Colombia - After the storm

Colombia is emerging from decades of turmoil – and becoming a wine market of interest

Colombia was a revelation to me. Arriving for a wedding in December – and the opportunity to get away from a wet and miserable London – I wasn’t sure what to expect. The national motto is “Libertad y Orden” (liberty and order) and the recent history of paramilitaries and insurgents suggests the opposite has been the case for too long. I started my journey in Bucaramanga (one of the biggest cities), which is famous for its delicious steaks and leather, and where the wedding took place. This stunning view (with appropriate prop in the foreground) was taken there.

Medellin is another wonder of Colombia, which turned out to be a developed cosmopolitan city with very open minded inhabitants. It has changed dramatically in the past two decades: once named “The most dangerous city in the world” by Time magazine, in 2013 it was awarded the title of “most innovative city” by Urban Land Institute.

Colombia has undergone lots of changes in the past 10 years or so, evolving from one of the most dangerous countries in the world to becoming one of the fastest growing economies.  As a close neighbour of and with a similar language to two major New World wine producers (Chile and Argentina), and with its thriving economy, one would think Colombia is the perfect market for wine. And yet, curiously, it isn’t.

It feels like wine isn’t part of Colombian culture right now. Rarely did I see anyone ordering a glass or bottle of wine when I was eating out in local restaurants.  Most of the time I saw people having a bottle of cold beer rather than a glass of wine (per capita consumption of beer in 2010 was 2.78l vs. 0.5l of wine according to WHO). The older generation seemed to be keen on drinking spirits – rum and whiskey in particular.

According to the locals, there may be hope for wine. With lots of Colombians travelling or living abroad (Europe and US in particular), they are bringing a new experience to their home country: that of the wine drinking culture.  Consumption volumes remain small, but they have been rising consistently at around 7% per year for the past 5 years  (IWSR 2015). Unsurprisingly, given its strong export performance in S America, Chile is the major player in the market, which is very clear from an initial glance at store shelves or menus in restaurants. Argentina follows, but some distance behind.

The Wine Intelligence Compass 2015 report classified Colombia as an Emerging market, where wine is experiencing growth and shows potential from a relatively low base ( you can find more information about our wine market classification model here).

Now back in the UK, I’m pleased to announce that Wine Intelligence will be launching Vinitrac® Colombia, making the country part of our 25 country ongoing research study of wine drinkers – the world’s biggest. For the first time we will be looking closely at and exploring Colombian wine drinkers’ behaviour. For more information about getting insights on Colombia’s wine drinkers please contact me.