Your next fine wine destination is... Uruguay?

BREATHTAKING: The opening of Bodega Garzon, a state-of-the-art winery in Uruguay, elevates the country's winemaking attractions to a new level. The emphasis here is also on eco-friendliness.


    May 18, 2016

    Your next fine wine destination is... Uruguay?

    A VITICULTURAL minnow is ready to take on its larger vino cousins.

    Recently, The New York Times listed one of Uruguay's wineries as one of 52 must-visit places in the world this year.

    Uruguay, the second-smallest country in South America, with just 3.3 million people, happens to be one of the richest.

    While the nation has much to boast about to its larger South American cousins, there are at least two fields in which it struggles to come up to muster: football and wine.

    In the case of the former, the country's best days seem to be over, having won the World Cup decades ago.

    As for wine, many in the industry in the country would argue that its best days lie ahead.

    This was exemplified by the opening of Bodega Garzon in March, a state-of-the-art winery owned by Argentina's richest man, Alejandro Bulgheroni.

    It is this very winery that had NYT gushing praise over as it drew up its "top places to visit" list.

    The winery is in Garzon, a small town near the south-eastern coast about 180km from the capital Montevideo, where about half the country's population live.

    Not far away is Punta del Este, a stylish resort with brand name shops, restaurants and a port dotted with yachts.

    Along with the country's beautiful beaches, the vineyards have become a draw for tourists, who can also marvel at the vast ranches and the hundreds of thousands of cattle and sheep which, apparently, outnumber humans five to one.

    The country's vinicultural claim to fame is its tannat grape, which produces wines characterised by elegant, soft tannins.

    The industry that produces these wines follows a century-old tradition passed down by immigrants from Europe, mainly of Basque and Italian origin.

    At Bodega Garzon's opening, the cream of South American society could not have been more impressed with the gorgeous setting, the spanking new winemaking facilities and, of course, the premium wines produced in them.

    There are 5.24 sq km worth of vineyards divided into more than 1,150 individual blocks, organised according to the vineyard's topography, with its distinctive terroir of varying altitudes and exposures.

    In the property's north stands an elegant granite-based concrete building, which visually blends in with the vineyard and houses, the wine-making facilities, storage, restaurant and a club.

    The glue that holds all that together, apart from the superb scenery, is modern architecture, such as transparent glass walls from ceiling to floor with plush, stylish fittings and furniture.

    The man behind it all is the internationally renowned wine consultant Alberto Antonin, who has been involved with the project since 2008.

    Mr Antonin, who has worked with some of the most prestigious wine companies in Australia and Europe, enthused about the geological and climatic aspects of the area that shape the character of its wines.

    These include the granite soil that has a special composition that is ideal for natural drainage as well as the rolling hills and the exposure they provide.

    The fact that the vineyard is just 18km from the ocean brings cool and clean breezes, he said.

    Besides its focus on tannat-based wine, the plan is also for the winery to work with many other varietals and clones, including, albarino, which is rare in the region.

    It produces two million litres of wine a year.

    Brazil and the United States are its biggest markets.

    The vineyard is also burnishing its environmental credentials, aiming to be what it says is the first in the world to have top certification from the United States Green Building Council.

    This accreditation takes into account design, construction, operations and maintenance.

    The vineyard's managers say they aim to achieve energy savings of about 40 per cent compared with other similar facilities.

    The target is to produce 40 per cent of energy needs via ways like photovoltaic panels.

    State-of-the-art technologies are used in the winemaking process, including an optical berry sorter that selects grapes best suited to be fermented.

    "Since 2008, we have done a lot of experiments and made a lot of mistakes, and we are still at a young stage but have learnt a lot," said Mr Antonin.

    "In terms of New World wines, we are the youngest in the family but that, by no means, means we are the worst."