Grapevine Archive for Uruguay

Fri 20 May 2016

Uruguay, its Wine and its Birds

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…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
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Tue 11 Feb 2014

Uruguay: The Pisanos – A Barrel Of Laughs

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Right to left: Eduardo (viticulture), Gustavo (head winemaker), Gabriel (winemaker), Daniel (sales).

Right to left: Eduardo (viticulture), Gustavo (head winemaker),
Gabriel (winemaker), Daniel (sales).

The Pisanos are great fun to be with, produce one of the best barbecues in South America (which includes grilled vegetables, not just meat), and make lovely wine too.

Toby Morrhall
Society Buyer for South America

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Fri 31 Jan 2014

Uruguay: Willows Soaking, Drinking Mate

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Willows in Uruguay

In Uruguay they still use willow (mimbre) to tie up the vines after pruning. They are soaked first to improve flexibility.

Daniel Pisano making mate

Daniel Pisano is making and drinking a mate made from yerba mate (llex paraguariensis) which is popular in Uruguay and Argentina.

Daniel Pisano drinking mate

We have bought some wines from Pisano which will be available later this year.

Toby Morrhall
Society Buyer for South America

Stop press (5/2/14): our new South American offering is now available online until Sunday 2nd March.

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