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May 26, 2021

Selling Uruguayan Tannat w/ Christian Wylie, Bodega Garzón

Selling Uruguayan Tannat w/ Christian Wylie, Bodega Garzón

“Ura-what?, Ura-where?” Selling Uruguayan Tannat has many challenges, recognizing both the country and the signature variety not well known globally. However, Christian Wylie, General Manager of Bodega Garzón, and owner Alejandro Bulgheroni have risen t


“Ura-what?, Ura-where?”  Selling Uruguayan Tannat has many challenges, recognizing both the country and the signature variety not well known globally.  However, Christian Wylie, General Manager of Bodega Garzón, and owner Alejandro Bulgheroni have risen to the challenge.  So much so that the late, famed wine writer Steven Spurrier once said that “Garzón achieved iconic status in less than a decade.”  Hear all about the journey for Garzón and Uruguayan Tannat in general on this episode of XChateau. 

Detailed Show Notes: 

  • Christian’s background
    • Chilean from a British family
    • Studied agricultural engineering in Chile and enology at UC Davis
    • He was a hands-on winemaker for a while
    • An entrepreneur with fresh herbs
    • Met an Uruguayan woman and got married to her - started the connection with Uruguay
    • Worked at Familia Deicas (Uruguay, 6 years), Santa Carolina Group (Chile; 11 years) - turned it around and grew it 3x
    • Joined Bulgheroni Estates in 2016
      • Now has 21 wine estates in 6 countries
      • Garzon is the headquarters
  • Bodega Garzón Overview
    • Garzón is a place in the NE part of the Maldonado province
    • Bulgheroni bought land in Uruguay in 1999-2000, started with olive trees and olive oil
    • 2006 - bought hills above olive trees for windmills, but Bulgeroni’s wife vetoed it
    • 2007 - Alberto Antonini comes and suggests vineyards would be good 
      • 34.8० S latitude - the same as Apalta in Chile, Barossa in Australia, and Stellenbosch in South Africa
    • 2008 - Vineyards planted
      • ~600 acres of vineyards divided into 1,500 lots
      • >20 different grape varieties, but mainly Tannat and Albarino
      • Atlantic ocean influence
      • Granite soils vs. clay in other Uruguayan winegrowing regions
    • 2016 - Winery opened 
      • 5-acre building on the top of the hill
      • 1st LEED-certified winery in the world
      • ~100 euro/liter winery capacity cost to build (very high)
    • ~$200M in Capex, 120k cases of wine produced
    • Has a PGA tour preferred golf course
  • Uruguayan Wine
    • 6,000 ha / ~15,000 acres planted, but mostly table wines
    • Garzón represents ~20% of VCP (premium wines)
    • Exports ~5-10% for most producers, Garzón exports ~67%
    • 300 wineries, ~60 VCP wineries, ~25 actively exporting
    • Tannat - the national grape
      • Originally from Madiran, France
      • “Survival of the Fittest” likely reason for becoming national grape in Uruguay - hot and humid climate did not do well for other dry climate European varieties, Tannat likely had better yields
      • The name comes from the tannins, has the most polyphenols (2.3-2.4x more Resveratrol than Cabernet Sauvignon)
    • Traditional style - big, rustic, tannic, but easier to drink than Madiran; usually overripe fruit, heavy extraction, and lots of oak (heavy toast, American)
    • Garzón Tannat - more fruity, fresh, vibrant; minimal intervention, some carbonic, cold soak, unlined cement fermentation, large vat French oak
    • Other varieties: Marselan (lots in China, now an approved Bordeaux variety), Merlot
  • Key markets for Tannat
    • Garzón - Uruguay (~40% of premium wine is Garzon), US, Brazil the three top; export to >50 countries (Nordics, Japan, UK, Canada, Netherlands other key markets; Growing markets - China, S Korea, Singapore, Russia, & Mexico)
    • Uruguay in general - Brazil #1 (mostly low priced, bulk wine)
  • Garzón portfolio
    • Estate = entry-level, mostly sold domestically
    • Reserva = higher tier based on the quality of grapes, <$20 USD
    • Single Vineyard = areas w/in estate, ~$30 USD
    • Petite Clos = 1 specific parcel, ~$70 USD
    • Balasto = top wine, ~$100 USD in the US, ~$200 in Uruguay
      • Named after the decomposed granite
      • Blend of the best reds of different parcels
      • 3rd wine from South America sold via La Place de Bordeaux
  • Marketing Tannat & Garzón
    • “Taste first, then say what it is”
    • Started Wines of Uruguay 20 years ago, but wines didn’t sell because no one had heard of it, needed to promote everybody
    • Consumers - banked heavily on social media - has ~80k followers on Instagram
    • Created a dynamic website
    • Trade (e.g. - MS/MW) - “reverse mission” - bring them to Garzón
    • PR - Glodow Nead - has brought Playboy, Architecture magazine, Robb Report, NY Times
    • Wine Critics - great scores from James Suckling, Wine & Spirits, Decanter, Wine Enthusiast’s 2018 New World Winery of the Year - consumers need the 3rd party validation
    • During pandemic - keeping the brand alive w/ 100s of “zooms” and webinars
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