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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.