruit taste. The winemakers worked very carefully on this, and I decided that this was the right special blend.

"I think the launch of this wine is going to help us to present Chile, because you know the wine talks about the land, about the climate, about the geography," he says. He adds that his country's long coastline makes it much like an island.

"Our products are clean, and free of disease. We care a lot about that."

Frei was recently named a special envoy to the Asia-Pacific by Chile's current president, Michelle Bachelet, who will visit China later this year when Beijing hosts the annual APEC summit. While Frei's mission is primarily economic, he takes great pleasure in being a cultural ambassador as well.

"Chile already has around 50 years of cultural links, and 45 years of formal diplomatic relations with China," he says, noting that he recently participated in the opening of the regional headquarters of Latin American countries' Confucius Center in Santiago, his country's capital.

"They have nominated me as the president of this regional center," Frei says. "All of this shows that during these years, we have collaborated in a strong way to enhance the links between China and Chile."

Wine of distinction

After Frei's China visit began with a gala launch dinner at Beijing's Kerry Hotel, the president and his entourage moved on to Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius in Shandong province, for a series of food and cultural events.

"The visit to Qufu is very important to us, because we are going to know the place of Confucius and also visit the center that is dedicated to studying the legacy of Confucius, his history, his thinking and personality," Frei says.

"We know that we are a small country compared with China, but despite this difference of sizes, both countries are eager to have more and better exchanges in different areas."

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(China Daily 07/13/2014 page4)