It takes a huge image to show how small Uruguay truly is, done deliberately to emphasize this small country. It seemed to me, on this global map, perhaps Uruguay is the size of California, so I compared. Uruguay’s 1.8968 trillion feet. The size of California is 4.56358 trillion feet. Wow! We’re talking about 2.66678 square miles smaller for Uruguay. In reality, it’s about a third of California. France is 5.93841 trillion feet, just slightly larger than CA. Argentina is 29.93 trillion feet.
So now, how tiny Uruguay is tells us how very special these wines are. And, what an enormous challenge their own effort must be just to get a tiny squeeze onto the global market stage, much less California. People who truly know me think of me as a champion of underdogs, so I’ll take my time and bring a lot of information to this story, to bring that message of exclusivity to their wines. They’re precious.
I was asked to sample wines from Uruguay, which is how this story begins. A series of life events didn’t let me get to it as quickly as I wanted to, and so they’ve been held in my New Age Wine fridge, waiting. The time’s finally arrived.
It’s fitting to begin with a quote from Michael Schachner, who wrote a great story for Wine Enthusiast Magazine. “You’ve probably heard the expression ‘good things come in small packages.’ Such is the wine story of Uruguay, a country that’s tiny by size and output, but increasingly, a source for opulent as well as elegant wines.” My thoughts exactly.
Facts and Figures
Uruguay’s area is 1.8968 trillion feet. The size of California is 4.56358 trillion feet. It’s that small and it’s cranking out drool-making wines. Though, in the global wine market, it’s a small crank, due to its exclusivity. If you love adventures in wines, here’s one fable to write home about.
The basics are that Uruguay is the second-smallest country in South America, and is bordered by Brazil to the north and Argentina to the west. Located on the Atlantic Ocean side of the country, its proper name is the “Oriental Republic of Uruguay.” I went looking for an image to share with you, about their Atlantic Ocean. I was quickly reminded how calm the Atlantic can truly be (having lived in Maine for 40 years, as compared to the wild and crazy Pacific I now experience). Think about the Pacific’s Half Moon Bay Mavericks’ biggest waves on the West Coast. The largest recorded was 50 feet. The rotation of the earth going from left to right, by the Coriolis effect, has given a powerful force to the Pacific waves coming in, and a much more gentle flow outward bound by the Atlantic, in the images I found. The capital is Montevideo, and is situated on the north shore of the Río de la Plata estuary. The following image shows how calm the Atlantic can be. I just want you to get the Atlantic’s influences, which are much more gentle than the Pacific’s. (I think I can begin to taste these wines in a differing way than California’s or more to the point, Chile’s more robust, Pacific Coast wines.)
This photo is described “as an afternoon summer scene at Mansa Beach, Punta del Este, which is 80 miles from Montevideo.” Each is on the Atlantic, so they’re both representing the calmer waves of the Atlantic, in my mind. This kinda makes me miss Maine. Having grown up on the Atlantic side of the US, that part of the ocean, it is really calm, as opposed to the Pacific, where I’ve now spent a good part of my life, too, avoiding the deadly undertow.
Quoting my friend Evan Goldstein, Wines of South America, The Essential Guide, Chapter 6 Uruguay. page 207, introductory paragraph exemplifies the region, “Uruguay means ‘land of the painted bird’ in the native Guarani language. This diminutive county – covering less than 400 miles north to south and 320 miles from east to west, with an area fifty times smaller than Brazil’s – is home to 450 species of birds, just 50 fewer than are found in the entire Amazon River basin. This biodiversity is echoed by a surprising diversity in wine.
Uruguayan Monk Parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus) perched on a post. Photo credit: marta fernandez jimenez: Green-winged Parakeet perched on a blossoming almond tree. Invasive mall bird.
With every picture telling a story, this label’s got more than one story, at least for me. (Maybe for you, too.) First, wine details… then folklore. See this image. Part of it is the winery itself. The other part is the beads I pulled out, on the bottom, because they changed my life.
WINE: This wine is created from Castel Pujol, imported by Wine for the World. It’s called the Cerro Chapeu 2021 Castel Pujol Folklore Blanco White. This wine crafted is a blend of 70 percent Trebbiano and 30 percent Malvasia. It’s intriguingly tasty… lemon and what? Tart, something on the finish that lingers and lingers, like a lost memory of something earthy. Trebbiano is new for me, Malvasia I had a 2010 vintage, so it’s not even a distant memory anymore, but welcome back 30 percent – tongue in cheek. Needless to say this is a tasty, new adventure.
Translated from the Quico Carrau Pujol Website, a few English adaptations for more clarity.
Pioneers in this unique biome ~ In 1975, Quico Carrau Pujol, in collaboration with the University of California Davis, began the search for a terroir to plant the first virus-free vines. This place had to have qualities that adapted to the climate of Uruguay. That means sandy soils and slopes that allowed good drainage, to avoid excess water on the vine. After visiting and analyzing different soils in southern Brazil and northern Uruguay, they found this property in Rivera, Cerro Chapeu, in Cuchilla de Santana. It has deep reddish, sandy soils, low fertility, and very good drainage. It is here where our project to select vineyards, which would adapt to this place began in Uruguay.
BEADS: So, the folklore part ~ I juxtaposed this Uruguay image with “other” folklore within our own US Native folklore. These beads were given to me by a breeze that blew in, with my sister Merry Matukonis. Her name is Wally White Feather. When she saw the bead work, I was producing in the ’70s into the “80s, she was taken aback, in reciprocal appreciation. So, she gave three things to me: a book her grandmother had written and given to her (with a very sweet inscription to her), the colored beads in this photo with the wine, and a legend that changed my life forever more. May you also “get it,” if you don’t already know it. In every piece made by her North Dakota Sioux Tribe, within their work they leave one mistake. This is where the spirit of the work enters and exists it will, because there is no perfection.
This label image suggests the same legend from Uruguay, and it just took my breath away, besides that sophisticated dude with his hair all in a fluff! The wine lingers mysteriously and so does the legend from Uruguay, all the way to North Dakota, and to me, still savoring this point in time. So, this Folklore… A wine so savory in it’s bolder white wine-ness, I enjoyed it from start to finish, knowing it would be a great fit for a Uruguay Onion Soup, loaded with Swiss cheesiness. A perfect meal was enjoyed. What a way to end a day!
Photo Credit: Vladislav Chusov