Meet Leslie Fellows. She’s here to help you drink more Tannat.
I met Fellows, and her Wines of Uruguay team, at the Wine Bloggers Conference in June, when we sat together on the winery tour bus, talking wine and life the whole way from Oliver to Osoyoos.
Leslie Fellows is one of the most passionate and determined wine women I’ve met in a long time.
And, tannat is one of the hottest wine stories to come along in the last century.
Tannat, the national grape of Uruguay, has been identified as the heart-healthiest grape on the planet thanks to its high Procyanidins content.
Procyanidins in tannins are known to be vacoactive – able to dilate blood vessels – and they appear in highest levels in the heavily tannic wines of southwest France and Sardinia, two populations that suffer the least amount of heart disease. And, they drink lots of opaque wine.
Originally from southern France, tannat was brought to Uruguay by Basque French settlers in the 1870s. Then, Northern Italian immigrants began producing as well as consuming tannat in the early 1900s. Uruguayan wine improved in the 1970s with the employment of better techniques, including the increased use of oak barrels to soften the wine’s hard tannins.
Still, the name tannat is two letters away from describing the wine’s strongest characteristic: tannin. 3-4 times as much tannin as cabernet sauvignon or merlot. The wines are so black, thick and chewy you can practically feel them scrubbing your arteries.
Healthy wine? Who would not want to market that?
Enter Leslie Fellows. After a career in the arts industry in Los Angeles and getting her CSW, she became a partner of Artesana Winery in Canelones, with her uncle. She travels to Uruguay a few times a year, but mostly manages her winemakers, Analía Lazaneo and Valentina Gatti, from home in Santa Cruz, California.
“I have been so lucky that everybody loves the wine,” she said. “There are 25 wineries in Wines of Uruguay and I said to those guys, we have to row the big boat here. We have to pool our resources and we have to put some money in the US to do events. And that’s why we’re here.”
Wines of Uruguay is so motivated to export tannat to North America, they flew Francisco Carrau of Bodega Carrau, to Canada for one day to make a presentation over lunch. After flying home the next day, he and the others would be off to Vinexpo in France.
He told us that traditionally, Uruguayans have drunk 95% of the wine they made, which explains why tannat has only recently trickled north.
“We drink 3 times more than the Chileans, maybe 4 times more than New Zealanders. Our origins are from the Basques and the Catalans and the Northern italian people and that’s why we drink within our families.”
In her research, Fellows met many people who tried to discourage her from the wine business for being too inexperienced and “late to the party”. Then, she said she met a woman in Healdsburg, California who told her she had been told the same things. That woman went on to bring New Zealand wines to the rest of the world.
She told Fellows, “You’re probably going to go down in history as putting Uruguayan wines on the map,” and that is exactly what Leslie Fellows says she intends to do.
I believe she’s going to do it.
Next time, my tasting notes of six tannats not currently found in BC stores.
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