Uruguayan Vineyards Part 2

February 3, 2024

Paul Kay

Have you been to Uruguay? Maybe Montevideo should be a wine vacation destination? This is Part 2 of our Uruguayan Vineyards post. You can find Part 1 here. Uruguay has several wine-producing regions, with the majority of vineyards located in the southern part of the country. The most prominent wine regions include Canelones, Maldonado, Colonia, and San José. Each region has its own unique terroir, contributing to the diversity of Uruguayan wines. Uruguay’s small size and proximity to the Atlantic Ocean create diverse microclimates that are well-suited for grape cultivation. The temperate climate, with cooling ocean influences, allows for the production of a variety of grape varietals, both red and white.

Vineyards and Winery Filgueira

81, Departamento de Canelones, Uruguay

Irurtia Bodega, Carmelo

2P6R+46 Carmelo, Colonia Department, Uruguay

Don Lorenzo Irurtia supervising wine production Uruguay

Lorenzo Irurtia was a Basque who arrived from his native land to work in the granite quarries of the south of Uruguay. Although he was a stone cutter he also carried his knowledge of the great vine growers in the area of Cerro Carmelo. He started his vineyard at the turn of the 20th century and his first harvest was in 1913. This is a true classic family owned and run vineyard. Generations of family members have worked on this vineyard from the very beginning. Today the vineyard is run by Carlos who is in charge of the winemaking. Marcello is in charge of the industrial plant and Liliana does all the marketing and sales. Madeline and I saw a very large wine bottle marking the vineyard as we approached the Hyatt Unbound Carmelo Resort. However, we were not even close to the real tasting or production area which was about 6 miles away. The vineyard is not afraid of marketing, and they have these large wine bottles all over Carmelo adjacent to where their vineyards are.

giant bottle in front of giant concrete fermentation tanks at Bodega Irurtia in Carmelo Uruguay

It is a unique microclimate in Carmelo. The soil conditions are a result of thousands of years of sandstone together merging with organic matter. The vineyard is really more about producing art in wine. All of the vintages are carried out manually. The owners walk daily through the vines and observe what must be done. When spring begins they trim off the non-useful buds so that the strong ones can grow. You don’t see this in most vineyards because it is just too time-consuming and expensive. But if quantity is not your goal and quality is your primary goal, the family can rise to this challenge. The family knows all of the 170 employees as well as all their families. They all come from the same region, are well-educated and are a combination of good friends and workers. 

Lunch or dinner is not offered at this bodega, so we arranged a wine tasting. We had to be careful to arrange it when an English language tour guide was available which is not every day. We were able to reserve on a Friday afternoon when Carolina was our tour guide. 

We arrived at 3PM and Carolina was expecting us via taxi from the Hyatt Unbound Carmelo Resort where we were staying. It was almost ready to rain so we got started on our tour quickly. She gave us the outside tour just before we heard the thunder and then we went inside.

antique Ford with logo and family name on door at Bodega Irurtia in Carmelo Uruguay

Along the way we saw the still-operational 1928 antique Ford with the family name. 

There have been four generations of winemakers in this bodega. They produce over 1 million liters of wine annually, which is about 1.3 million bottles of wine. They are a large vineyard, but they don’t act like it. You still get the feeling that they are family run.

row of giant concrete fermentation tanks at Bodega Irurtia in Carmelo Uruguay

We saw gigantic fermentation tanks, giant barrels and much more.

After our tour, the rain had lessened a bit and we opted for a 3-wine tasting which included a Viognier, Pinot Noir and a Tannat. This included a nice plate of cheese, bread, olives and nuts.

Overall, this was a great introduction to a larger wine production area, and we received terrific personal service from Carolina. We felt like we were family members. You’ll love this tour.

Bodega Filgueira Uruguay

We’ve heard this story before at a vineyard in Mendoza but there are subtle differences. Two people come together as friends and develop into a romantic relationship. They decide their initial profession is paying the bills, but these are not what their life’s goals might aspire to be. 

Martha Chiossoni and Jose Luis Filgueira first met in a hospital. They were not meeting because they were both sick. They met because they were both in the process of becoming doctors. When they got their diplomas, they decided that they were in love not only with medicine but with each other. José became a heart surgeon and Martha worked in pathological anatomy.

Jose’s family had arrived in Uruguay from Spain in 1917. Manuel Filgueira arrived when he was just 11 years old. In a few short years, he met and married one of the Berobide daughters. His wife was from a wealthy family that owned quite a bit of land in Cuchilla Verda in the Santa Lucia area in Canelones – near Montevideo.

Manuel and his wife worked hard and produced children, one of whom was Jose Luis Filgueira. Over time, Manuel was nearing retirement age, and he wasn’t sure how to leave his legacy of winemaking. Manuel was proud of his children and his grandchildren, but he wanted to feel comfortable about the next chapter for the vineyard. 

His initial thought was that his daughter-in-law was the one he would ask. He never thought of her as a daughter-in-law. He always thought of her as a daughter. He trained her in oenology. He taught her how to look at buds and how to graft and how to make vintages. When Martha took over the position she had planted 10,000 plants of Tannat and Cabernet Sauvignon. When her father-in-law learned of this he knew he could leave in peace and his family would keep on the proud tradition of winemaking.

This all happened in 1992. Martha had her children begin to study wine. Manuel was taught agronomy Mari Anna was taught economics and Ines medicine. Martha exchanged her hospital duties for the vineyards. For seven straight years she imported certified plants from France which were free from virus. From 1992 through 1997 only small quantities of wine were being produced but things were moving forward.

A new winery would be built. Even though this is a very small bodega or family-owned winery, it bases all of its production on 100% pure wines including Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Grey Sauvignon. They are also planting new grapes including Pinot Noir, Syrah and Cabernet Franc. 

International exports have included such far-flung countries as Macau, Hong Kong, Brazil, Mexico and Belgium. England is also one of the recipients of their wine. Today Martha and Luis have been together almost 60 years together and the family is still strong.

Juanico Bodega

Ruta 5 Km 38,200, 90400 Juanicó, Departamento de Canelones, Uruguay

Juanico Vineyard Uruguay

Francisco Juanico purchased a farm in 1830. He didn’t buy the farm for crops. His vision was to make wine. It took him 10 years to develop the vineyard. He built an underground wine cellar that permitted him to store and age his own winds of excellent quality. This vineyard is located about 22 miles north of Montevideo. 

Winemaking experience started in earnest in 1885. At that time 50,000 grapevines for wine existed in the winery. The family continued making wine through generations for over 100 years and 5 generations of family. Juan Carlos Deicas, who was a 3rd generation winemaker himself, bought the vineyard but kept the name.

At the end of 1979, he brought grapes from Bordeaux because he realized the soil conditions were perfect for that grape. He invested in technology as well. In 1984 the international wine community began to notice. Juanico wine was entering international competitions and gold medals were won regularly. The international recognition allowed the export business to start. They started exporting into England, Sweden, Germany, and France. They began a proprietary blend of Tannat grapes with Merlot grapes.

Don Pasqual Uruguay

If you been to Uruguay before or have purchased Uruguayan wine, perhaps you’ve heard of the brand name Don Pascual. It is a trademark and belongs to this vineyard. It is tip of the hat to Pascual Harriague who introduced the Tannat varietal to Uruguay. Today Filgueira owns 500 acres of grapes planted in high density. The white varietals include some Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Grey Sauvignon and Viognier. The red wines include the obvious Tannat, Shiraz, Petite Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. They also produce sparkling wines and have done so for over 170 years.

The primary winery is located about 40 minutes north of Montevideo by car. However, they have several vineyards all over Uruguay. 

Bodega Santa Rosa

Municipio, 12500 La Paz, Canelones, Uruguay

Sana Rosa beginnings Uruguay

The vineyard started in 1898 when Juan Bautista Passadore started to plant grape vines in his Colon neighborhood in Montevideo. These were the first European varietals obtained after the pruning from the Ameglio farm in Canelones. In 1921 but Juan and his son Alberico were running the vineyard. Shortly after, Angel Murio joined the business as an accountant. He was the proverbial bean counter and he’d just arrived from Spain where he worked previously at a small winery belonging to a religious order of nuns in Colon. 

Angel wooed Juan Passadore’s daughter and became the financial arm of the firm. Things continued and Murio took a larger role in the vineyard and arranged a merger with their distributor, Carrau, and became Passadore, Carrau and Murio.

In the 1970’s, the Carrau family left the business to start their own wine and the name of Passadore’s bodega changed to Santa Rosa. This family business was surely no overnight success. One of their secrets was they learned that aromatic wines could make aromatic wine in volume. Specialty wines including Marsala, Manzanilla, Sherry or dry wines used for cooking were very popular. 

Santa Rosa Grapes Uruguay

The aromatic wine distribution was quickly sold throughout the country. The firm was also about to make Champagne using the champagnoise method. At the time, almost all Champagne came from France as an import. Nobody was making in Uruguay. It also was a hit because Champagne from Uruguay was much less expensive than importing it from France.

 Today, the fourth generation of Passadore and Murio families are keeping the tradition alive. 

Bodega Ariano

Camino Ariano, 90200 Las Piedras, Departamento de Canelones, Uruguay

Ariano Wines Uruguay

This family vineyard is a story of the Arellano brothers. In 1925 and Adelio Ariano started his trip from Buenos Aires carrying a letter of recommendation from his father to the directors of the Cinzano company. He got a job and worked there for two years but was summoned back home to Italy in 1927 because of the death of his father. Months later together with his younger brother, Amilcar, they returned to the River Plate in Uruguay. This time they were staying in Uruguay to make wine. 

Ariano Vineyard Grapes Uruguay

The two young Ariano brothers stayed in El Colorado in Canelones purchasing land through the bank where they planted vines. They knew the best growing vines for the climate because of what the learned from their father and grandfather in Italy. They used the accepted growing method that their elders learned from vintners from the Bordeaux region in France. The Ariano brothers thought about the soil and weather conditions in the Semillon grapes. After their first harvest they bought black grapes vines with their profits in order to manufacture red wine as well as white. The family vineyard that they created was very small with only three large wooden casks, six smaller barrels and some assorted kegs.

In 1950 the son of Adelio, Nelson, was working as an oenology student as well as his brother Julio. They both started to help with the family business. Their production increased dramatically. They had such a demand for wine that they purchased grapes from other vineyards and brought them in for processing new vintages and styles.  The vineyard continued to grow and grow. In 2003 the company sold 100,000 liters of wine per month. They began exporting wines to North America South America and Europe.

New vines were brought from France and were planted in lands the family now owns. Some of those varietals were brought back to El Colorado. What still distinguishes the Arianna winery is that it is still a family-owned business. Today Nelson is the patriarch and his children Edgardo and Elizabeth work there as well as his nephew and niece Gerardo and Ivonne. 

The grandchildren are even studying winemaking. At present the family owns 270 acres of property in Canelones and Paysandu. Wine here runs the gamut from Tannat, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Grenache. For whites they make Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Otonel, Semillon, and Chardonnay.

Vinos Finos H. Stagnari

Ruta 5 km 20 La Puebla, 90100 La Paz, Departamento de Canelones, Uruguay

Stagnari Wines Uruguay

This Stagnari family has a proud tradition of winemaking. Hector Stagnari is the current owner of the rodeo along with his wife Virginia. Hector’s great-great-grandfather on the paternal side produced wine in Ancona, Italy at the start of the 19th century. His grandfather on the maternal side was the one who settled in Uruguay and began making wine. Virginia is part of the Burastero family who were well recognized for their winemaking in Uruguay.

Hector was literally born inside his parent’s winery. Wine was in his veins and wanted to continue the family tradition. At 14 he had already obtained his first diploma in oenology. He was granted his degree in 1978 in a specialized school. For decades he became the oenologist to the family winery. He thought about striking out on his own and creating his own vineyard.

Hector started to travel to learn more about winemaking in other countries. He went to California, France and eventually back to Uruguay. Together with his father he looked for an area of the country where he could plant the grapes he wanted. He needed the proper sun, temperature and soil conditions. He found it in the Nueva Hesperides in La Caballada Salto which is in the northwest corner of Uruguay.

He looked for soil that was dry such that the vines he planted would have to struggle for both water and sustenance. The soil conditions are imperfect but about 3 feet below there is a well-defined layer of pebbles. This is exactly what he was looking for. I don’t know why that type of soil condition appeals but we’ve seen soil samples in Mendoza that look much worse, and the vines simply thrive.

Hector planted grapes that would grow strong while fighting for nourishment. Without really knowing the history, the Hector had chosen an area where Pascual Harriague, the father of Tannat, planted 400 acres of the grape he brought back from French Pyrenees.

Stagnari vineyard tannat-cabernet blend uruguay

The Stegnari family started winning awards. In 2003, their Tannat was chosen as the best red wine in the Southern Hemisphere. Hector focuses on wine production and Virginia is in charge of sales and marketing. It’s a good combination that has been successful for almost 40 years.

Bodegas Carrau

Av Cesar Mayo Gutierrez 2556, 12400 Montevideo, Departamento de Montevideo, Uruguay

Bodegas Carrau Uruguay

It was in 1752 when Francisco Carrau Vehlis bought the first family vineyard in Catalonia. Today it’s called Vilasar de Mar which is incorporated on the outskirts of Barcelona. Those family vineyards produced great wine and the grapes eventually made their way by ship to the River Plate in Uruguay.

In 1840 a grandson of Carrau Vehlis, Juan Carrau y Ferris arrived in Montevideo. For the next 15 years he managed a store which specialized in the sale of Spanish wine primarily coming from his family vineyard in Spain. In 1930 Juan Carrau Sust arrived in Montevideo. He was the seventh generation of wine growers to arrive in Uruguay.  Juan Carrau Sust came prepared. He had brought grapevines and seeds with him.

He planted his first grapevine in the neighborhood of los Violeta Cannelones. He knew the soil conditions. He already had his degree in oenology. He began the vineyard and nourished it. He brought his wife and five children soon after. He merged his vineyard with the Santa Rosa vineyard in order to grow the business. He introduced the champagnoise method in order to produce Champagne. He learned about aromatic wines from other small family vineyards and began producing mantilla, port and sherry.

In 1968, Juan’s son, Juan Carrau Pujol, expended the vineyard into the Rio Grande du Sul in Brazil. He produced the first Brazilian certified organic wine. In 1975, he began entering his family’s wines in an international competition. Juan Carrau Pujol formed his own brand called Vinos Finos Juan Carrau and created a new varietal of Carrel Pujol. His new vineyard was 300 miles north of Montevideo.

The company now exports to Canada, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Japan, Poland and many others. The business is now transitioning to the offspring with five descendants as owners of the firm. Two of whom are the visible faces of the company, and the others are behind the scenes.

Calvinor and Bella Union

55100 Artigas Department Uruguay

Calvino is a brand and not a vineyard. However, Bella Union is one of the largest producers in Uruguay. Vinedos y Bodegas Bella Union sells under the Calvinor label. I do not think they give tours and the wine produced is a cooperative effort. Bella Union takes the grapes from the various producers in this tiny corner in northwest Uruguay and create great wines in larger than average volume.

The Calvinor brand owes its name to 15 entrepreneurs who put their money together to create great wine. They said they were not considering exporting any wine. The initial investment was 650 acres close to the city of Bella Union. The entrepreneurs wanted assurance about what grapes to plant and what techniques to use. They asked international experts to come from Mendoza to assist in horticulture and oenology. Of course, Mendoza is well known for its excellence in grapes and particularly in the Malbec varietal grape.

Under the Calvinor brand, they produce Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Syrah, Malott, Muscat, Cabernet Franc, Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay and a few others. You may not get to visit Bella Union, but the Calvinor brand is worth trying out.

I hope you enjoyed this these posts of perhaps some lesser-known vineyards in Uruguay. You can find Part 1 here. Enjoy your trip to Uruguay and enjoy the wine!

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