Winemaker Leslie Fellows' hard work is paying off. Photo by Chip Scheuer.
Q: Did you literally have to begin from scratch learning the wine business?
A: Absolutely! I had to learn branding and marketing, and in a very tough market competing with more than 7000 brands in the US alone. And the state of the economy definitely affects wine pricing and sales. Consultants told me, “You’re trying to hit a hole in one without having done much practice on the greens.” I also had to learn a ton about winegrowing and winemaking —how to talk about vineyards and yields, and what it means to produce small-lot wines using minimal intervention and gentle handling techniques. And it all started with a tasting at Soif two years ago!
Q: What convinced you that, no matter how much work it involved, you could be successful?
A: For most of my life I’ve worked in the arts, and my strength is project coordinating, and sales and marketing. I’ve never taken “no” for an answer—I’ve found ways to get things done, often on a shoestring budget. If you are lucky enough to follow your passion—and when failure is not an option— it’s possible to make things happen.
Q: Which part of the process was most difficult?
A: It wasn’t getting the broker’s license, or learning wine background, but selling the wine itself. I assumed that once I had an excellent vineyard producing high quality fruit, plus a winery equipped with the best French and Italian winemaking equipment, plus two rising star Uruguayan women winemakers, the public would just show up at our doorstep. I soon learned that our wine is a hand sell—bottle by bottle, case by case.
Q: What is most rewarding about this business?
A: Having people taste the wine and enjoy it, telling our story and promoting Uruguay, especially because most people have never tasted a wine from Uruguay or a Tannat. As director of sales I can promote our two Uruguayan women winemakers and point out how beautifully they handle Tannat, which is a big grape, originally from France—it came to Uruguay in the 1870s. Our winemakers are rising stars in Uruguay and the wine has been very well received in the US. I am very proud of them—they are the heart and soul of Artesana.
Q: How has being a representative for these Uruguayan wines changed your perspective on what you want to do with your life?
A: It has changed my life completely. I’ve fallen in love with Uruguay. I wake up every day passionate about what I do. It’s my family’s venture and I am completely in charge of the entire project. I have to make all the big decisions that affect the outcome. Now our winery is on track to become one of the top 10 wineries in Uruguay.