(June 2018) It was raining lightly when we arrived at Aurora Winery in the town of Bento Gonçalves in southern Brazil. However, this did not matter because as soon as we entered the wide double doors we were transported into one of the top wine tourism experiences of the country. Beautiful women dressed in long red gowns from the glory days of 1800’s Brazil welcomed us with gentle smiles and gestured for us to enter the massive wine cellars.
About Aurora Vinicola – Largest Winery Cooperative in Brazil
Established in 1931, Aurora Vinicola (winery) is not only the largest winery in Brazil, producing more than 24 million bottles of wine per year, but is also the largest winery cooperative with 1100 families farming grapes for the venture. The winery pays the farmers 50% more than market price for their grapes at around 50 cents per kilo. All grapes are hand-harvested from 2900 family vineyards, and the winery operations are certified ISO 9001, 14001, and 22000.
Today the winery employs 457 people, and holds 33% of wine market share in Brazil. In addition they export to 20 countries. Their specialty, like the majority of the wineries in Brazil, is producing sparkling wine, but they also produce some nice still wines as well. Because of their strong reputation, they attract more than 150,000 visitors each year to the winery, and amazingly do not charge a tasting fee. Visitors go on a guided tour with one of the beautiful women in the long red traditional gowns, and then are allowed to taste several wines along the way – ending in the very large wine shop so they can purchase something to take home.
A Winery Tour with Head Winemaker, Flavio Zilio
We were honored to have head winemaker, Flavio Zilio, export manager, Rosana Pasini, and enologist, Vitor Mizevski, escort us on a private tour through the massive cellars. The tanks were so tall in some rooms, that it seemed as if we were walking through a forest of giant trees. They had also maintained a museum of their original wooden tanks made from brazilwood, though they no longer use them to age wine.
Flavio and Rosana at Aurora Winery
Flavio allowed us to taste some of the base chardonnay wine from tanks, and explained that they produce all types of sparkling wines – ranging from traditional method with secondary fermentation in bottle, to charmant, and the Asti method. I was impressed to learn that they actually make sparkling Asti muscat wines all year long. Flavio said that fermentation lasts anywhere from 7 to 20 days, and they use nitrogen and CO2 to minimize oxygen impact.
As we explored the massive cellars, I was pleased to see many tour groups, as well as magnificent golden statues of Bacchus and grape chandeliers.
Tasting of the Wines of Aurora
We had a wonderful tasting of 13 different wines, along with an informative presentation. Everything was very professional, and I ended up identifying several wines that I thought were exceptional:
- Aurora 2018 Reserve Rosé – made with merlot and tannat, it was very crisp and fresh with notes of cranberry and lemon. A very sophisticated rosé, it reminded me a bit of a dry cosmopolitan. 90 points
- Aurora Prosecco NV – made in the charmant method, this was a classic sparkler with floral nose, white nectarine, and made from the prosecco grape grown in Brazil. Fresh and satisfying. 89 points.
- Aurora 2017 Chardonnay Procedencias – complex toasty nose with lemon brule on a creamy palate. Aged 6 months in French oak, it was very enjoyable. Procendencias means “origins.” 91 points
- Aurora Pinto Banderia Extra Brut NV – made in the traditional method, aged 24 months on the lees, this complex sparkling wine was filled with green apple, yeast, and a very high acid. Extremely refreshing, lemon-lime on palate with a very long finish. 60% chardonnay, 30% pinot noir, and 10% Italian Riesling. 92 points
- Aurora Sparkling Moscatel – simple and very pleasing with floral, apricot, spice, and honey. Crowd pleaser – perfect for Sunday brunch. 90 points