Breaking Up is Hard to Do
Dan George is back from a whirlwind tour of South America, including Uruguay, where the team visited Vinedo de los Vientos. Thanks Dan!
We arrived at the Montevideo airport, on the tail end of a ten day adventure through South America. A trip in which we flew over the Andes 6 different times. At this point in our voyage, despite the tremendous journey we had experienced thus far, we were all feeling a bit depleted. For me personally, exhaustion was setting in and like, in a science fiction movie, where the crew of a spaceship must turn on auxiliary power to continue on their mission, my body was searching for an alternative power source. The boost I needed was found in the greeting we received at the airport from our bus driver Frederico and his girlfriend Daniella. Their smiles, their broken English, the yerba mate and the Bob Marley that was playing on the bus gave us all the rejuvenation we were looking for.
We departed the airport en route to our final vineyard stop, Vinedo De Los Vientos, located in the town of Atlantida. When we landed at Vinedo De Los Vientos, we were welcomed by Pablo Fallabrino who was clad in traditional Uruguayan formal wear consisting of a surf company t-shirt, board shorts, flip flops and Oakley sunglasses. Pablo wasted no time and walked us immediately into the vineyard, also his backyard. He explained to us that the property was originally acquired by his grandparents in 1947 who called it Vinedo Atlantida, due to its proximity to the resort town. They planted traditional Piemonte varietals of Nebbiolo, Barbera and Arneis. By the 1950’s and 1960’s Pablo’s grandparents were the largest wine producers in Uruguay, overseeing 60 hectares of vineyards at the peak of their production.
Today Pablo has 30 hectares, with 16 under vine. As we explored the property, and found ourselves deep within the trellised vineyard, we also found ourselves being serenaded by a solar powered automated screeching sound box used to scare birds away. The noise produced by the machine inspired Pam Walton to come up with the name for T. Edward Wines’ first punk metal grunge band “Electric Scarecrow!”
Today the vineyard thrives with those Piemonte varietals as well as Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, Moscato Blanco, Riesling and Tannat. Most of Pablo’s time is focused on Tannat. He produces 5 different styles: a straight Tannat, Tannat Gran Reserva, Tannat Ripasso and 2 different Tannat dessert wines. While Tannat is his focus, I believe his heart favors the Italian varietals of his forefathers. The connection to his past was strongly represented through his story telling and passion for his family’s land and its heritage.
The production facility was small in size but had a large, vibrant character like that of a musician’s or an artist’s studio. Oak barrels stacked 5 or 6 high lined the outer walls of the entry way. Red wine stained the ground surrounding some of the large stainless steel tanks. We tasted tank samples of Chardonnay, Moscato Blanco and Tannat. The under ripened Chardonnay’s acidity helps balance the Estival white blend which is one of Pablo’s favorite summer wines.
We then enjoyed a vineyard lunch which was held in a little stucko building off the backside of Pablo’s house. The building serves as a tasting room, kitchen and dining room all rolled into one. Marianna, Pablo’s partner of 18 years and mother to their two children, rules the kitchen. She served us a beautiful three course lunch which included grilled sweetbreads over a fresh bed of vineyard grown greens and tomatoes, grilled local skirt steak with roasted fingerling potatoes, finishing with dolce de leche and cheese. The lunch was concluded under a tree in Pablo’s yard where we were presented with Cuban cigars and his grappa fortified Tannat dessert wine. Most of us sprawled out under the tree, soaking in what was an enchanted afternoon while Ivan, Viji and Terrence opted to take rest on a nearby bench. Coco decided the best place to relax was across the laps of these three, however this scene lasted no more than 10 seconds before the bench’s legs gave way and the bench, with everyone on it, collapsed to ground along with erupting laughter.
Though we were only at Pablo and Marianna’s house for a very short time, and prior to arriving we knew little of what to expect from Uruguay, the two managed to convey the true beauty of their country, taking advantage of every minute we had with them. They loaded us back on the bus to head to our next destination, La Barra, which is a small beach community east of Punta Del Este. The bus made a stop at Punta Ballena, a sacred place where whales come to mate every year. We watched a breathtaking sunset and continued on.
We arrived at our hotel, La Posta Del Cangrejo, after dark. The light from the moon bounced off the beautiful white stucco beachside hotel. After checking in we reconvened at a local American style diner with a Uruguayan twist. We all feasted on “Chivitos” which are a Uruguayan sandwich which would be best described as a cross between a philly cheese steak, a cheeseburger and a Croque Monsieur. To help digest our Chivitos we walked to a bar that also served as a surf shop. They had a pool table and cold beer which is what a lot of us were craving after a week straight of drinking wine.
I woke up the next day to the smell of the ocean, waves crashing and Ivan’s surprisingly soothing Whitesnake “love aint no stranger” ringtone and made my way to the beach. Pablo was already coming out of the ocean with his board and a wetsuit. He has been surfing La Barra since he was 11 years old and was very excited to share this important piece of his childhood with us. We used a bit of free time take in a swim and some rough housing on the beach. We noticed the wild dogs that roamed the beaches and seemed present everywhere we went. The dogs were friendly and incredibly social. Terrance developed a brief but fruitful friendship with a one eyed dog whom Terrance appropriately named “One Eyed Charlie”. When it was time to go One eyed Charlie followed us all of the way back to the hotel.
We satisfied our swimming induced hunger at a beachside restaurant in the town of Jose Ignacio, compliments of a reservation made by Pablo and Marianna. We stopped on the way at a small outdoor market where Marianna traded wine for a beautiful hand knitted white wool wrap. This was not the first time she had traded wine for clothing. Since every meal in Argentina and Chile was meat and empanada heavy, the group was excited to take in some seafood. We feasted on freshly caught and prepared mussels, scallops, clams, octopus and seabass. Pablo brought some rare wines from his cellar for lunch including some aged Arneis and a ten year old aged white ripasso, which stole the show for me. Once again we finished our lunch by sitting around on the ground smoking cigars and drinking the last remnants of the white ripasso. We also had a local celebrity sighting, seeing one of the surviving rugby players from the “Andes Flight Disaster” of 1972, which the film “Alive” is based on. (insert cannibalism joke here).
The last stop on our whirlwind trip of Uruguay was at an olive oil producer, Finca Babieca, located inland and perched high on a hill. A top the hill you could see for miles and miles in all directions. Isabel Mazzuchelli is the overseer at Finca Babieca. She was a very well respected wine writer in Spain prior to taking over operations at Finca Babieca. Unfortunately the olives were not ready for processing yet so we did not get to see the production in action.
After finishing the tour of the production facility Isabel took us into the tasting room. The tasting room is a stone building on the property that dates back at least a couple hundred years. A historian told her that the building most likely was a Spanish Colonial police station. The building is very close to what at the time was the border between Portuguese controlled land and Spanish land. We tasted through a few of her olive oils. Some of the oils were made from a single varietal, some were blends which is not very common. Arbequina is the most common varietal on their farm. They also have Frantoio olives as well. Isabell also produces an array of flavored oils. We finished our last night in Uruguay with Isabell and a sunset BBQ in true South American fashion. Life was good.
My first trip to South America was an eye opening experience geographically, culturally, personally and in many other abstract ways. Within this trip we were in Uruguay for only 48 hours and somehow I grew incredibly attached to this place, despite the short time that elapsed while being there. When it came time to leave the feelings and emotions that I felt for this place were very surprising but oddly familiar. The mild depression that set in immediately after leaving brought me right back to middle school. Specifically when my first girlfriend dumped me. We had dated all of three weeks and I thought we were destined to be together forever. We weren’t. She had her best friend deliver me a note at the spot we normally met for make out sessions. The note was not good. She dumped me for another, the guy who could grow a full beard at 13 years old. Little did she know that one day I would jet setting all over the world with a world class beard.