APRIL 19, 2009
Central and South America > Uruguay
Uruguay’s Boutique Wineries Find the World Stage
Paula Pivel, at Alto de la Ballena, the winery she and her husband started in 2000 near Punta del Este.Article Tools Sponsored By
By PAOLA SINGER
Published: April 19, 2009
AFTER several wrong turns through desolate dirt roads, I finally saw Carlos Pizzorno waving at me from the entrance of his vineyard. He is an affable man with wind-worn skin and rough hands, the result of tending personally to the vines. While touring the 50-acre estate, we stopped before twohand-cranked corking machines from the early 1900s, a quaint example of Mr. Pizzorno’s painstaking craftsmanship. Inside the cellar, his 2004 blend of tannat, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and petit verdot had been aging in bottle for three years. “It will be released when the time is right,” he said. “These wines have my family name and I can’t let it down.”
Horacio Paone for The New York Times
A part of the 37 acres of vineyards at the Viñedo de los Vientos winery.
Pizzorno Family Estates is a winery in Uruguay, a country that began pressing grapes more than a hundred years ago but remains largely unknown in the wine world. Without the financial resourcesor marketing expertise of its bigger winemaking neighbors, Argentina and Chile, Uruguay lags far behind in recognition. But thanks to a group of ambitious boutique wineries, it is slowly winning over critics and connoisseurs.
“I was favorably impressed by what they are doing,” said Evan Goldstein, a San Francisco master sommelier who recently visited Uruguay. “It’s an industry thatcandidly wants to get outside, and what’s intrinsically exciting is that it’s all family-owned, which is a rarity in this business.”
Uruguay’s temperate climate is suited for wine growing, with warm summers, cool winters and ocean breezes that flow freely through low hills and plains. The conditions are similar to those of France’s Bordeaux region.
For most of the 20thcentury, the country produced mainly unsophisticated table reds for local consumption. After a nationwide replanting of imported clone vines, which began in the late ’70s, the industry was finally able to focus on quality. In recent years, about 20 wineries began courting international markets with inventive blends and a signature red called tannat.
Tannat grapes, originally from thesouthwest of France, were first planted in Uruguay in 1870 by a Basque immigrant. The vines flourished, yielding a suppler taste than their highly astringent (because of high tannin levels) European counterparts.
Having a flagship varietal can be an asset — a case in point is malbec in Argentina — and local growers are hoping to use this grape as their passport to distinction. Duringmy visit in January, winemakers talked about developing tannats that adapt better to global palates (drinkers abroad may find the wine too rustic or earthy), about crafting unique blends, and about diversifying their portfolios with popular grapes.
This is the strategy at Pizzorno (www.pizzornowines.com). When Carlos, grandson of the winery founder Don Próspero José Pizzorno, tookover the business in 1983, quality and marketability became paramount. He planted new clones of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir, petit verdot, tannat and other varieties, enlisting the help of a New Zealand-born consultant. Today, 60 percent of his wine is sold abroad.
Pizzorno’s tasting room is notably austere, but the wines are encouragingly approachable. We tried a fruity...