Business

Building Chilean Identity Through EVOO

Founded in 2006, Chile's Austral Family Estates is rapidly -- and thoughtfully -- garnering international acclaim.

Mar. 28, 2017
By Kelsey Shanesy

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In a sparkling new office park in the posh Las Condes neigh­bor­hood of Santiago sits the offices of Austral Family Estates — cre­ators of award-win­ning olive oils like Aura and Kilkai.

We wanted to com­mu­ni­cate Chile in a way that would bring people’s image of the coun­try up to date.- Juan Ramsay, Austral Family Estates

The Sarquis family was already well known in Chile for their real estate ven­tures (like the busi­ness park in Las Condes), as well as their Chilean fish­eries, when they turned their atten­tion to olive oil in 2006 and founded the com­pany. And olive oil has con­tributed the most among their projects to Chile’s national iden­tity abroad.

To go from a brand-new busi­ness to an award-win­ning, ver­ti­cally inte­grated and sus­tain­able pro­ducer in just over ten years is no easy feat. After scop­ing out a prime piece of prop­erty in the Curicó Valley, 200km south of Santiago and 45km from the Pacific, Austral set out on an exten­sive soil map­ping and analy­sis project in order to opti­mize pro­duc­tion.

Today, the prop­erty is home to 1,250 hectares of planted orchards with a state-of-the-art mill at its epi­cen­ter.

This past year, the Kilkai blend was rec­og­nized with a Gold Award by the New York International Olive Oil Competition. The fruity, well-bal­anced extra virgin olive oil stands out as a robust yet acces­si­ble blend, the com­pany said, but what makes it even more impor­tant to the com­pany is the atten­tion it brings to Chile.

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The word “Kilkai” makes ref­er­ence to a neck­lace worn by the native Mapuche people, and an illus­tra­tion of a strong-look­ing, modern Mapuche woman wear­ing the neck­lace takes up a large por­tion of the label.

“Internationally, the Chilean iden­tity is not strong,” explained Austral’s man­ag­ing direc­tor Juan Ramsay. “With the Kilkai line, we wanted to com­mu­ni­cate Chile in a way that would bring people’s image of the coun­try up to date.”

Chile exports heav­ily to the inter­na­tional market, yet Ramsay believes that few people could point to it on a map, and noted that it lacks cul­tural iconog­ra­phy like the tango dance of Argentina.

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The Kilkai line was part of a delib­er­ate effort to change that, and as a favorite among inter­na­tional buyers and crit­ics alike, it has. Ramsay describes this extra-virgin olive oil vari­ety as “fresh and fruity,” and he works per­son­ally, along with the oil miller and a panel of tasters, to ensure that the per­son­al­ity of the line is main­tained from year to year.

Juan Ramsay

The secret to Kilkai’s win­ning flavor pro­file is the abun­dance of polyphe­nols in the oil. Ramsay explained that part of the company’s suc­cess has come from embrac­ing the Arbequina olive, as well as the fact that the oil is extracted no more than 3 hours from the time the olives are har­vested.

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And Kilkai isn’t the only Austral Family Estates sub-brand to garner atten­tion: the entire line-up has pulled in awards in Italy, the U.S. and Japan.

As they look to the future, Austral Family Estates plans to con­tinue to engage the Chilean brand directly with the con­sumer through chef-cre­ated recipes and food pair­ings.