The success of many of today's most innovative wineries follow a well-trodden path: an enterprising pioneer with a bright idea lays down roots (and vines) in a distant and unknown place, and a special wine alchemy is born, where old world knowhow meets new world verve. The Pisano family story is a perfect example of the wine-family fairytale, whose opening chapter began back in 1870 when Don Francesco Pisano emigrated from Liguria in Italy to Uruguay. 149 years, four generations and an Italian-Basque marriage later and they are firmly at the forefront of Uruguay's wine scene, crafting some of the country's most exciting bottles.
Today three brothers, Eduardo, Gustavo and Daniel oversee viniculture, winemaking and export here, and we're proud to have been working with them for a long time, selecting their best-in-class tanks for our members' delectation. We spent ten minutes with Daniel, who tells us how they managed to tame the notoriously tannic tannat grape and what makes Uruguayan wines so singularly soulful.
'One of the Pisanos' lovingly tended vineyards'
1. South American wines have found huge popularity in the UK in recent years, but Uruguayan is still somewhat under the radar. If you could sum up why our members should try Uruguayan wine, what would you say?
With the massive choice available in today's world of wine, there is almost nothing left to discover. So for wine lovers, to find great Uruguayan wines that are still 'under the radar' is a fabulous opportunity, as they have the chance to unveil and explore a completely new and unique region and also an almost unknown ancient grape variety in tannat.
On top of that, they'll also be able to enjoy a very special non-international style of wine which is ripe, flavourful, aromatic and with naturally balanced tannins, acidity and alcohol.
2. How has your Italian and Basque heritage helped you to make wines here? Do you feel that your winemaking is very European, or uniquely Uruguayan?
Uruguayan winemaking is the synthesis of European traditions imprinted in the soul of the producers along with a unique and singular terroir, a combination of soil, climate and the men and women who produce the grapes and make the wine.
It's impossible that the wines wouldn't be affected by these influences as most producers are families with their own history and traditions. The resulting wine is uniquely Uruguayan with European roots.
The Pisanos. Left to right: Eduardo (viticulture), Gustavo (winemaker) Gabriel (Eduardo's son and also a winemaker), Daniel (sales).
3. What is it about Uruguay's terroir that makes it perfect for growing a very tannic and structured grape variety such as tannat? And how do your particular vineyards help you to tame and craft this sometimes difficult grape into something so delicious?
Uruguay is situated at 35º South latitude – just as the best wine-growing regions of the Southern Hemisphere are – next to the Atlantic Ocean and on the Rio de la Plata. The cool climate, its never-ending rolling hills and marine situation make it especially suitable for the cultivation of fine grapes. Cold breezes from the Antarctic dramatically impact on temperatures here.
When you drink a glass of our wine, you can taste and smell the fresh wind coming from the sea and the bright sunlight that streams into our vineyards.
We don't know exactly why tannins ripen so well in our country, but I guess it is because of the sun intensity and luminosity. At the same time, cool ripening-season temperatures means tannins to remain fresh and crisp rather than sweet and dull, which is what you might find in very warm and dry climates. Other tannic and 'difficult' grapes as petit verdot, perform well here for those reasons.
In our particular vineyards, we achieve perfect ripeness due to low yields and precision viticulture which aims for expression and value rather than volume.
4. You say that 'Pisano belongs to the group of small family vignerons with an artisan tradition of making wines that reflect the character of the land and the people who make them.'
How do you feel that this artisan approach shows in the quality and flavour of your wines?
Our main intention is that our wines reflect the energetic temperament and 'Pisano style', combined with a strong Uruguayan personality! We harvest the ripest grapes by hand from low-yielding plots and we only produce wine from the grapes that stand out for their concentration and elegance. The sun, the soil, the vines, the oak and the hands of our family, help to maintain necessary balance so that our cellars mature these exclusive wines, with the care that only us artisans can give.
Our aim is not only just to create an international model but also to let the grapes express themselves within their maturity process in our Progreso Region. We produce a very particular kind of wine, which is typical of Uruguay, showing aromatic fruit, which not only refreshes our palate but also provides strength and structure apart from round and mature tannins. Complex and intense flavours are the result of its slow maturity due to the climate of South Uruguay Coastal region.
5. Finally, describe your perfect wine and where you'd drink it!
My perfect wine is the RPF Tannat (Personal Reserve of the Family) and I like to drink it under a shady tree while I barbecue a piece of Uruguayan asado (a traditional South American barbecue) slowly grilled on an open fire of wild woods.