A short drive from Montevideo close to the picturesque wetlands region, lies Artesana, a new boutique winery run by two women wine-makers.
Artesana is the Spanish word for craftswoman. Artesana is leading the vanguard of a new generation of winemakers in Uruguay, of which a majority are women.
I discovered the vineyard back when I started Guru’Guay. Leslie, one of the winery’s owners and the export director, was one of my very first readers. When she came into Montevideo after a few missed opportunities we finally managed to meet up. Since then I am the proud possessor of an Artesana Tannat reserve which I plan to hold on to till 2018 as Tannat wines can age up to 10 years or more.
However it took me a few years to finally make my way to the vineyard, when my mum came over to visit. And what a little gem…
The vineyard is on a sloping nine hectares (just over 20 acres) which terminates at the Santa Lucia river, a protected wetlands reserve. It’s just under an hour’s drive from Montevideo in the province of Canelones.
The land was planted in 2007 and the winery was built four years later in time for the first harvest. Right from the start, Artesana had its eye on the international market. The very first wines made were exported to the US.
Artesana – a bewitching winery experience
The drive is easy, mainly on the highway and then through the countryside lined with pampas grasses and the occasional roadside shrine. The nearest village is enigmatically called Las Brujas, The Witches.
We arrived for an early morning visit for a tasting (for mum, I was the designated driver as Uruguay has zero alcohol tolerance for drivers. Booooo.) followed by lunch.
Our English-speaking guide was a trainee wine-maker herself. We started in the vineyard.
Harvest is from the end of February into March, and the grapes hung heavy and purple. The bunches had been carefully pruned and confined to the lower part of the vine. Each vine is limited to not more than six pounds of fruit, to concentrate their quality.
The vines are planted and the leaves pruned back so that the grapes receive full on morning sun and are more sheltered by the vine leaves in the afternoon.
Boutique wine production with a unique varietal
After she showed us around the winery complex. It’s really very small and definitely artisanal, as their name suggests. The vineyard produces just 30,000 bottles per year with an eventual plan to produce a maximum 50,000.
Artesana produces Tannat, Uruguay’s signature red, Merlot and Zinfandel.
They are currently Uruguay’s only producer of Zinfandel, a red mainly produced in California. According to Artesana, the Zinfandel produced in Uruguay is more elegant and fresh than the Californian, due to Uruguay’s more temperate climate.
The wine tasting included three generous pours of Tannat, Zinfandel and Tannat Rosado and two reserves. The guys at the Montevideo Wine Experience had already told us to look out for the Tannat Rosado, a gorgeous fuchsia shaded rosé. It was exceptionally refreshing, ideal as an apertif.
Most Uruguayan vineyard wine-tastings are accompanied by a “picada” of ham, cheese and bread.
The picada at Artesana was much more adventurous.
It included huesito caracú – grilled bone marrow (pictured far right). Just like Marmite (for you British readers), the chef told us you either love it or hate it. I had never seen this uber-gaucho dish served at a restaurant before. The bone is cut length-wise and the marrow seasoned and grilled till it was crunchy on top and bubbling and velvety below. Personally I loved it. The picada also included extra-chunky pork pate with lashings of tannat rosado, a pungent goats cheese, zesty marinaded vegetables (escabeche) and a confit made from zinfandel grapes.
We stayed for lunch which is highly recommended. The chef worked previously at Uruguay’s most famous casino hotel in Punta del Este.
At Artesana, he is working with local ingredients using the classic Uruguayan parrilla or grill to create extremely fresh, unusual dishes.
Our ultra-lean cut of beef (entraña) was accompanied by three different types of puré – pumpkin with fire-toasted corn, sweet potato mash with chorizo bites and mashed potato with leek – all toasted on a griddle resting on the parrilla embers.
Avoiding those cruise ship crowds and buying Artesana wines abroad
Artesana only receives individual visitors and small groups. They have a deliberate policy of not receiving large groups, so you can be sure your visit will be very personal.
Artesana wines are sold at the winery and in select shops and restaurants in the USA (California, Arizona, Louisiana, Illinois, Virginia, Maryland, DC, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts), Uruguay, Brazil, Canada and the UK.
The winery shop has advantageous prices. Prices below in pesos ($), not dollars!
Booking your visit to Artesana
Visits are carried out from 11am till 4pm from Monday to Saturday. Sunday visits can also be arranged. Send an email to wine-makers Valentina and Analia at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange your visit.
You’re supporting this site when you book direct with the provider mentioning Guru’Guay.
- Tour plus wine tasting (3 premium wines + gourmet picada) – 750 pesos (under 30 USD)
- Tour plus wine tasting plus three-course lunch – 1600 pesos (under 60 USD)
Please mention dietary restrictions at the time of booking. Vegetarian options are available.
How to get to Artesana
Artesana is a 40 minute drive from downtown Montevideo. Ignore the GPS and do not drive through the city. Instead get to the rambla as quickly as possible and then follow it west until you hit the Ruta 5 highway.
If you plan to drive, make sure you have a designated driver. Uruguay has zero alcohol tolerance for drivers.
Photos: Indrasish Banerjee for Guru’Guay