Fri 20 May 2016

Uruguay, its Wine and its Birds


…and for those of a puerile disposition, I’m most definitely talking about the feathered variety!

Last year when Santiago Deicas of Familia Deicas (who own Uruguay’s largest wine company, Juanicó) visited our offices in Stevenage I realised that there was so much I didn’t know about this small South American country.

Santiago is used to this level of general ignorance when it comes to knowledge about his homeland and travels the globe telling people like me where his country is and how it is unlike the rest of South America before even getting started on discussions about wine.

Read about Santiago’s family’s wines on our website

One thing I was aware of was Uruguay’s connection with birds… and during our chat with Santiago, we did talk quite a lot about birds. In fact, I think this was the longest conversation I have ever had on the subject! Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, the name Uruguay means ‘River of the Painted Birds’.

The label of the just-shipped Juanicó Benteveo Chardonnay 2015 shows Uruguay's connection with its feathered friends

The label of the just-shipped Juanicó Benteveo Chardonnay 2015 shows Uruguay’s connection with its feathered friends

The Southern Lapwing
Santiago also told me about the Southern Lapwing, or téro, the country’s national bird. This pugnacious little wader is also the mascot of the national rugby team, Los Téros. ‘It’s a very beautiful bird, but it’s fierce,’ Santiago tells me. Aggressive and highly territorial, the téro has a spike on the edge of its wing case and rather than nesting in trees, apparently it makes a hole in the ground, ‘So you never know if you are going to approach one,’ Santiago says, ‘suddenly they fly up and attack you… they really hurt… some people say they go for your eyes!’

The Southern Lapwing, Uruguay's national bird

The Southern Lapwing, Uruguay’s national bird

The way that Santiago talks about his national bird, you can’t help but get the feeling he has a sneaking respect for this little fighter. Well, I suppose that is also only to expected as Santiago used to play rugby for the national team himself, once upon a time.

Back to the vineyards
While the lapwing might be a threat to vineyard workers, the vines are also at the mercy of birds, it seems: ‘We have a big problem with birds,’ Santiago says. ‘Losing your whole harvest is a real threat.’

So what action can they take to protect their crop? ‘We have a couple of options,’ Santiago goes on to explain. ‘We don’t want to poison the birds; we can make loud noises to scare them off or put down repellents. In the old days we used falcons, but they didn’t work at weekends!’

So they have taken to putting down hail nets. ‘We have to put them above the vines and below to stop them getting in… they are really clever at finding a way in and always get the best grapes!’ But after trialling the hail nets they have found the system really works. ‘It makes a huge difference. It’s really expensive at first to put them up, but we are putting them into more and more vineyards,’ Santiago informs me.

One of the issues with the hail nets is that once they are in place it is no longer possible to work on the vines, to carry out canopy management, for example, but it also helps to protect against the wind, which I learned is also a common feature of the Uruguayan climate.

More curious nesters
Another unusual avian visitor to Uruguayan vineyards is the Rufous Hornero, or oven bird (the national bird of neighbouring Argentina), so called because of the shape of its nest which resembles a wood-fired clay oven.

These curious birds are not uncommon but not an awful lot is known about them except that they are largely terrestrial, spending much of their time strutting about the ground and that they laboriously build a new nest every year. The beautifully constructed nest gets taken over by other, presumably grateful but more lazy birds.

The beautifully constructed nest of the rufous hornero

The beautifully constructed nest of the rufous hornero

A more attractive visitor to the vineyards is the pretty kiskadees or Bentevéo as it is called in Uruguay (literally, ‘I see you well’ – because of its exuberant call!). It’s up to 30cm in length and feeds mainly on insects but can be quite aggressive too, seeing off much larger birds by calling harshly to its mates and mobbing them mid-air!

Given Uruguay’s rich bird life, it’s not surprising then that birds feature on some of Juanicó’s labels and it’s the pretty Bentevéo bird that’s on the newly shipped 2015 chardonnay (£7.25) which Santiago says is their best vintage yet.

Joanna Goodman
Communications Editor

Find out more about the the Deicas family and winemaking in Uruguay as well as an introductory offer on a new petit verdot under the Atlanticó Sur label.

Categories : Rest of the World


  1. Frank Bergius says:

    Teru Teru was a great offering from Uruguay by the Society not so long ago. i think the same bird was responsible for the name!?

    • Dear Mr Bergius, yes indeed Teru Teru was the name of the wine we shipped from Juanicó (a reserve tannat) and the range took its name from the national bird as you speculate. No longer for sale, but plenty of other delicious tannats to tempt you on our website.
      Joanna Goodman
      News & Content Editor

  2. Gill Curtis says:

    I visited Uruguay in February as part of a South American tour and fell in love with it; all the pizzazz of Argentina & Chile but with a gentler climate and relaxed charming people eager to introduce us to Tannat, which is very much to my taste in a red wine. Climbing up to a viewing platform in the vineyard with Santiago and his son, flying a drone, as the sun set was an unforgettable experience. More Uruguayan wine please, TWS!

    • Sounds an amazing experience and certainly talking to Santiago Deicas did make me interested to visit what sounds like a fascinating country of civilised souls! Your request duly forwarded to our wine buyer, Toby Morrhall.

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