Chilean wine has been steadily working its way around from its ‘cheap and cheerful’ avatar and leading the charge of winemakers who are responsible for the makeover is Aurelio Montes, the founder-owner of Montes Wines. Montes is often in the media for his larger-than-life presence and lifestyle – swooping over vineyards in his microlight during vineyard inspections and scouting trips, landing at wine soirées in helicopters and jetting around the world. But the one thing he is deadly serious about is the wine he makes, and his vision to establish his brand as one of the best-recognized in the world.
Montes is also VP of the association Wines of Chile, the trade association created for promoting Chilean wines, and he describes the journey made by the wines of his country from their ‘cola’ avatar towards something they are proud to call their own. “I realized we could not beat France or Italy, so why not just do what we know to do? I feel sad that despite some of our best efforts Chilean wines are still usually regarded as ‘wines of value’. France also has wines priced from 1000 euro to one euro, but no one compares or complains there.” He adds, “Chile is a country of such great diversity of terroir – we are still discovering new valleys, new places to grow our grapes, and new varieties. I created a revolution and refreshed viticulture in Chile, along with technology in winemaking and marketing. I know we can create wines of outstanding quality yet at good prices.” Montes is a self-confessed admirer of big Bordeaux-style wines, and this often reflects in his winemaking.
Among his newer projects, he is looking at spaces for vineyards near Machu Picchu in Peru, something that is bound to become a talking point once it happens. His degree in viticulture and oenology have helped him pinpoint unusual and productive new vineyards, as has his unwavering belief that quality grapes are an essential prerequisite for making good wine. “A winemaker might be talented, but out of bad grapes you don’t get good wine. So it’s important to know where to plant your grapes.” Montes’ second name could well be innovation, he avers. “We were the first Chilean winery to plant vines on the hillsides.”
Montes wines labels are dominated by the image of a angel, and there’s a story to this. “My fellow founding partner loved cars but was a bad driver – he suffered three crashes which no one else would have survived. He told me, “I have a powerful guardian angel guarding me.” So when we built the winery, we adopted this angel of his and put it to work for the winery. We all carry one…” he says, producing a tiny angel from his pocket to show me. The angel has gone on to become the leitmotif for his wine business.
To mark their 25th anniversary this year, Montes has recently launched their premium ‘super icon’ wine, Taita, meaning ‘dear old father’, exemplifying wisdom and sagacity. The distinctive black and gold bottle contains wine made from grapes grown in Marchigüe, a region where it is said an old glacier from the Ice Ages once came to rest, a brief distance from the Pacific Ocean. The wine consists of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% grapes decided upon by Montes depending on the harvest – Petit Verdot or Syrah. It is aged for two years in French oak and another four in the bottle. “We don’t have scores in yet; my fingers are crossed,” he twinkles.
Montes also owns vineyards in Napa Valley in California and Argentina. One of the reasons he picked Napa besides their similarities of terroir, was because, “I studied in an American school, and I speak better English than I do French! There is also no Chilean making wine in the US. So you can say I invaded California!” Montes’ US brand is the Napa Angel; he also has the Montes Kaiken in Mendoza and a wide range of Montes Chilean wines.
On the inevitable comparisons between Chilean and Argentinian wines, he says, “Chile consumes 15 litres per capita, Argentina 25 litres. They also have wonderful gastronomy there, well-suited to wine. They also didn’t need to export, for this reason. We did, because we were hungry to succeed. We are 10 years ahead of them with more expertise, more variety. Also, our terroirs differ; our climate is more Mediterranean. In Argentina there is no influence on the ocean.” Argentinian wines are wonderful, but they prefer to stick to trends, and that could be a risk in the long run, he adds.
Today, Montes wines are exported to more than 110 countries in five continents, and Montes has 800 hectares (1,984 acres) planted in the Apalta and Marchigue areas of the Colchagua Valley of Chile. He adds, “Our winery in Apalta is Feng Shui inspired, with water elements and stones. The barrel room is exceptional: we play Gregorian chants to our wines.”
On a recent wine tour to the winery, the members of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra were so amazed by the ambiance in the barrel room, that they went back to their bus, brought back their musical instruments and played an impromptu concert right there and then.
Clearly, their angel is watching!
The Montes range is available in India in metro cities. A selection:
Montes Napa Angel Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Rs 5780
Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2010 Rs 2970
Montes Limited Selection Carmenère/Cabernet Carmenère/Pinot Noir 2011 Rs1720