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One on One with Winemaker: Aurelio Montes of Montes Winery, Part 2

January 19, 2016 3 comments

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.

Montes Alpha winesWhile 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!

One on One with Winemaker: Aurelio Montes of Montes Winery

January 13, 2016 13 comments

Montes AlphaThings in life often connect in most unexpected ways. Few years ago I read an article about the ways music affects the winemaking. I was unable to find that article or much references ever since. Many times I came across the wine with an interesting label and somewhat peculiar name of Montes Alpha – but I never tasted one.

Few weeks ago I got a note about wine samples from the winery called Montes Alpha from Chile. That note also mentioned Gregorian Chants and Feng Shui been essential elements in wine production at that very winery. This was enough to send my curiosity through the roof and ask for more information – and talk about the way things connect in life, right?

Who can better answer questions wine and winery questions if not the winemaker? I gladly used an opportunity to [yet again] sit down (yes, virtually) with the winemaker and send the barrage of questions his way. I have to tell you that all my questions were answered well in depth – and I think you will find this conversation interesting too. Here is our dialog with Aurelio Montes Sr – Founder and Chief Winemaker of Montes Winery.

Q1: I understand that your winery was built using Feng Shui principles. Are there any specifics in using Feng Shui specifically for the wineries? Do you have any followers from other wineries who came to learn from Montes Alpha experience?

A: We seek to apply the principle of balance and harmony of space in our winery. If you live and / or work in nice balance places, the energy will continue their natural rhythms and will lead to welfare in all its aspects.

It is in this sense, it was incorporated as a fundamental principle in the early stages of design and construction of our winery, the inclusion of all basic elements such as water, metal, wood, stone, etc., in accordance with the principles of this Asian discipline, to ensure this harmony and above all a positive atmosphere.

For example at the entrance to the building is the wooden bridge over a small lagoon, whose water flows toward the building. A fundamental principle of Feng Shui is that prosperity will only come if the water, which represents energy, flows into the center of the building, rather than away from it.

I understand that no other winery has incorporated the Feng shui principle.  In our case, one of our founders, Douglas Murray, was always fascinated with this concept and idea of building a harmonious winery and wine with our environment, therefore we hired the advise of an expert in this field to introduce the principles of feng shui in the foundations of our construction.

Q2: Did you apply or can you even apply Feng Shui principles in the design of the vineyards?

A: Feng shui is related to harmonize spaces. In our case it was considered to harmonize the spaces between the vineyards, winery and of course, our people. To get, as a result, the best wine we can possibly achieve. I believe that in a balanced environment, all pieces come together to perfectly to achieve a greater result.

I am not an expert on the subject though, and not sure how Feng shui can be applied to the vineyard. However our vineyards are planted according to quality policies, soil conditions, variety, etc. I believe that the harmony in the management of our vineyards is the result of the best possible quality grapes we can achieve, keeping always in mind the sustainable conditions.

Q3: I heard about Gregorian chants at the winery. How and where do you use them?

A: The Gregorian chants play constantly in the icon barrel room of our winery at our La Finca de Apalta Estate. The wine seems to enjoy it and I love it. In my opinion, besides the physical effect on wine, it does have an important effect on people’s moods and they work with more happiness and confidence. It keeps us calm in the cellar.

Montes Alpha wines

Q4: Did you try to test the effect of Gregorian chants on aging of the wines by creating a “control group” of same exact wine from same exact vintage and aging it under regular conditions (no music), and then comparing the two wines in the blind tasting?

A: For long now I have been interested in the effects of music in wine. I am happy to share with you a study we funded at Heriot Watt University about the effect of background music in wine tasting.

In terms of wine tasting the “control” with no music at all had a score 20% lower than the tasting held in presence of music.

Q5: Did you experiment with impact of music on the grapes in the vineyard? I remember reading about some of the experiments in that area, and I wonder if you have any information you can share here

A: Not yet and I don’t know of anyone that has done it. I presume there are so many uncontrollable variables such as temperature oscillation, different weather conditions, etc that would make it difficult to assess the particular influence of music in the vineyards.

Q6: Montes Alpha is certified Sustainable winery. Do you have any plans to become an organic or may be even biodynamic winery?

A: From our beginnings, our philosophy has been to produce wines of the highest quality, always concerned with the care of the environment, developing a sustainable viticulture in all stages of winemaking.

We believe sustainability covers a broader spectrum and a larger concept than being only an organic or biodynamic winery. It not only concerns the caring of our vineyards and the environment that surrounds it, but also the legacy that we leave for the next generations. We are very careful with our habitat, natural resources and above all improving conditions for the community.

Being sustainable also takes care of the social aspects of our workers – having a profitable operation permitting us to offer a stable place to work.

We also minimize our use of energy and treat our waste-water to reuse it in the irrigation of our vineyards.

Having said all the above we still have some plans to develop a line of biodynamic wines in a few years.  We have also moved forward in improving our carbon footprint, becoming one of the few carbon neutral wineries in Chile. We have not only traveled to improve our carbon footprint but also to significantly reduce the use of pesticides and replace them with more friendly environmental agents.

No, we are not done yet with the interview, but I don’t want to overload you with an information. I can also bet you are thirsty now, so let me present to you two of the Montes Alpha wines I had an opportunity to taste:

2012 Montes Alpha Montes Twins DO Colchagua Valley (14% ABV, $15, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Malbec)
C: very dark garnet, almost black
N: a bit of funk, herbs, blackberries, hint of black currant, inviting
P: good dark fruit, chalk, firm structure, pencil shavings, tart acidity on the finish, restrained. Next day the wine acquired some umami complexity with notes of tobacco.
V: 8-/8, an excellent wine hiding under simplistic packaging; outstanding QPR

2012 Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon Colchagua Valley (14% ABV, $25, 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: cedar, cassis, classic
P: cassis, dark fruit, clean, round, soft
V: 8, outstanding, round, easy to drink

Here you go, my friends. Do you use Feng Shui in your life? What do you think of wine and music? And of course, did you have any of the Montes Alpha wines? I have two more wines to talk to you about, and continuation of our conversation with Aurelio Montes Sr. to share, so stay tuned.

To be continued…

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