The culture of wine in Uruguay

The wine is part of the culture in this country; probably it is a heritage of the immigration waves that occurred at the beginning of the twenty century, mainly from Italy, Spain and France. Uruguayans like to sit, taste and share the wine with their family and friends. The red wine here has another different meaning than in the U.S. and other countries. It is not seen as an alcoholic drink to get drunk, but as a drink to share in special occasions. It is part of the way of life in Uruguay.

The most common varieties of grape in Uruguay are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Tannat and all of them came originally from Europe. There were not vines in South America before the Spanish colonization.
For much of the twenty century, Uruguay followed a mass production of rough table wines using hybrid grapes that gave high yields per hectare. At that time, the Uruguayan wines were not recognized in the world by its quality. In the 1970’s the wine industry started a process of conversion toward producing better and more expensive wines. Several Uruguayan wineries hired consultants from France and California to transform its wine production and started planting more hectares with more appreciated gape’s varieties, such as Cabernet and Tannat. In 1988, the government established the National Institute of Winemaking, which is a public institution that works to improve the industry, for example researching about the different type of soils and humidity needed by the different varieties of grapes.

In 1991, Californian experts hired by the government recommended that Uruguay should focus in producing only Tannat. By the type of soil, heat and humidity this is the most suitable vine to grow up in Uruguay. In the last 30 years, the area planted with vines shrunk from 120,000 hectares to 8,500, but the wines produced today are by far better wines than in the past.

The Tannat is a variety of grape that was brought from France in 1870; but, it would become popular a century later. Tannat is known for its very high tannin levels and it can taste a little dry and bitter, compared with other grapes. For instance, in France, winemakers usually blend it with other type of grapes to make it a more agreeable taste. Actually, in other countries it is uncommon to find a bottle of wine made 100 per cent of Tannat. Nonetheless, Uruguay produces wines made 100% of Tannat and their quality is excellent.

Nowadays, Uruguay is trying to distinguish itself in the world market of wine by producing best quality wines; but, only in small quantities. Top Uruguayan wines have been winning medals at different international contests in the last years. These wines are expensive and cost on average $50 dollars per bottle. There are up to 280 wineries in Uruguay, and most of them are small, family run and are considered as “boutique wineries”. Uruguay produces on average 95 million of liters of wine per year; they consume 85 million internally and they export the other 10 million. Uruguay consumes 90% of the wine that produces (each person on average consumes 34 bottles per year). Most of the 10 million of litters that Uruguay exports are top wines. The main market for the Uruguayan wine is Brazil, and in lesser degree U.S. and Canada.

It is very hard to find wines from Uruguay abroad. Being in Uruguay has been a great opportunity to taste probably the best Tannats in the world. Well, on last Sunday, I decided to visit a “Boutique Winery” called Bodegas Bouza. The winery is only 25 minutes from Montevideo in the north direction.

Bodegas Bouza has an extension of 30 hectares. Each year, they keep only the best 30 per cent of the crop to produce wine with those selected grapes; they waste the rest. The different varieties of grapes found in Bouza are Albariño, Chardonay, Tannat, Cabernet, Tempranillo and Merlot. The best wines are a 100 per cent Tannat and a blend of Tannat, Cabernet and Merlot. Likewise, Bouza uses the best standards of quality for their wines: they age the wine in barrels of French and American oak; and they use the barrels for only three years. As well, Bouza divides the yield land into a grid of squares of half hectare each one. In this way, they can identify each grape of which soil comes from. Thus, they never mix grapes of different parcels, in order to guarantee that all the bottles from the same parcel have the same quality. They use the best parcels to produce the top wines.
Bodegas Bouza is a family own winery of recent creation. The Bouza family bought the winery to the Pesquera family in 2001. They have invested money, time and work planting more hectares, hiring experts, and improving the installations. Today, Bodegas Bouza is producing remarkable wines and it is a nice place to visit.


Half Way Point!

I have known for some years now that time flies, still it never ceases to amaze me just how fast the time goes! And just when I discovered ‘noisettes’!!!  (They are little fried potato balls with mashed potatoes inside….delicious!) I also finally accepted that it is ok to order chicken dishes, even if I am in one of the beef capitals of the world – self acceptance is so sweet. However, this past week I finally started to miss some foods which cannot be found here. I yearn for some tasty Thai food or an Indian buffet ($8 all you can eat!) The concept of eating vegetables with every meal is not a popular one here either and I miss my greens! I miss Trader Joes as well. Learning to cook in a new country can be pretty challenging, but it has been an interesting process, no doubt.

Aside from that, I can’t believe we are here for only another five weeks. It feels like we have accomplished so much in terms of our working relationships and working with our partners here, but it also feels like we have so much left to do! I think we have all settled into our routines and have found our favorite restaurants near the office and such and soon we will be leaving again. Still, we will not soon forget the relationships we have built here and all the life and cultural lessons we have learned. For example, while intellectually I knew that professional relationships would function differently here, I could not know just how different they would be until having worked here. Now I know that working with others in Uruguay requires some aspect of a social relationship as well. During our first weekend here we were surprised to find that everyone we met from ANEP seemed to be old friends, but now we have come to understand that this is the way working relationships manifest themselves and we have had to ‘join them!’ It’s been a wonderful experience and I am sure I will keep many of these relationships for a long while to come.

– Vanessa

Tango…and Django!

Hello again from cold and windy Montevideo! Uruguay has been as exciting as ever, with new adventures each weekend, and the work for my internship has been getting more and more interesting. All in all, no regrets at all. Well, that’s a strong statement. I do have just one regret. Our cozy and well furnished apartment is situated right besides the beach. If only it were summer time, I’d be great to be able to spend time on the beach which is literally two minutes away from our apartment. Oh well…:)

Anyways, in this blog I want to outline two different homonyms that I didn’t have any knowledge about before – Tango and Django. Through this blog post I shall try to show how different the two are, and perhaps, what little things they have in common.

First, a bit of background. To make a motivational application for secondary school children to practice their English language skills, we decided earlier this month to build an application on Facebook because of the paranoia surrounding it (Who doesn’t love Facebook!). Hence I had to learn Web Development and Social Networking basics in order to accomplish this task. Searching and consultations indicated that Django was a good framework to accomplish these tasks, and hence I spent this week following tutorials and learning as much as I could about the Django framework. The second part of this background is simple. Coincidentally, this weekend we visited a 105 years old Tango bar in Downtown Montevideo and enjoyed a very traditional Tango musical and performance!

The most striking difference between the two homonyms is that of pace. Django is a web framework built for developers with deadlines. It contains so many shortcuts and abstractions that most of the repetitive and time-consuming tasks of web development and database creation can be performed insanely fast. On the other hand, Tango is a different story. It’s a type of entertainment for people who have time and want to thoroughly enjoy an engaging experience. We enjoyed our tango performance for a good four hours, and all the performers and audience were taking their time, thoroughly enjoying every tiny little intricate detail of footwork and facial expressions of the performers as they slowly yet meticulously moved around the stage.

The other thing I realized about the Django platform is that it has been set up such that it is incredibly simple for anyone starting web development to learn it and get right into development mode. The whole website is heavily tutorialized so that any novice can dive right into the development experience. Most of the development is based on common sense with very little things to be worried about, which really reduces a lot of stress. In contrast, I found Tango to be an extremely meticulous performance. Every little detail counted, which meant that the performers had to rehearse over and over again and make sure they got every little detail right, all while they were in sync with the spontaneous music. I’d be stressed if I were in their place!

So is there anything common in these homonyms at all? In hindsight, I realized how my experience of these two things was very similar. Working with Django has certainly been a very different, fun, colorful and exciting experience. I can definitely say the same for Tango!

Live Tango Music - Notice the Uruguayan Flag in Spotlight!

Finally, I’d like to thank my dear friend Varun Arora for coming up with the theme of this blog post. Ingenius indeed, he certainly made writing this post a pleasure !

– Afnan

Summer Opportunities at CMU

It is hard to believe we are now more than halfway done with the iSTEP internship! While work is in full swing and everyone is busy, I want to write about what being at CMU during the summer has shown me about our university and city.

When people hear I’m working in Pitt on a project located in Uruguay, they ask why didn’t I want to go there because it would be “cooler” and better than Pitt. While I have a variety of reasons for staying stateside this summer, I’ve really enjoyed being here because of the amazing things to do. And now I have the time to do them!

I’ve been able to explore great restaurants, get awesome ice cream (Oh yeah!), and even see the Science Center for the first time. Plus I got to see the unveiling of the moon lander and hear President Obama speak on CMU’s campus. In addition, CMU has offered out (and will be offering), trips and tickets to the Pirates, Pittsburgh Power, and Harry Potter!. That’s not to mention the concerts, festivals (Arts and Furbies so far….) and open air movies in Schenley Park!

Some other random, but awesome, reasons to be in PItt and at CMU include –
(1) ability to meet up with professors or advisors to plan for research or apply for stuff
(2) Able to print on the CMU network! (i.e. use the $40 you get during the summer regardless of if you are here or not)
(3) Meet up with some of the awesome Doha students that are here
(4) Actually enjoy Pittsburgh weather
(5) See tons of little kids walking around campus with their lanyards
(6) ….. add in your own if you are also in Pitt 🙂

Pittsburgh and CMU have a lot to offer any student, even during the “slow” summer months. Opportunities for fun and even learning (free language classes at the library anyone?) abound during the summer. One just needs to be willing to go out and look for them!

– Meghan

Oh Uruguay, you so crazy…

It’s been over a month since we landed in Montevideo, Uruguay, and what a crazy month it’s been! We’ve met tons of people, explored the city, experienced some crazy weather patterns, and most of all… worked on our projects.

Over the past week, lots of stuff has happened. Last Wednesday, we went to Valerio’s (a favorite restaurant of ours because it has internet :)) to watch the Peñarol vs. Santos Copa Liberatadores game. It was very intense. People were listening to radios to get the news a few seconds before the TV could show it, we heard fireworks from the stadium several miles away, people were honking horns and lingering outside Valerio’s just to see the TV. Tons of people also had their Peñarol shirts on and flags out. Ironically, Peñarol sports the same colors as the Pittsburgh Steelers, so I don’t quite feel comfortable supporting them, being a Baltimore Ravens fan and all.

This past Wednesday, I received two XO laptops from the lovely people at Plan Ceibal.

My XO laptops talking to each other 🙂

They’re bright blue! I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to understand exactly how they work. Sometimes the Sugar interface, designed for children, actually confuses me so I use some Linux commands to get around… cheating, yes, but I’ll figure Sugar out soon! The laptops are really neat because they can connect to each other without internet. I looked pretty cool with three laptops, two XOs and my own laptop testing them and chatting with myself…

This weekend, I also spent a lot of time writing my specification document. It’s a pretty important step in the software development process because it outlines all the features you want, the user interface design, how you plan on doing everything, etc. My clip art was pretty silly, but it got the idea across. Right now, the tool is going to be written in Python using the PyGTK library for the user interface and some C functions (if necessary) for the backend. I’m pretty excited to get started. My goal is to finish writing a “Hello, World” (basic program) activity for the XOs and progress from there!

Happy first day of summer/winter to everyone! Hope anyone who has warm weather is enjoying it; it’s a bit chilly here in Montevideo!


A Heinz student shooting for the moon!

After debating what to write about for a week, I came to the conclusion that I should write about how a Heinz MISM student is navigating her way through an internship that Meghan accurately described as not “your normal, run of the mill summer job.” I totally agree! It first started with me being a Technical Floater located in Pittsburgh with the main responsibilities of supporting the team in different aspects. Today, I am the CAT technical lead and I couldn’t be busier. I spent the last couple of weeks researching existing tools, content creation and best design practices. I practically spent my days “googling” the expressions: content authoring, e-learning platforms, ESL teaching tools… anything that could lead me to an existing project or prospective idea is a great addition to my reading material and our final report literature review. Now that I remember, I should not forget to finish the CAT background section!

AT this point, I am working on a requirement and specifications document to outline the CAT in a concrete way. The word “concrete” is a key word. However, time is slipping away and we are already halfway through the internship period! Because of that, I am also working on designing the CAT. Ask any software engineer and he/she will tell you that design can only come after agreeing on the specifications. In our case as it is case in many projects where time is a big constraint, we are taking the iterative way where many steps are going to be done in parallel for the rest of the internship.  My main goal now is to design, eventually develop, a platform that will allow teachers to create content to be used by our OCT and MPT tools. The platform being the Content Authoring Tool will have to be attractive, rich and built upon the results of the needs assessment and research phases. One of the considerations is feedback on the question types that are to be supported by the tool.

Another side of the journey is that I am getting to discover CMU’s campus. I have been here for one year but I can confess that I discovered more things in this internship period than I did during the academic year. Last week, we went to the unveiling of the moon Lander! Now I know how they look! I was very impressed with the commitment of the students to the projects, as I always am with CMU students. Being in an environment where people shoot for the moon, literally, gave me even more motivation to work hard and shoot for the moon myself, in my own way!


Past Meeting the Present

It is very fascinating what is happening today in Uruguay, not only in the education field, but also in society and in the economy of the country. The reality of Montevideo is very contrasting. It seems that half of the country is catching up the future; while the other half is still stuck into the past.

Many neighborhoods in the central part of Montevideo look old and careless; it is common to see garbage on the streets and sidewalks. People in general are very calm; they like to take their time to eat and to talk. Look at this fact: cafeterias in Montevideo do not sell coffee to go; if you want to drink a coffee, you have to sit and take your time. People here have another conception of time and life.

In contrast, other parts of Montevideo look very modern and pushing for the future. Zonamerica is a new complex recently developed in Montevideo. Zonamerica is a business park (free of taxes) where IT companies from Uruguay and overseas (such as Tata) have its headquarters for their regional operations.

The struggle between old habits and modernization is also present in the education system of Uruguay. The best example of this is Plan Ceibal ( Plan Ceibal is a program that was launched by the government of Uruguay in 2008 and consisted in giving one laptop (from the One Laptop Per Child program) to each kid of primary and secondary level of public schools. The reality that we observed at Liceo 39 sharply contrasts with the modern headquarters of Plan Ceibal. Plan Ceibal is in a cozy building located in the wealthy zone of Carrasco. The building is very modern and everything is well organized. In contrast, Liceo 39 is settled on the poverty neighborhood of Piedras Blancas. Liceo 39 has very precarious facilities.

I want to tell you a story that better illustrates the kind of difficulties that a great idea should face when contrasted with the raw reality. The students of secondary school received their laptops, the problem is that most of the classrooms have only one electrical plug-in that 40 students have to share when the battery runs out. Plan Ceibal has faced many problems of implementation like this in other areas, such as internet connectivity at schools.

Nonetheless, I would say that the positive aspects of Plan Ceibal overpass the negative ones by far. It is normal to face such kind of problems when trying to implement a big change in the educational system, such as Plan Ceibal. The easiest would be to do nothing; but, Uruguay took the risk and decided to implement an innovative change in its educational system. Uruguay is pushing forward trying to modernize the education, economy and society, and in general the country is doing a great job. In the near future, the internet and plug-in problems should be fixed.