Montes: Dry Farming in the Colchagua Valley, Chile

Montes winery was founded with the goal of producing truly premium quality Chilean wine for export. At a time when Chilean winemakers were producing wines mostly for local consumption, the two original founders, Aurelio Montes, Sr. and Douglas Murray, had bigger plans. The year was 1987 and by the following year Montes and Murray were joined by Alfredo Vidaurre and Pedro Grand and the winery was founded.

Montes vineyard map
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Montes was among the first to plant grapes in foothills of the Apalta Mountains in the western Colchagua Valley. They planted the granite soils to Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot vines grown from French clones. The wines were aged in new French oak.

Syrah soon followed, the first to be planted in the Colchagua Valley. Others were skeptical that Syrah could succeed here. As a nod to that skepticism, the Montes bottling from their steepest vineyards is called Folly.

The 1987 Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon is the wine that started it all for the winery. Over the past 25 years the reputation of Montes has increased as has the reputation of Chilean wine in general. Today, Montes’ wines are exported to more than 100 countries around the world.

Farming sustainably has been a priority at Montes since its beginning. According to owner and winemaker Aurelio Montes, Sr., “80% of good wine comes from the vineyards and only 20% from the cellar.” By using integrated management programs to monitor diseases and pests, natural predators can be used when possible to minimize the use of pesticides.

Erosion and compaction in the vineyards are controlled with the use of ground cover. Grazing animals, sheep and llamas, help keep weeds under control and reduce the need to use herbicides. Water use is closely monitored and studies have been undertaken to determine the effects of limited water application on fruit development. As a result of these studies, Montes has determined the optimal water needs for their vineyards based on soil type, location and variety. According to the winery, “Findings have been dramatic, illustrating that less irrigation results in lower yields of higher quality grapes.”

So, most vineyards are sparingly irrigated using drip irrigation. Some vineyards are dry-farmed, meaning they are watered only when Mother Nature does not provide enough moisture to sustain the grapevines. The result: better quality fruit and a significant amount of water is being saved in the vineyard. During the 2013-2014 season, the winery was able to decrease water usage in the vineyards by 65%.

Certified Sustainable Wine of Chili seal
Seal from

Montes first earned National Wine Industry Sustainability Code Certification in 2011. Today they are in the process of completing certification for all three areas of the code: vineyards, winery, and social development.

We recently had the opportunity to taste three wines produced by Montes and to chat with winemaker Aurelio Montes, Sr. via Twitter during #SommChat. The virtual tasting was organized by Feast PR, who sent us the samples for tasting. All three wines are produced from vineyards following Montes’ dry farming practices.

Montes Alpha 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignondark ruby in the glass with aromas of dark fruit, spice and a hint of bell pepper. Flavors are similar with dark fruit dominating with just back notes of green pepper for interest. Tannins are smooth an well integrated. ABV 14%.

This is a wine that should appeal to a wide spectrum of wine lovers. It has nice fruit flavors and ample tannins without being overly tannic. The flavorful dark fruit component is not at all over ripe and the subtle herbaceous notes of bell pepper make for an interesting glass of wine. It is easily recognizable as Cabernet Sauvignon.

This Cabernet would be delicious with a pot roast, beef stroganoff or even pizza or a hamburger. It will be easy to enjoy after your meal is complete as well.

The fruit is harvested from the Montes’ Marchigüe and Apalta estates in the Colchagua Valley. Most of the fruit is grown on the Apalta estate; there Cabernet Sauvignon thrives on the flatland and lower slopes of the hills where soils are deepest. Marchigüe is flatter with lower hills and shallow soils.

The final blend includes 10% of Cabernet’s favorite blending partner, Merlot. 50% of the wine is aged for 12 months in first, second and third-use French oak barrels. Decanting for 30 minutes is recommended.

Montes Alpha 2012 Syrah2012 Montes Alpha Syrah inky dark ruby in the glass with generous aromas of dark fruit, a bit of smoke and a hint of licorice. Dark complex fruit flavors of ripe blackberries and plums combine with grippy tannins for a wine with lots of body and texture. Smoky flavors add to the complexity in this delicious, extroverted wine. 14.8%

Fire up the grill and give the red meat of your choice a spicy dry rub and you’ll have a match for this bold, flavorful Syrah. It would be delicious with smoked ribs too.

The fruit for this wine also comes from the from Montes’ Marchigüe and Apalta estates in the Colchagua Valley. The final blend of 90 % Syrah, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Viognier is aged in 55% French oak aging for 12 months in first, second and third-use barrels. Decant for at least 30 minutes prior to serving.

Montes Alpha 2012 Carmenere2012 Montes Alpha Carmenèrevery dark ruby in the glass with complex aromas of dark fruit, black pepper and herbaceous green peppers. Dark berry fruit flavors combine with hints of green peppers and black pepper spice. Ample tannins provide texture and interest. This medium-bodied wine has a finish that is very long with both flavor and tannins. ABV 14.5%

I love Carmenère because it can exhibit that interesting combination of complex dark fruit flavors and spice with herbaceous green pepper flavors in the background. My favorite examples of this variety exhibit only back notes of green pepper flavors, which is the case with this Montes Alpha Carmenère. It was my favorite wine of the group.

The Carmenère for this bottling is grown on Montes’ El Arcángel estate in the Marchigüe sector of the Colchagua Valley. The estate is characterized by diverse, shallow granitic soils and relatively flat topography including low hills. Yield is a modest 2.8 ton/acre and leaf thinning is used to ensure even ripening and reduced pyrazines which are responsible for Carmenère’s characteristic herbaceous flavors.

The final blend includes 10% Cabernet Sauvignon with 55% French oak aging for 12 months in first, second and third-use barrels. Decanting for one hour is recommended.

This group of wines from Montes provides plenty of flavor for a reasonable price. I found prices online ranging from $15 to $23, making these wines a serious consideration for weekday dining.

One final note. Angels figure prominently in the winery, in the form of statues, and on the bottle labels for a very good reason. Original partner, Douglas Murray, survived two near-fatal automobile accidents and as a result his faith in angels is very strong. Angels have become, according to the winery, ” a symbol of the winery’s philosophy – a commitment to be a positive force and influence.”

Thanks to Aurelio Montes, Sr. for so ably and enthusiastically answering our questions during #SommChat. We enjoyed the conversation as much as we enjoyed the wine!

Nice job of organizing by Feast PR, we appreciate the opportunity to participate in this tasting of Montes Alpha wines.


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