Travel can often lead to unforseen obstacles and unexpected delights. Toward the end of our stay in Uruguay, we experienced both.

Narbona Wine Lodge vineyard

vines @ Narbona Wine Lodge

Enlisting a Trusty Steed

Buquebus @ Puerto Madero

The ferry terminal in Puerto Madero, a barrio of Buenos Aires, where we departed for Uruguay.

Mr. HalfFull and I took the ferry from Argentina to Uruguay, but booked a flight out of the country to our next destination. After researching various methods to get from Colonia del Sacramento to the airport in Montevideo, we opted to rent a car.

Colonia del Sacramento

Ms. HalfEmpty in the historic quarter of Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Since a car rental is 24 hours, this meant that we could pick up the car the day before our flight to explore more of Uruguay and visit a winery. So we booked a non-refundable tour at Narbona Wine Lodge in Carmelo.

Everything fell into place nicely. What could go wrong?

Journey to Narbona

It rained. No big deal, right?

In a country with more cows than people, infrastructure isn’t always the best. As we were driving to the winery, we came upon a flooded section of road. We couldn’t see any lines on the road, but we did see a car that tried to drive through the flooded roadway washed up against a fence. That car was more substantial than our little steed, so we thought it best not to risk it.

flooding on Route 83

The alternate dirt road was also flooded.

We decided to backtrack and find a different route. I scoured the map and selected the only other road in the direction of the winery that looked major-ish.

It turned out to be a dirt road. Unfortunately, this dirt road was also flooded. A farm truck was waiting for the water to subside in front of us.

Since our alternate route was no better than our original route, we decided to go back and see if the water died down. This was our final opportunity to make it to the winery on time for our tour.

Car washed off Route 21

Seeing the white car washed off the roadway did not give us a lot of confidence.

Should we risk it?  I kept thinking this was a terrible idea as Turn Around Don’t Drown echoed in my head.

But we could start to see some of the lines on the road. So maybe we wouldn’t have the same fate as the white car that washed off the road.

While we were weighing our options, we watched an SUV make it through. That made us realize that crossing was possible but still left us in doubt about our light, low-clearance, economy car.

We held our breath and went for it!

outside panadería at Narbona

Ms. HalfEmpty exits the rental car after arriving safely at Narbona.

Fortunately, we made it across the water safely and arrived at the winery intact. We parked our little red car next to an antique truck in front of the panadería (bakery). As we exited the car, the smell of baking bread washed over us and calmed our nerves.

Narbona Background

Narbona Wine Lodge is a combination of hotel, farm, restaurant, and winery.

The land was originally settled in the 1700s by Juan de Narbona, who used the property to breed cattle and mine lime. In the early 1900s, the property became one of the first wineries in Uruguay when vines were planted. The winery was abandoned in the 1950s, but was revived toward the end of the 20th century.

New vines were planted in 1998; 2001 brought the advent of a dairy farm and cheese factory; and construction of a new wine cellar started in 2010. Today, the vineyard grows Tannat, Pinot Noir, Petit Verdot, Viognier, and Syrah, which are all harvested by hand. Narbona also produces grappa, jam, syrup, cheese, yogurt, cookies, dry pasta, and olive oil.

Touring & Tasting

We visited Uruguay in August, which is the low season, so the person who normally provides tours of the winery was on vacation. But that meant we got to tour the grounds with the winemaker herself!

The winemaker at Narbona is Valeria Chiola. We were initially struck by how young she looked! Mr. HalfFull found an article with some great quotes regarding her skill and youth:

“…she has almost no sense whatsoever of what a powerful example she could be…”

“…a much younger winemaker who seems to have little sense of her own innate talent.”

Our tour with Valeria began in the grappa fermentation room. I sniffed the stuff and may have gotten a contact high!

Next, she took us to the new wine cellar where the current wines are produced. We proceeded to visit the old winery, which is now a museum.

Narbona is also home to a 5-room boutique hotel.  Each room is named after a wine, and we toured the Rosé suite, which overlooks the vineyards.

Finally, our tour ended in La Antigua Cava (The Antique Cellar), built in 1909. We entered to find wine barrels, hanging hams, and place settings for three in the stone room.

Generally, the tasting consists of three Narbona wines. But since we were travelers from far off lands, Valeria let us try four! She also paired the wines with various cheeses from the property’s dairy farm. With her food science degree, she is almost as passionate about the cheese as the wine.

Uruguay is most known for Tannat wine. Valeria explained that it’s a bold wine generally paired with heavy foods, rather than a sipping wine. She had us taste Tannat alone and then after tasting a soft cheese. The creamy cheese coated our tongues and was the perfect complement for Tannat.

Valeria is the hands-on oenologist at Narbona. Most of the Narbona wines are the product of her labor and expertise. However, she does occasionally work with consultants to produce some of the wines for competition like the Narbona Luz de Luna Tannat, which won best Tannat in the Concurso Tannat al Mundo (World Tannat Awards 2011).

As our tasting came to a close, Valeria let us each pick our favorite of the four wines to enjoy with lunch in the restaurant upstairs.

All’s Well That Ends Well

Our little leap of faith paid off. We didn’t drown, didn’t destroy the rental car, and ended up on a private tour with the winemaker! What an amazing day.

  • Have you ever driven through a flooded road?
  • Which winery tours/tastings have you most enjoyed?
  • Have you tried Tannat? Do you like it?

Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!