Approach BENTO GONÇALVES, 40km west of Caxias, from any direction and there’s no doubting that this is the heartland of Brazil’s wine-producing region. On virtually every patch of land, no matter the gradient, vines are planted. Wine production entered a new era in the late 1970s as huge cooperatives developed, local cantinas expanded and foreign companies set up local operations. The results have been somewhat mixed. In the past, the locals relied almost exclusively on North American grape varieties and produced their own distinctive wines. Gradually, though, they were encouraged to join a cooperative or agree to sell their grapes exclusively for one company. New European and, more recently, Californian vines enabled companies to produce “finer” wines of a type that until then had been imported. All this means that the colonos now rarely produce more than their own family’s requirements, and high-tech stainless-steel vats and rigidly monitored quality control have rapidly replaced the old oaken-barrel tradition; with few exceptions, the resulting wines are, at best, mediocre.