Uruguay’s boutique wineries
Fifteen of Uruguay’s boutique wineries comprise the budding Wine Roads, a grouping that works to promote vini-tourism in the South American country and which handles reservations, transport and guides for enthusiasts planning to visit member wineries, including Viñedo de los Vientos. Started on a shoestring budget in 2007, in 2011 it helped more than 50,000 wine-lovers discover Uruguay’s family-owned bodegas.
Each of the 15 wineries is no more than an hour’s drive from Montevideo, meaning you can hit the beach, shop or grab a little culture by morning, and partake in wine tastings by afternoon. The best way to explore them, Magariños shared, is to marry the small and rustic, like Viñedo de los Vientos or H Stagnari – a winery that is centred upon a 19th-century ranch house and has 13 hectares of ribbed, sloping vineyards of chardonnay – with more sophisticated boutique wineries, where modern visitor facilities range from on-site wine shops to gourmet restaurants. One of these latter types, Bodega Bouza, makes limited-edition red and white wines which it sells to upscale restaurants including the UK’s world-renowned the Fat Duck, and selects its grapes from tiny, half-hectare plots in order to make the most distinctive wines possible. Each bottle’s label gives the wine’s vintage, the number of barrels used in its making and the quantity of bottles produced. Excitingly, Bodega Bouza, whose gourmet restaurant makes it unique among Uruguay’s boutique wineries, is one of a number of wineries planting new vines on the sierras overlooking the bleach-white sands of South America’s hippest beach resort town, Punta del Este, located 140km east of Montevideo. The climate and terroir around Punta del Este differs from Montevideo’s: the earth is stonier, the altitude is higher and the vineyards are closer to the cool breezes of the Atlantic Ocean. Here they are experimenting with albariño, an aromatic white wine native to northern Spain, and seeing excellent early results.
Alto de la Ballena was the first producer to build a winery near Punta del Este, back in 2008. Its proud owners, husband and wife Alvaro Lorenzo and Paula Pivel, used to truck their grapes over to Viñedo de los Vientos for crushing and fermenting before they opened this tiny bodega. Today, Alto de la Ballena produces tannat, cabernet franc and viognier, as well as a delightful tannat-viognier blend. Enjoying a higher altitude than the wineries around Montevideo, it hosts tastings on a west-facing hillside deck, where sunset views encompass swathes of eucalyptus, vines and a coastal lagoon. Punta del Este lies just to the east with white sands and a turquoise ocean. It is the perfect spot to round out a tour of Uruguay’s boutique wineries. The discovery of new wines at steps from the beach -- who would not raise a glass to that?