Chile's enduring public image in Hong Kong is not as the world's thinnest country, stretching 4,500 kilometres down a narrow stretch of coast between the high peaks of the Andes and the Pacific Ocean. Neither is it commonly recognised as one of South America's most dynamic, liberal and promising markets with both longstanding and fast-growing business links to the SAR and the mainland. Mention this republic and it will instead invariably be associated with one word: wine. Chile's colourful wine promotions have been voted among the top 10 favourite designs on local trams while local supermarkets cannot seem to sell enough of the republic's value-for-money vintages. Following a trebling of sales last year to $25 million, Chile has emerged from nowhere in the 1990s to become the SAR's fourth-ranked wine importer. Yet, ironically, wine accounts for a minuscule percentage of Chile's trade with Hong Kong and even less to do with emerging business ties. Following 14 years of uninterrupted economic growth averaging 6.6 per cent, Chile is attracting international and especially Asia-Pacific attention as the premier gateway to South America. This development has not passed unnoticed in Hong Kong and was underlined by Financial Secretary Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's visit several months ago with a 20-strong delegation of the SAR's top foreign investors, followed a week later by a Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce mission with World Wide Shipping chairman Helmut Sohmen at the helm. HSBC owns the country's biggest bank and Chile lays claim to the greatest concentration of Hong Kong-based companies in Latin America. 'But in the Hong Kong public's eye, we are still tied to the image of wine,' said Chilean Trade Commissioner Carmen Marticorena. So now she is resigned to capitalising on it. 'What the public rarely appreciates, for example, is that many of the bunches of grapes they buy in winter are from Chile. Sales are worth nearly $600 million a year - or 24 times the sales of wine. Smoked salmon is another much bigger earner, outselling wine by five times. 'Yet very few people realise the smoked salmon they are eating is from Chile.' To correct the image, Chile is embarking on a campaign to place greater emphasis on products other than wine. The 'Discover Chilean Wine' drive which has paid such handsome dividends is being extended to salmon and other products ranging from fruit to feta cheese. 'We have enjoyed sustained growth in exports to Hong Kong and mainland China for the last five years, so we want to keep it up,' Mrs Marticorena said. 'It's a good market for us. Chilean exports to most other countries around the world are dropping, but here is the exception.' Not that wine is taking a back seat. More than 40 vineyards were represented at VinExpo in the Convention Centre recently and a major Chilean Wine Fair promo tion is being staged at the Hong Kong Jockey Club next Thursday and Friday, with tastings open to the public from 5.30-8pm priced at $120. Chile is even starting to challenge France with a new generation of more upmarket wine, to be showcased by Oliver's in Prince's Building on October 9 and 10. 'Chilean wine is getting better and better,' said the company's food and beverage consultant, Eileen Ogle, who recently toured the various wine regions. Among the vintages she is about to market are a Cha teau Los Boldos Grand Cru, retailing at $333. The upmarket revolution has been sparked by the world's leading winemakers descending on Chile to modernise and re-develop an industry that dates back more than 500 years, but has until the last decade only served the domestic market. 'They have really opened our wine market to the world,' said Chile's Consul- General, Hernan Brantes. 'I believe Chile is the next California,' said Fetzer Jackson, who has invested millions in his Vina Calina project. 'This whole valley has just exploded,' noted winemaker Gaetane Carron, who heads Napa's Franciscan Estates venture underway in the Casablanca Valley north of Santiago. 'Chile is a much older wine culture than the US but it has just now been discovered,' Agustin Huneeus, president of Franciscan Estates, said. 'It has been known you can make world-class wine here because of the conditions, but what has been lacking is the capital and entrepreneurship. About eight years ago, things started growing and the new wine spirit emerged.'