Colombia, at the north-western corner of South America, is the gateway to South America. To the east lie Venezuela and Brazil, to the south Ecuador and Peru, and to the west the Caribbean Sea, Panama and the eastern Pacific Ocean. Spanning more than 16 degrees of latitude (from 12.3 north to 4.1 south), Colombia stretches from the Caribbean coast right into the jungles of the Amazon.
Despite its tropical climate, Colombia does grow grapes and produce wine. The motivation for this arrived in the 1980s and 1990s, when the government imposed high taxes on wine imported from countries outside South America. Previously, wines from the US had been freely imported to Colombia, but the prohibitively high prices encouraged a move towards wines from Argentina and Chile (which was the purpose of the exercise). Observing that its southern cousins were able to produce vast quantities of wine, Colombia began several winemaking initiatives, and was satisfying a respectable proportion of domestic demand by the mid-1990s.
The majority of Colombian wines are made from hybrid varieties, specifically those suited to the hot, humid climates found at tropical latitudes. A few vinifera varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay among them) are grown, but remain in the minority and are restricted to the cooler, drier terroirs.
The country's humid climate provides the perfect conditions for fungal diseases and mildew (particularly of the downy variety). Colombia has had to adopt specific vineyard-management techniques to keep its harvests and vine health in order. Manual leaf-plucking is required at least once a year to induce a period of vine dormancy, without which the vines would not be able to shut down and recuperate in preparation for the following vintage (of which there can be several each year).
Much of Colombia's wine output is now used to produce fortified wines, or distilled into brandy.