Douglas Murray, who helped found Chile's Viña Montes and turn it into one of the country's most prominent wineries, died on Wednesday in Santiago of cancer. Murray was 68.
Murray attended school in the United States, studying economics and business. He worked for a Chile-based mining operation after returning home, before eventually heading to Spain to work for banking firm Rumasa (Ruíz Mateos Sociedad Anónima) as head of its wine division. He held the job for 14 years. In 1982, Rumasa joined in the purchase of Chile's Viña San Pedro, and Murray returned home to oversee the winery. He met winemaker Aurelio Montes at Viña San Pedro in 1984, and the two struck up what would be a lifelong business venture and friendship.
Along with partners Montes, Alfredo Vidaurre and Pedro Grand, Murray founded Discover Wines in 1988 (the company soon changed its name to Viña Montes). Starting with production of just 10,000 cases, Murray helped grow the business to its current production level of 800,000 cases annually (650,000 cases of Viña Montes plus 150,000 cases of the company's Argentine venture, Kaiken). Today, Viña Montes exports over 300,000 cases and is one of Chile's most recognized names in the U.S. market.
Fond of touting the presence of angels overlooking the winery and its team (an angel adorns every label), Murray was a tireless traveler, representing Viña Montes as it expanded into markets in Europe and Asia, as well as the U.S. As Viña Montes grew, it helped break both quality and price barriers for Chilean wines with its flagship Alpha M, a Cabernet Sauvignon-based blend, and Folly, a Syrah bottling that debuted in the 2000 vintage, well before Syrah became popular among Chilean wineries.
Murray was driven by a passion to produce the best wines possible—he often said he wouldn't rest until a Montes wine finally received 100 points from Wine Spectator—and his warm personality won him countless friends during his more than 35 years in the business. Known for his dry wit and outgoing style, Murray's personality was part and parcel with the winery, from the construction of Viña Montes' feng-shui inspired facility in Colchagua to the eccentric label design of the Folly bottling drawn by artist Ralph Steadman.
"He was such a beloved man and extremely knowledgeable. We are dealing with a very difficult loss," said co-owner and head winemaker Aurelio Montes. Murray is survived by his wife, Luci, and their three sons.