Posts Filed Under on the road
In Carmelo, about three hours drive from the bustling city of Montevideo in Uruguay, along the river that divides the country from Argentina, there exists the picturesque hamlet of Narbona, the kind of place with such overwhelming quantities of irony that it causes story-relating fingers like mine to nearly freeze at the keyboard.
Where to begin?
It’s probably best to start with Winemaker Maria Valeria Chiola. Female winemakers aren’t exactly the norm in the relatively conservative sphere of Uruguayan winemaking, but the ironic (or maybe just surprising?) thing is not her sex, but the fact that twenty-eight year old Chiola is, at such a young age, making some of the best wine that I tasted during my travels there. And she has almost no sense whatsoever of what a powerful example she could be for the promotion of wine in Uruguay abroad, mostly because the cult of winemaker personality that dominates the fine wine media in the U.S. is pretty much non-existent in that small country (another irony).
Chiola has some pedigree, of course: her father has a winery in Canelones and she’s worked at Miner (among other places). She claims winemaking duties fall exclusively to her, an intern, and infrequent consultation with Michel Rolland (Rolland himself meets with her only twice per year). She suggested that there is healthy tension between the winemaking styles she’s after and the styles that are being pushed by the Rolland consultants.
Whatever is going on between tenderfoot winemaker and veteran consultant, much of that tension seems to be working in the wines’ favor. More on that in a minute or two, after we visit some of the other ironies dripping from the Narbona story…
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Bouza Winery is small even by Uruguay’s petite wine production standards. 25 hectares of vineyards spread out between two plantings, in the Melilla and Las Violetas regions near Montevideo, yielding about 120 thousand bottles a year. But you wouldn’t know it tasting their wines, which are bold, modernly stylized (okay, and in a few cases too modernly stylized on the aggressive oak treatment), and bigger than some of California’s heftiest reds.
But while you might justifiably dismiss Bouza’s in floral, plummy and spicy experimental 2011 single-parcel “A6 ” Tannat as being too, well, boozy, you’ve got to admire the gumption undertaken in trying to bring it to life. The vines are trained low to the ground, a ground covered with local stones red stones brought in specifically because their wavelength provides maximum light reflection, the better to ripen up that tricky Tannat with less need for leaf thinning and with fewer of that grape’s often punishing tannins.
Bouza has a bit of a secret weapon, and it’s not Pincho, their local male capybara who is friendly and fond of having his rough fur petted (by the way, capybaras purr when they’re happy; who knew!??). No, the secret weapon isn’t a dog-sized rodent that acts like a cat (although that admittedly is very cool), or the fact that Bouza’s renovated 1940s-era property and excellent restaurant have them set up better for receiving tourists than just about any other winemaking outfit in Uruguay. [ Editor’s note: as far as I’m aware, Pincho is a relatively rare case among capybaras, who are pensive in the wild; do NOT get hosed on Bouza wine and the go to the zoo trying to pet one, unless you want to possibly lose your hand! ]
The weapon is mild-mannered, be-speckled and willy-haired former physics teacher and chemical engineering PhD Eduardo Boido; the kind of head winemaker whose doctoral thesis centered on oenology, and just the kind of guy that you’d expect to think up an idea like trucking in wavelength reflective-wavelength red rocks and dumping them in an experimental vineyard…
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One of the interesting things to which the Wines of Argentina folks subject you as a judge in the Argentina Wine Awards (aside from tasting enough tannic Malbecs in one blind awards flight that you can no longer feel your gums, or taking you horse-wrangling in the Andes) is a seminar in which you’re one of the featured speakers.
For the 2013 AWAs, the seminar topic was “Wines for the Next Generation” (speaking largely about Millennials, in this case), and our group of international judges was asked to choose a wine that we felt represented what the next gen wine consumers are drinking in our respective markets. And so we sat on stage in panels of two or three judges, with an Argentine winemaker chairing the discussion as we talked about the wines, and our markets.
I want to tell you about each of the wines that my fellow judges and I picked (a task with which some of you helped me, by the way!). But before I do that, I want to tell you what the majority of our group of judges said about wines that appeal to Millennials.
And it’s easy to do, despite the fact that as judges we hailed from a somewhat dizzying array of backgrounds (new and traditional media, wine service, winemaking, and other fields), and despite the fact that as an ensemble we hailed from Italy, Brazil, the UK, Australia, Spain, Korea, China, Canada, Mexico, the U.S. and Switzerland. Not exactly people all cut from the same cloth – wine had brought us together, and the love of it was the only common denominator between we hailed (aside form us all being humans, I mean).
It’s easy to do because we almost all said exactly the same thing. When the last of us to speak at the seminar, UK Master Sommelier Laura Rhys, presented a summary slide titled “What The New Generation Wants From A Wine” it echoed so closely the previous sentiments of 90% of our collective speeches and presentations that I later asked her if she’d authored it on the fly after seeing the rest of us speak (only because that’s precisely what I would’ve done myself). “No!” she exclaimed, I think taking my question incorrectly at first as an accusation instead of an expression of how impressed I was by her slide deck. “I wrote that up ages ago!”
If accomplished professionals in an area of business, hailing from totally different backgrounds, separately converge to similar conclusions on a topic, then you probably ought to listen to what they have to say if you’re at all interested in that same business (in this case, selling vino)…
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