Is Wine Going to Replace Coffee in Some Producing Regions of Colombia?

Vietnamese Coffee Exporter
coffee in some producing

The supply and consumption of high-quality coffee in Colombia, as well as coffee in some producing countries, is a relatively recent phenomenon compared to its longstanding history as a coffee-producing nation. The rise of this new segment, which emphasizes quality, can be attributed to a change in consumer trends and is not exclusive to coffee or the Colombian market.

This demand for the specialty can be transferred to other gastronomic products such as wine, a drink that is beginning to be more valued by young generations, largely responsible for imposing new trends.  

In turn, these changes play a fundamental role in the development of other industries. In this context, the wine sector can be presented as an alternative to Colombian coffee farming , which currently faces multiple problems. 

To learn more about the viability of this transition, I spoke with two winemakers with experience in the Colombian wine industry. Continue reading and find out what they think about it.

What similarities are there in growing grapes and coffee?

John Edward Franco Pérez is a reference in wine making in Colombia. He studied oenology in Spain and his family has been working in this industry for around 40 years. Also, he is dedicated to viticultural research and has collaborated in the creation of new vineyards nationwide.

He explains that from the departments of Valle del Cauca to Santander a microclimate extends that favors the production of grapes for wine production. This crop adapts well to high and dry areas, such as Boyacá, or to those areas called tropical dry forest: warm areas with a lot of solar radiation and low rainfall.

Likewise, near these regions it is possible to find ideal areas for coffee production. Despite this, these two crops seem to have more differences than similarities regarding the conditions necessary for their proper development.

“The coffee growing regions, as identified, are humid mountain areas that are quite high,” says John. “We have done tests to plant grapes in high mountainous terrain, such as where coffee is planted, and the results have not been very good. The vinifera doesn’t really do well.”

Therefore, he does not recommend his clients engage in this activity in humid areas because they will have to invest a lot in supplies to counteract the adverse conditions.

Is grape cultivation less vulnerable to climatic variations?

Federico Agustín Carabajal is an agricultural engineer of Argentine origin who resides in the United States. Previously, he developed his activity as a winemaker in Villa de Leyva, Colombia.

According to him, grape cultivation is mainly vulnerable to rainfall, which favors the development of diseases. Although, just like coffee, it can be controlled with chemicals.

John, for his part, mentions that it is likely that those areas that were historically used for coffee production and are currently very warm, could be considered suitable for grape production due to water availability. This is the case of Pereira or Ibagué, cities where an increase in temperatures has been experienced.

How much wine is produced in Colombia?

Federico affirms that there are few wineries in Colombia and that the majority of vineyards do not exceed five hectares. “The production of grapes for winemaking and winemaking itself in Colombia is still very scarce.

When I arrived, there were three vineyards in Colombia. I have only made seven” says John and explains that wine consumption in the country is relatively low compared to other territories in South America. Historically, it has been relegated by beer consumption . It is estimated that around 43 million bottles of wine are sold in Colombia per year, which represents US $330 million. The vast majority of these wines are imported from Chile, Argentina, France and Spain.

Per capita wine consumption in Colombia has tripled in less than 20 years. It went from 0.3 liters in 2006 to 0.9 liters in 2023. If we compare these figures with other countries, they may still be low but the development it has had as a product and its growth potential cannot be denied.

In that sense, the opportunity to strengthen local production and offer a competitive product is attractive for many coffee growers who are facing increasing difficulties in producing coffee .

The wine production market

The great advantage that winemaking offers, compared to coffee growing, lies in not having to deal with the price volatility dictated by the market. Although this industry can also be affected by climatic phenomena or increased production costs, in the case of wine, added value can be generated at origin, regardless of whether it is destined for local consumption or the external market.

Federico maintains that wine making is an industry that is presented as new in the region. It attracts attention and complements very well with tourism . All this makes it an attractive activity for agricultural producers. Despite this, sometimes the production of a winery is only enough for the consumption of visitors, who cannot always buy even a bottle due to supply issues.

Beyond local consumption, John points out that marketing in the external market is limited as they are small-scale productions that cannot guarantee a constant supply to satisfy demand.

Is it feasible for coffee farmers to transition to growing grapes instead of coffee?

Federico says that starting a business in this industry can require a lot of capital. The importation of oenological plants and machinery, added to the construction of the winery and the fact that the first production takes a couple of years, can discourage some producers from entering into winemaking. However if they manage to navigate the first years of investment and production, the path could become smoother over time.

On the other hand, most countries that are dedicated to grape cultivation have only one harvest per year because the climatic seasons are marked . “In Colombia there are usually two or more harvests per year, which does not happen in the main wine-growing countries,” explains Federico. Without a doubt, a competitive advantage for farmers dedicated to this business.

Precisely, John explains that the great strength that the countries included in the equatorial strip have, many dedicated to coffee production, is that the harvest takes place more than once a year. In the case of certain varieties up to four times, which allows diluting costs and accelerating the return on investment.

This is because the seasons are not as marked as in those countries further away from the equator. “The grapes here tend to express a lot of tropical aromas, it is very particular.” he says about the qualities of Colombian wine.

Furthermore, John believes that the challenge does not directly have to do with the availability of agronomic or economic resources. It is about achieving a change in consumer culture and promoting demand that encourages the development of the national wine industry.

How does the lack of knowledge and experience affect a completely new industry for coffee farmers?

Federico believes that the majority of people who are dedicated to winemaking in Colombia have been in the business for between five and ten years. He points out that apart from capital, it is essential to have contacts to import some supplies and machinery.

When John started working in the industry it was necessary to rely on imports from Europe to produce quality wine. He states that, today, these tools are already available on the market, making it much easier to get started.

Also, it highlights the importance of always seeking advice , especially if you do not have experience in the wine industry. John, for his part, advises being cautious in the face of unexplored areas and carrying out tests to the extent that the vineyard can continue working properly. Furthermore, he does not believe it is viable to produce wine and coffee at the same time, due to the difference in climate and topography.

Projections regarding wine production

Based on the numbers that the market shows and the changes in climatic conditions experienced by coffee growing areas, it is likely that in the future more agricultural producers will decide to bet on wine production, not only in Colombia but in other countries. producers. Despite being a very young industry in Colombia, local viticulture has shown that through research and adaptation, those conditions that were initially believed to be adverse can become a competitive advantage and a differentiation factor in the international market.

Given the data analyzed, it can be seen that, today, supply and demand restrict each other. There is not enough demand because supply cannot respond and, in turn, supply cannot develop because demand does not increase. When this barrier is overcome, the Colombian wine industry will gain momentum, both in quantity and quality, and will be able to position itself as a benchmark for wine production in historically coffee-growing countries.

Although it is clear that grape production will not be able to replace coffee growing in Colombia, it remains to be seen the reach that this industry will have in a country that has not traditionally been dedicated to its cultivation. The advantages it offers are undeniable but we must not ignore the challenges involved in entering a new agricultural sector, especially those related to technical experience and the availability of resources.