One of Chile’s most well known winemakers has just been selected as Wines of Chile’s Vice President. Amanda Barnes interviews Aurelio Montes, the new face of Chilean wine, to talk about the main pillars of Chile’s wine industry; moving out of one’s comfort zone; and doing things for the ones you love.
You’ve been a significant player in Chilean wine for some time, how did it come about to you becoming the Vice President?
I’ve been in wine forever, for 40 years… since I left University. I started with all this boom and spiral of exports in the Chilean wine industry and I had to walk the world, knock doors and go around for so many years that I built a certain reputation: I know people, I know wine writers, I know gatekeepers, I know sommeliers. Wines of Chile thought – and I hope they are correct – that I could do something extra for them, being the Vice President of Wines of Chile. So here I am! With a lot of enthusiasm, I offer a lot of passion and a lot of work and I hope it will bring also results.
In simple terms, what will your new role be?
My role is to make the Chilean wine industry better known and I think that we have so many things to show to the world. Chile has been making a wonderful performance through time in the wine arena and market but still there’s much more to do. I’m totally devoted to create more of a buzz towards what Chile’s about and show a bit more its geography, show the quality of the wine, the people, the skill of the winemakers, the passion of the entrepreneurs. I think that all of that added – one on top of the other – will make Chile better known in the wine world.
Your objectives are to express and communicate about Chilean wine, do you have any steps of how you hope to achieve that?
The pillars in which Chile should spread the news are: being sustainable; being diverse because of our big geography; and a strong focus in premium wines. Those are the three pillars in which I’ll be supporting my speech and program in expressing what Chile is about.
Is there anything outside of the three pillars that you’ll be focusing on?
What’s lacking a little bit is the human side of we the Chileans: as entrepreneurs, as winemakers, as marketing men. Maybe we need to put a big emphasis on how strong the passion, the devotion and the quality of the people is in the wine business.
For someone who doesn’t know Chile, what is special about the country and wine coming from it?
It’s so unique in its geography. It’s a paradise to grow grapes. It’s got all the blessing of this total isolation from the rest of the world by the strong natural barriers like the northern desert, the Pacific Ocean, the Andes mountains and the Antarctic. This makes Chile a very isolated place where we have very little disease, or no disease, so we are very close to being organic. The whole country is! So it is very easy to be sustainable in having that platform to begin.
This special geography brings diversity. We have some vineyards 1000kms above Santiago and we have some 1000kms south of Santiago, so the span is 2000kms… I don’t think there is any other country in the world where there is a span of 2000kms where vineyards are grown.
Then we have the Andes where we can play with the altitude… Then we have the ocean, which is a very cold ocean due to the Humbolt current, so we can play a bit with the temperatures, the fog, the ocean breeze and all of that! And in addition to that… I think that in the last 20 years we have been proving to the world that we are able to produce outstanding quality wines from all these different valleys and new terroirs that we have been finding lately. There’s so much to tell and so much to say!
There’s so much to visit. I want to tease people to come and visit us! To walk with me the vineyards, the wineries, our geography. We can go skiing, we can go diving, we can do so many things!
You say that one of the focuses will be on pushing showing the world Chile’s premium wines, what can wineries do to prepare for the launch of their premium wines in the market?
I think we have been doing lots of things already…. We have been refreshing our viticulture for the past 15 or 20 years, we have been discovering valleys never known before: no one ever thought of growing vineyards in Casablanca, Leyda, Limari or Bio Bio. So all that is already a platform that has been built to launch this project towards premium wines.
I’d say that an important part of the job is already done, we now have to spread the news. Keep on working of course – there’s always room for improvement – but our main target now is to spread the news, go to the world, tell the people.
Tell me about your own life in wine – how do you come into it?
You know in life how things come! Since I was a boy I wanted to be an agronomist, to work in the countryside. I loved to be outdoors, to ride horses, to walk the fields and so on. Although in my family there was no strong tradition towards wine except Sunday lunches with a bottle of wine on the family table. I discovered a little bit of the wine world while I was studying in the Catholic University. I decided to devote myself to this area of agronomy and I started working since I left University at 21 and started working at wineries… That was about 15 years of work to work as a winemaker…
Then I decided to start with my own business with Montes wines and it has been already 25 years this year. It has been a very wonderful project, it’s been quite successful. I’m very happy I did it, but when I look back I’m not sure if I’d do it again! It’s been a lot of devotion, work, nights working and so on… but I am so glad I did it!
And what do you like to do when you are not working?
Oh! I need more days to do all what I do… I’m kind of crazy. I love flying: I have my own airplane and I enjoy flying a lot. Actually I have a dirt landing strip in the farm where I go and see the vineyards. I love horses – I run endurance races, so I do a lot of riding. I love sailing… I have a boat in Patagonia. I don’t get to go that much because I don’t have much time, but every time I find a weekend or five days I sail Patagonia. And I have a lot of family: I have five kids and 17 grandchildren! So I have to devote a lot of time to my family. I need more time to do all of this!
Back to enjoying wine… if you could imagine your ideal birthday dinner, what would you be drinking?
Let me close my eyes and think of perfect drinking… I would start with a good brut sparkling.
I would love to have oysters as a first dish with a real crisp Sauvignon Blanc, you know? Crisp, edgy, full of flavour.
Although Cabernet seems to be the main and most famous variety coming from Chile, I would have as a second dish as a good steak with Syrah. I think Syrah is a wonderful variety… it found a second home in the Chilean slopes of our hillsides. We are producing outstanding Syrahs!
And finally, what does it make you feel coming into this new role as Vice President?
Afraid! I’m terribly afraid because there’s a lot of expectation. I’ve been mostly in my life as an entrepreneur, I’ve been working in my company, doing things, planting vineyards, walking the world, doing wines, on top of the tanks doing rackings and pump overs, those kinds of things! And this is something relatively new to me, so I am excited.
I have the passion and the willingness to work hard. I hope that this will result in things that can be easily seen and touched… But it’s a big challenge in this time of my life. But you know, I’ve been so blessed in my life with all what I’ve been doing that I think at some point in your life you must give something back to your country, to your people, to those who you love.
Interview by Amanda Barnes
Photos: (Top) Aurelio Montes; (Middle) Montes vineyards in Colchagua; (Bottom) Aurelio being interviewed with Managing Director of WOC Claudio Cilveti and Decanter Magazine.