Fetzer Vineyards, Concha y Toro, and General Augusto Pinochet

Consistent with River Watch’s mission, we are providing the researched article by Ellen Rose because it draws the connection of past and current political corruption with current environmental and social responsibility. Concha Y Toro is a large company that owns Fetzer, Bonterra and other wine brands. When consumers try to select products that have high standards of environmental protection, they should be assured that the labeling and promotional information is correct and has meaning. There are vineyards/wineries that have and are impacting waterways. Some wineries have improved their methods and production to reduce or stop pollutants from entering waterways. We applaud them. A few, like Concho y Toro, have a sordid past and dubious current status that we single out for consumers and general public to be wary.

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Sometimes a wine label’s idyllic home-style image is not reflective of the wine-owning-company, especially if that company is a huge corporation.  Fetzer Vineyards, on the banks of the Russian River in Hopland, California, is such a wine label with a parent company, Concha y Toro, having particularly disturbing connections to murderous Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet

Pinochet ruled Chile by military dictatorship from 1973 until 1990, taking power in a U.S backed coup which violently overthrew the government of Salvador Allende, the first Marxist to be democratically elected president in Latin America.  In fear of being assassinated or losing power, Pinochet aimed to destroy “leftists” who disagreed with him, and was responsible for horrific human rights abuses, where tens of thousands were tortured, and thousands murdered.

In 2005, the U.S. Senate reported that Pinochet and his family hid approximately $19 million in 128 bank accounts. During the uncovering of Pinochet’s money laundering operations, a list of donors to the President Pinochet Foundation was revealed. As reported by U.K. independent news outlet The Canary, among the Pinochet Foundation’s donors were Viña Concha y Toro.

Concha y Toro (“CyT”), is Latin America’s largest wine producer, owning approximately 11,300 hectares of prime vineyards in Chile, Argentina, and the United States. In 2011, they purchased Fetzer Vineyards from the Brown-Forman Corporation, whom the Fetzer family had sold to in 1992. Currently, Concha y Toro owns Fetzer Vineyards, as well as the California wine brands Bonterra, Five Rivers, Bel Arbor, Jekel Vineyards, Coldwater Creek, Sanctuary and Little Black Dress. 

The President Pinochet Foundation was created to improve Pinochet’s public image and also raised money for the former dictator’s medical and legal expenses when he was on trial in Britain for crimes against humanity (torture, hostage taking, and murder).  The foundation has funded a museum and disseminates information aimed at sanitizing Pinochet’s image. Among the Foundation’s objectives is “To spread to the new generations the work and legacy of the government of President Pinochet”.  But this legacy is filled with torture and bloodshed, murders, sexual abuse, concentration camps, disappearances, centers of detention and torture, and bodies dumped  into the ocean. That does not sound like something consumers of California wine would choose to support.

Also on the list of the Pinochet Foundation’s donors is Eduardo Guilisasti Tagle. Guilisasti Tagle joined Concha y Toro’s Board of Directors in 1957, and laid the foundation for the company’s expansion.  He became Chairman of the Board in 1971, and remained with CyT until his death in 1998. The present corporate governance of CyT includes three of Guilisasti Tagle’s sons.

Concha y Toro made a statement to the independent media, The Canary, denying any relationship to the Pinochet Foundation.  They said they had not made any donations to the foundation over the last fifteen years.  While the donation from CyT was made in 2002, and Guilisasti Tagle’s donation was deposited in 1996, the fact that the company and one of its most formative executives had definitely made those donations, is a hangover-inducing thought. In their statement, CyT also denied having any political affiliations, and perhaps there is no political party that they as a corporation publically support. Yet, past and current management have clear connections to the levers of power which have made Chile one of the most unequal countries in Latin America.

On Concha y Toro’s Board was Sergio de la Cuadra Fabres, a Director from 2005 until 2015. He was also Chile’s Minister of Finance under Pinochet in 1982, and one of the “Chicago Boys”, who studied economics with Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago. The “Chicago Boys” were deeply influential in crafting the free-market, neoliberal, fiscally conservative economic policies which Pinochet’s dictatorship relied upon.  Social services, incomes, and budgets for health education and housing were cut, as military spending increased. 

While life in Pinochet’s Chile was unbearable for many, the free-market economics the Chicago Boys brought was beneficial for some–especially the wine industry. Allende, and his predecessor Eduardo Frei Montalva, expropriated land from some Chilean elites, with the intent of redistribution. When Pinochet took power, some of the land was returned to the wealthy landowners, and some was redistributed to the peasants – yet they lacked the means to manage their properties. Most of the peasants were forced to sell the land at very low cost to bidders chosen by the government, who would use the land for capitalist economic purposes. Foreign investors, and vineyard entrepreneurs, were among those who benefited.

The current management of Concha y Toro includes CEO Eduardo Guilisasti Gana, son of Pinochet Foundation donor Eduardo Guilisasti Tagle.  Eduardo Guilisasti Gana is credited with the acquisition of Fetzer Vineyards in 2011, “one of the most important Chilean investments made in the United States at that time”.   He is also a member of Opus Dei, the controversial right-wing Catholic sect which has been accused of cult-like practices. Opus Dei has a strong opposition to sexual and reproductive rights, and a history of supporting brutal and oppressive regimes, including Pinochet’s. Eduardo Guilisasti Gana has previously stated that he gives his earnings from Concha y Toro to Opus Dei’s more than 100 technical and management schools around the world. A goal of Opus Dei is for their far-right version of Catholicism to become public policy. 

The Vice Chairman of Concha y Toro is Rafael Guilisasti Gana, also son of Eduardo Guilisasti Tagle.  From December 2008 to December 2010 Rafael Guilisasti Gana was president of the Confederación de la Producción y el Comercio (Confereration of Production and Commerce /“CPC”). The CPC is described as an entrepreneur association representing the most important productive sectors of the country.  Chile’s struggle to have water recognized as a human right has met opposition from the CPC.

Also on CyT’s Board of Directors is Jorge Desormeaux Jiménez, president of the Financial Supervision and Regulation Reform Commission, whose many ties to the Chilean financial elite include JP Morgan Chile, the Central Bank of Chile, and AntarChile, the main holding company of the Angelini Group of Companies, one of the largest conglomerates in South America. 

In April 2011, Desormeaux Jiménez became an independent director of Viña Concha y Toro on behalf of the Administradoras de Fondos de Pensiones (Pension Fund Managers / “AFPs”).  Chile’s AFP pension system has exacerbated inequality, been detrimental to the low-income working class, and has fueled Chile’s recent wave of protests.  Workers, many who are barely getting by, contribute ten percent of their wages, supposedly to be claimed when they retire.  In the meantime, private companies – the AFPs – invest the money and oversee its administration, funneling more funds to the already – extremely wealthy. Desormeaux Jiménez is the husband of Evelyn Matthei, the far-right Independent Democratic Union Party’s candidate for President of Chile in 2013. Matthei’s father, retired Air Force General Fernando Matthei, served with Pinochet on the four-member military junta which forcefully ruled Chile during the dictatorship.

Pinochet was arrested in London in 1998, and the next sixteen years brought many attempts to hold him accountable for his crimes, despite much effort on his part to evade responsibility. Without having faced a full trial for the atrocities committed during his rule, Pinochet died of heart failure at age 91 while on house arrest, on December 10, 2006 – International Human Rights Day.

Concha y Toro continues to make millions, exporting wines to 140 countries worldwide. Their gross profits in 2018 totaled $327 million.