One on One with Winemaker: Aurelio Montes of Montes Winery, Part 2
As promised, here is the continuation of our conversation with Aurelio Montes Sr – Founder and Chief Winemaker of Montes Winery. You can find first part of the interview here.
While the first part offered insight into unique (and unexpected) areas such as using of Feng Shui principles and Gregorian Chants at the Montes winery, this second half of the interview is also full of interesting details about present and future of Chilean winemaking. Here we go:
Q7: Do you use natural yeast in production of your wines?
A: Not for white varieties, although we have made Chardonnay trials in coastal areas, but in most cases result in that we obtain a very slow and long fermentation, which jeopardizes the final quality of the wine.
We prefer to use selected yeasts in white varieties, which ensure us a good rate of fermentation, working at low temperatures and retaining maximum aromatic potential of the wine.
In the case of reds it is different. We love to work with natural yeast when possible. They tend to express terroir better than the selected ones. However, much will depend on the conditions of the season, that is, if the season was very warm and the fruit arrives to the winery with a very high potential alcohol, we then prefer to use selected yeast that will ensure a good end fermentation. In the case of very rainy seasons, where the grapes arrive at the winery in bad conditions with some presence of fungi, we prefer to don´t take any risk and use selected yeast as well.
Under normal harvest of red grapes, without rain during maturity or heat peak’s that can cause an exaggerated increases in sugar content, we can then use natural yeast, maintaining important regimes of oxygen during fermentation and also moderated temperatures, in order to not stress these yeasts that behave in some cases very sensitive when the conditions are adverse during fermentation.
Q8: Montes Alpha had been a pioneer in many areas of winemaking in Chile. Particularly, it was the first winery to produce Syrah wines. How would you describe your Syrah compare to Northern Rhone, California or Australian wines?
A; Our Syrah, because of the natural conditions, and some winemaking policies, is different to Rhone or Australian Syrah. Ours is midway between the two mentioned valleys. It is ripe but not as jammy as the Australian one…is austere but still far more friendly and approachable than the Rhone style. This puts us in a perfect position, in terms of quality, and in fact my opinion is that the best New World Syrah comes from Chile
Q9: What was your most favorite vintage of Montes Alpha Syrah and why?
A: I think the 2006 vintage was a very good harvest, where this wine was well known. But I feel that the 2012 was even better. We had a very good season in terms of absence of spring frosts, an accumulation of rain water which enabled us to reach harvest with a low level of risk, and also a free of summer rains and reasonable temperatures. In particular, our Syrah from Apalta that comes from mountain grown fruit behaved very well, controlling a balanced amount of clusters per vine, allowing us to concentrate fruit color and body. Elegance and aromatic complexity found in the Apalta Syrah is really incredible. From this estate also comes the Syrah that goes to our Icon Folly made 100% out of Syrah.
Q10: In the wine world, there is always a conversation of the “next big grape”, which is usually country and region specific – like Sauvignon Blanc in Argentina, for instance, or Chardonnay in Oregon. Is there a “next big grape” for Chile?
A: I like to believe that the Carmenère can be our “next big grape”. But we struggled to position it, despite the efforts the sector makes. Chile has a high level of quality in this variety, considering various valleys and different heights, in the central and even coastal areas of Chile. After this many years of experience we must remain vigilant and continue working and learning in order to deliver the best quality Carmenère in the world.
I would like to add that recently Chile also has been making quite some noise on varieties such as Pais, Cinsault, Muscat, Grenache, Carignan, etc. In this last varieties with very good results.
In our case we crafted the Outer Limits line, which allows us to be more adventurous, dreamers, and let our imagination fly to experiment;
However I believe that the Cabernet Sauvignon is still the king of varieties that Chile has. Not only well renowned for the great quality but also because it represents the productive power and essence of the Chilean wine.
Q11: Does Montes Alpha have plans for the new grapes to be planted? Anything you are experimenting with right now?
A: We are not closed to the possibility. We are always looking for new things, but today to plant new surface is a sensitive issue. Chile is going through a time of overstock of wine, which forces us to be cautious about increasing our production. In the northern hemisphere the situation is similar, which puts us at a critical point.
Without adding the irrigation problem that the viticulture is facing around the world, which forces us to be very astute at this point. Today, more than planting new varieties on new surfaces, we are willing to replace those varieties and vineyards that do not meet our expectations, and replace this to try some new things.
For example, we have had very good reviews on our Tempranillo and Tannat 2015, after years of testing and harvesting dates, and exploring winemaking forms. Maybe we can do something about those varieties in the near future.
We are also touring various new areas as Cachapoal Valley, in search of a distinctive variety with unique quality and expression. Is under this inspiration that we have found and made quite interesting things, such as Pink Moscatel from Curtiduría, or a Pais from Lolol and other interesting projects that currently are still in the oenological kitchen … but this strategy of seeking other wine realities has given us many satisfactions to myself and the team.
Q12: when you are not drinking Chilean wines, can you give me a few examples of your favorite wines, regions and producers?
A: In terms of wines, if I were to pick an outstanding wine I would choose an Ornellaia Masseto. And if I could delight and reward myself with another, it could be an old vintage of Pétrus.
And we are done with the interview. It is time to take a look at another two Alpha Montes wines I tasted:
2012 Montes Alpha Syrah Colchagua Valley, Chile (14.5% ABV, $25)
C: very dark garnet, almost black
N: blueberries, violet, sage, fresh, touch of tobacco
P: silky smooth, round, roll-of-your-tongue, restrained, nice minerality, balanced fresh berries, touch of spice, touch of sweet licorice, excellent overall balance
V: 8, easy to drink, will greatly evolve
2012 Kaiken Ultra Malbec Uco Valley, Argentina (14.5% ABV, $25)
C: dark garnet, practically black
N: concentrated, dark fruit, plums, violet, tar, tobacco, very, very inviting – super sexy, first analogy
P: wow, concentrated fruit, luscious, polished, layered, round, balanced, great dark power, well integrated tannins
V: 8+, outstanding, wow and dangerous (and sexy! – I rarely designate wines like this, but … of well, I will wait for you to try it)
And we are finally done here. I hope you enjoyed our conversation as much as I did, and may be even learned something new. Until the next time – cheers!