Coming of age

Uruguayan wine exports are growing but can they compete with New Zealand and South Africa?

Uruguayan wines are rapidly shaking off their reputation as small-scale, family producers as they win recognition from wine lovers worldwide. In a Latin American market led by Argentina, Chile, and Brazil, Uruguay only began exporting wine in the 1990s but is now gaining momentum, with the country’s exports amounting to 5.31 billion litres in 2021.

Juan Bouza, owner of Bodegas Bouza commented, “Uruguayan wine production has come a long way in the last two decades. The country has always had a good tradition of wine production developed with the Italian, Spanish, and French immigrants who arrived in the XIX and XX centuries.”

“Uruguayan wine production has come a long way in the last two decades.”

Juan Bouza, owner of Bodegas Bouza

The excellence of Uruguayan wine originally stems from the Tannat vine, brought to the country by French-Basque immigrants in the late 19th century. Tannat adapted to the warm but cool maritime climate which gives the wine a refreshing taste. In addition to Tannat, Uruguayan wine producers also produce top quality red varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and whites such as Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc.

Bouza continued, “Uruguayan wineries do not compete with the Argentinian or Chilean wines as the Atlantic climate produces a wine that is fresher than the rich wines from the high and dry soils of Argentina and Chile. Uruguay sees its market segment closer to the wines of New Zealand or South Africa.”

Daniel Pisano from the Familia Pisano Winery confirmed, “Uruguay, being on the Atlantic coast, has excellent conditions, very close to the French ones, its soils are similar to the ones in Bourgogne and its climate similar to Bordeaux.”

“Uruguay, being on the Atlantic coast, has excellent conditions, very close to the French ones, its soils are similar to the ones in Bourgogne and its climate similar to Bordeaux.”

Daniel Pisano, Familia Pisano Winery

Mostly exported as premium wines, Brazil was Uruguay’s main client, accounting for 50% of its wine exports, followed by the US. The thirst for Uruguayan wines reached to more than 50 countries including European markets such as Sweden, Norway, Belgium, and the UK, according to the National Wine Institute (“INAVI”), a body of the Ministry of Agriculture.

Sebastián Gonzatto, Head of Exports for Bodegas Giménez Méndez confirmed, “Brazil and the US are Uruguay’s most important export markets but even these markets are at an early stage of development. We need to find the right commercial partners abroad that will help us to create more demand for Uruguayan wines.”

INAVI recently partnered with the Association of Wine Exporters to set up Uruguay Wine and maximise the opportunities to place local wine in foreign markets. The joint effort to promote Uruguayan wines abroad has resulted in higher export prices, from USD 3.19 per litre in 2020 to USD 4.29 per litre in 2022.

Despite the growth in exports, only 30% of the total wine production in the country is exported. Ricardo Cabrera, president of INAVI said that the institute is always working to expand its international network of distributors to facilitate the access to new markets while continuing to increase its litre valuation in the international market.

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