After Aurelio Montes had his life turned upside, he joined with colleagues to create a new wine venture. Today, Viña Montes is a flagship Chilean winery.
In every New World wine producing country, there are inevitably a few pioneers who have played a crucial role in its evolution. Back in 1988, a small band of overseas visitors had already recognized the quality of Chile’s Cabernet Sauvignons and the potential of the country’s vineyards to produce world-beating wines, but the number of good producers was small. There were some large, family-owned companies making fine reds and whites, but there were also far too many examples of basic wines from badly-tended vineyards, stored in unsuitable raulí wooden barrels. So Aurelio Montes and three partners bravely pooled their limited resources to launch a small business called Discover Wines, focused on showing how good wines from Chile could be.
Montes, who was born in 1948, had discovered a taste for wine while young, thanks to the Undurraga Cabernet that his father used to drink. As a student at agricultural college, Montes found he preferred wine to the rum-and-Coke favoured by his friends. Appropriately enough, once he graduated, Montes went on to become winemaker at Undurraga, where he remained for 12 years before taking the position of production manager at Viña San Pedro, one of the biggest wine companies in Chile.
Aged 39, he joined with friends Douglas Murray, a colleague at San Pedro, and Alfredo Vidaurre former financial strategist at San Pedro, to make wine from the grapes of a 30 ha plot of land, on which he had conducted vinous experiments while at the company. For production facilities, the trio turned to a fourth partner, Pedro Grand, owner of a winery in Curicó.
At first, the team’s ambitions were relatively modest: In the first year, they would sell 10,000 cases of the wine; in the second, 15,000; and in the third, 20,000. These estimates proved inaccurate. Thanks to Montes’s winemaking skills and Murray’s marketing know-how, sales rose over those years to 50,000 cases. The quartet also decided to rename their wines Montes, in honour both of the winemaker and the mountains that offer a backdrop to Chile’s vineyards.
For many years, the four men continued to run the business, earning the description by UK wine writer Oz Clarke as “the most charming hosts – generous with their time, generous with their knowledge – that you could possibly hope to meet.” Eventually, however, Grand sold his shares. The Garcés and Barros families joined as partners in 1999, bringing additional business knowledge and experience to the company. Tragically, in 2008 and 2010, Vidaurre and then Murray both died while still in their 60s. Today, Aurelio Montes manages the winery with the help of a professional team.
Montes is now the seventh largest Chilean exporter selling its wines in 110 countries, with own vineyards in Chile’s premier regions. Part of the success of Viña Montes has come from the decision to plant the right grapes in the most appropriate vineyard, with the aim of producing premium wines. Montes pioneered the planting of vineyards on steep slopes in the Apalta area of the Colchagua Valley which he’d known about since 1972, during his early years as a winemaker looking for quality grapes. A state-of-the-art winery built using Feng Shui principles was inaugurated here in 2004, where some 10,000 visitors per year are now made welcome.
The winery’s fame owes much to the success of the Montes Alpha range of wines. Back in 1988, the first real premium wines from Chile at that time that showed the true potential of the Chilean wine industry. Today Montes produces these wines under the ‘Sustainable Dry Farming’ philosophy, developed after years of research into using the precise amount of post-winter irrigation for each vineyard sector and grape variety. This has enabled the winery to reduce its water usage by 65% as of vintage 2012.
Further groundbreaking wines include Montes Alpha M, an elegant cuvée of Bordeaux varieties from Apalta; Montes Folly, Chile’s first ultra-premium Syrah; and the dual-region Purple Angel, an extraordinarily elegant wine that unites the best Carménère grapes from Apalta with the best Carménère grapes from Marchigüe in the Colchagya Valley. In 2013, Montes released the first vintage of its first super-icon wine, Taita 2007, a result of more than three years of work; After Chilean terroir expert Pedro Parra, analysed the micro terroirs of the Marchigue Vineyard, a glacial area was found. As the glacier retreated, it left behind a very small parcel of stones and pebbles that has proven itself ‘golden’ terroir. It is from vines grown here that the grapes for Taita – 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, with Syrah and Carménere – are grown. Taita excited international attention and praise immediately upon release.
It is wines like these that help both to make Chile such an exciting country today – and to make Montes such a highly-respected member of not only of Chile’s wine community, but of the world of wine at large.
Av. del Valle 945, of. 2611,
Tel: (56-2) 2248-4805
Fax: (56-2) 2248-4790