The bucolic landscape of southern Brazil's Vineyard Valley is a far cry from the country's well-known tropical beaches where tourists in skimpy bikinis sip drinks to the sound of samba.
Green hills and farms that resemble grand French wine estates dot the countryside as the Southern Hemisphere winter causes temperatures to dip near freezing this month.
Here, vineyards planted by 19th-century immigrants from Europe are undergoing a transformation as businessmen pour millions of dollars into equipment and the hiring of foreign wine experts to help put Latin America's largest country on the map of the so-called new wine world.
"In the past five years we invested 44 million reals [$14.5 million]. We are making quality wines that Brazil has never produced," said Adriano Miolo, co-owner of the Miolo winery founded in 1897. "We are a novelty among the wines of the New World," he said.
Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa are the leading representatives among countries known by connoisseurs as the "new wine world." They produce high-quality wines at affordable prices and have challenged the traditional hegemony of European wines.
The fruit of the Miolo strategy, created with celebrated French oenologist and consultant Michel Rolland who helped producers develop some of the best wines in Argentina, Chile and California, hit the market earlier this year.
With Rolland's assistance, Miolo improved the quality of the juice it used in winemaking, and the winery acquired the most sophisticated equipment.
As a result, three dignified reds were born -- among them Quinta do Seival, made from Portuguese grape varieties that Rolland brought to the Brazilian Campanha area in southern Rio Grande Do Sul state on the Uruguayan border.
Miolo also grows its grapes in the Vineyard Valley, or Vale dos Vinhedos in Portuguese, in the same state, as well as in Vale de Sao Francisco in Brazil's hot northeast.
Salton is another Brazilian winery that is investing heavily in new wines and improved quality.
Its president, Angelo Salton, said the company put more than $11 million over the past three years into a high-tech plant in the Vineyard Valley. Local wine critic Jorge Lucki says the plant's technology is the same as Australian winemakers use.
Some critics call Salton's Talento 2002, made of cabernet sauvignon, tannat and merlot grapes and produced with the help of Argentine oenologist Angel Mendoza, one of the best wines in Brazil's history.
A small amount of the new wine is being exported, but most of it is being drunk at home. Brazil, a country of 175 million, has a fledgling wine-drinking culture with a mere 1.8 liters consumed annually per capita, even though Brazilians are far from being teetotalers. Beer consumption is high, and fiery, cane-based cachaca liquor is also popular.
Out of every five bottles of wine consumed in Brazil, three are imported, mainly from France, Argentina, Chile, Italy or Portugal.
Lucki said that although Brazil would never be able to make wines as good as those made in Argentina or Chile because of its climate, Brazilians are drinking "better and better wines every day."
"We do not have an adequate climate to produce international-level wines because it rains too much. But Brazil has the condition to produce better wines than it makes today," he said, calling the wine culture practically nonexistent.
"The best thing there is in the wine world is diversity, and Brazilian wine has room to gain presence there," he said.
Producers say consumption of wine was growing until last year, when an economic slowdown in Brazil made many Brazilians tighten their belts.
They express hope that this year's recovery will revive growth in that segment.
"Brazil doesn't have a great wine culture, and it would take years to create one. But if with the population it has, consumption can reach 2.5 liters per capita, demand will expand enormously, especially if the economy starts growing more quickly," said Salton.