Impact International / April 15, 1998
By Larry Luxner
LA PAZ -- When it comes to fine wine, Bolivia isn't nearly as famous as neighboring Argentina or Chile. But the landlocked country does produce wine, and exports are growing steadily.
Says Javier Villa Alvarez, an official at Bolivia's Ministry of Industry and Commerce: "We're talking about small quantities, under $3 million a year. The great percentage of production is for local consumption."
Some 3,700 hectares are devoted to cultivation of wine grapes, mainly in the Central Valley of the southern department of Tarija, along Bolivia's border with Argentina. Grapes are also grown in Chuquisaca's Sur-Cinti province, and in the Caracato and Sapahaqui valleys of La Paz.
Around 65% of the 20,000 metric tons of grapes harvested annually in Bolivia go for the production of wine and singani -- a local fermented beverage -- while the remaining 35% of grapes are sold as fresh fruit on the domestic market. In 1995, wine production came to just over 20,000 liters, a number that has remained relatively constant for the past 10 years.
Bolivia has 12 processing plants that produce wine -- all of them in Tarija, and employing a total of 100 people. In 1995, these factories utilitzed 66.8% of installed capacity. Exports have risen gradually over the years, with most of the volume exported going to Argentina in the form of condensed raw material. Bolivia also ships wine to Germany; two of the leading brands are Kolbert and San Pedro.
"European varieties introduced in Bolivia have adapted exceptionally well," says a report issued by Bolivia's Ministry of Industry and Commerce. "The climate of Tarija's Central Valley is optimal for the cuiltivation of wine grapes, and the prices of grapes in this zone are comparable to the fruit produced in Argentina."
The report adds that "the principal strategy of this sector, because of the incipient competitiveness of its products in overseas markets, is the substitution of local products in place of imported wines."
Bolivia's wine industry enjoys the support of the Centro Nacional de Vitivinicultura (known in Spanish as Cenavit) -- a specialized institution that works with 650 farmers. Cenavit is also in charge of monitoring quality control and certifying the factories.
"Nevertheless," says the government report, "the development of this institution's activities has been affected by diverse factors. Despite the support of these specialized institutions, the level of quality of these products is not sufficient to compete in international markets against countries such as Chile."