The Carrau family has been making wine for 10 generations. Since 1752 in Spain, and Uruguayan wine since 1930. Led by “winemaker legend”, Dr Francisco Carrau, Cerro Chapeu is one of Uruguay’s landmark wineries. “Seemingly in the wild middle of nowhere,” said , “it is a shock to discover such an exciting, modern winery”.
Cerro Chapeu lies in the department of Rivera in the very north of Uruguay. It’s a stunning area of flat top hills and unspoiled countryside as far as the eye can see. The ancient red sandy soils offer exceptional drainage, perfect for producing grapes—and wines—of intense flavour and colour.
Given their trajectory in winemaking, in 1973 the Carraus were approached by the University of California Davis for a project to use science for the very first time to select the best location to establish vine clones in South America. The sites eventually chosen were in southern Brazil, very close to the Uruguayan border. Three years later, the family found what they considered an even better location—same soil, slightly higher elevation—for the family business and so planted the very first vineyard in northern Uruguay. Cerro Chapeu is also Uruguay’s first vineyard location selected on the basis of scientific analysis.
The California connection continued and Francisco is friends with winemakers of the ilk of Sonoma’s David Ramey. David and Francisco are international champions of low input winemaking. They have worked with native yeasts since the 1980s. Grapes are handpicked and bottled with minimal handling. Sheep are used to weed instead of herbicides. All this way before sustainable winemaking was a thing in this part of the world.
In 1997, Francisco built South America’s first gravity-fed winery at Cerro Chapeu. It was built into a hillside so the winemaking flows naturally down four floors to the cellar, making use of gravity and a wholly sustainable process. The winery continues to be—and looks—super high tech. With its octagonal roof which looks like a spaceship which has come down to gently rest in the vineyard, it is one of the most curious you’ll see in Uruguay.
Fully half of their 35 hectares of vines are dedicated to Tannat—different Tannat vines of different ages are planted in different parcels at different elevations. Don’t miss their iconic Tannat: Batoví T1 Single Vineyard, named in honour of the red sandy soils of the north. The “golden Batoví” soils are considered one of the oldest in South America. And the T1 plot was identified years ago as producing the best Tannat of Cerro Chapeu. The 2018 vintage was awarded 95 points by UK Master of Wine, Tim Atkin.
Cerro Chapeu is consistently ground-breaking. In 2024, we can expect the first vintage (2022) of Manseng Noir from the first plantation of Manseng Noir in the world outside of France. In 2021, Atkin named Francisco Carrau “winemaker legend”.
What you should know
Unmissable experience in your trip to Northern Uruguay Cerro Chapeu is a must-do on your exploration of the Uruguay north. There’s so much to do including fabulous hiking, horseriding, farm visits, world-class amethyst mines, and the chance to explore the history of Uruguay’s gold-rush.
Wine and fly If you have limited time, small planes can land at Cerro Chapeu.
Visits and tastings must be booked in advance Tours in Spanish and Portuguese. English also available on request. Tastings include four wines and charcuterie and empanadas. Or pig out with their asado lunch paired with premium Uruguayan wines.
A fabulous drive slipping from side to slide of the Uruguay-Brazil border Savour the 30 minute drive from Route 5 to the winery. You wend your way around stone markers carved with ‘Brazil’ on their north faces and ‘Uruguay’ on their southern. It’s one of the experiences that I most loved about being in Northern Uruguay (ah, the simple pleasures)! It’s also stunningly beautiful.
Support of nature Their Folklore wine labels depict native wildlife which lives in and around the vineyard. A percentage of each bottle sold goes to a rewilding project.