Developing a winery in Uruguay

By David Hammond 
Leslie Fellows is a co-owner and Director of Sales and Marketing
 for Artesana Winery in Canelones, Uruguay
When Blake Heinemann, from the US, tried Tannat wine on a trip to Uruguay he was impressed.

As a wine aficionado, he wanted to share his discovery.

But instead of buying a few bottles to take home, or even purchasing a case to have delivered, he took his enthusiasm a big step further.

He developed his own winery in Uruguay.

Tannat wine

The Tannat grape is originally from France. It was introduced to Uruguay in 1870.

However, the soil and growing conditions in Uruguay result in a Tannat wine that’s smoother and more velvety than its French counterpart.

It’s a red wine that Blake describes as possessing a spicy character that can be big and bold, yet elegant and complex. 

Artesana Winery is born 

Artesana winemakers
Valentina Gatti and Analía Lazaneo
To develop his winery, Blake teamed up with two well-established Uruguayan winemakers with
international experience: Valentina Gatti and Analía Lazaneo.

With Valentina’s and Analía’s advisement, he purchased an 80-acre parcel of rural land just outside of Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo, in the Department of Canelones.

They planted the first vines in 2007 and produced their first vintage in 2010.

Today, the property contains a 3,500-square-foot winery and a 20-acre vineyard planted with Tannat, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Zinfandel.

Inside the winery, you’ll find the latest in French and Italian wine-making equipment.

A team led by Mario Iroa manage the vineyard under the guidance of Eduardo Felix, one of Uruguay’s top agronomists.

Blake’s niece, Leslie Fellows from California, came on board as the Director of Sales and Marketing.

Since both winemakers are women, they named the winery, 'Artesana', the feminine version of the Spanish word for ‘artisan.'

Artesana vineyard
A few facts

Uruguay is a little smaller than Washington State. Forty percent of the population (1.4 million out of 3.5 million) live in Montevideo.

Uruguay is known for its vast farmland, world-class beaches, and more recently, for its quality wines.

Most residents of Uruguay are descendants of Italian, Spanish, or French immigrants. Which may explain why Uruguayans drink more wine per capita than any other country in the Americas.

Seventy percent of Uruguay’s wine production takes place on the rural edges of Montevideo and just north of Montevideo in Uruguay’s Department of Canelones. Wine-growing conditions here are often compared to the Bordeaux region of France.

While Argentina and Chile developed high-production wineries and large export markets, most of Uruguay’s 250 wineries remain small family-owned operations producing wine for the local population.

For perspective, Leslie points out that all the wineries in Uruguay combined produce less wine than the Concha y Toro Winery in Chile.

Even today, with Uruguayan wines receiving international acclaim, only about 6% of the wine produced in Uruguay is exported.

However, that seems destined to change.

A new landmark winery pointing to a growing export market is Bodega Garzón, a larger scale producer of fine wines.

Also, international companies like Freixenet, Boisset, and Magrez are initiating joint ventures in Uruguay.

Artesana’s plan 

Artesana’s objective is to maintain the tradition of small-production wine crafting while at the same time, making use of the latest in wine-making technology.

The small production (less than 5,000 cases per year) enables Valentina and Analía to manage each step of the winemaking process.

“We are not trying to make wine for the world. Our objective is to pay careful attention making wine for people who appreciate wine,” explains Leslie.

The original business idea of Artesana was to help present Tannat outside of Uruguay and at the same time introduce Zinfandel (a new variety in Uruguay) in Uruguay.

They planned to export two-thirds of their production and then sell a third in Uruguay.

Artesana wines are currently exported to the US, Canada, Brazil, and the UK where they are winning awards and earning the praise of top wine writers.

However, the Uruguayan market proved more fertile than expected. Not only did Artesana’s Zinfandel go over, so did their Tannat and Tannat blends. “Everyone in Uruguay loves our wines,” says Leslie.

While exporting is an important part of Artesana’s business, selling to wine shops and restaurants in nearby Montevideo, where they can do their own wholesaling and deliveries, is more profitable.

“So, the plan now is to sell two-thirds of our wine in Uruguay and export a third,” reports Leslie.

Another source of local business is winery visits. “It’s still by appointment. Guests visit us for lunch and a wine tasting and have a pleasant experience. Many buy bottles to take with them,” says Leslie.

You’ll find more information about Artesana, including directions to the winery from Montevideo, on the Artesana website.

Bodega Artesana
Ruta 48, Km 3600
Las Brujas, Canelones, Uruguay

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