Wine Star: Aurelio Montes

The spirited visionary spearheaded Chile's winemaking revolution—and he’s not stopping yet

Wine Star: Aurelio Montes
Aurelio Montes and his partners in Viña Montes started planting grapevines on hillsides in Apalta for quality, when most vineyards were located on the valley floor. (Rick Wenner)
Oct 31, 2022

For those in the know, Chilean winemaker Aurelio Montes hardly needs any introduction. He has been called “the dean of Chilean winemakers,” and his business card simply reads “Guardian of the Spirit.”

That spirit was on full display at the 2022 New York Wine Experience, where Montes presented his flagship Cabernet Sauvignon–based Bordeaux blend, the Montes Alpha M Colchagua Valley 2015 (95 points, $100 on release). The same wine was poured at the event in 2019, so many in attendance got the rare chance to observe a great wine’s evolution in bottle over three years. While the wine had entered its midlife, showing a beguiling combination of power and elegance, it had plenty of vitality left in store.

In 1988, along with Douglas Murray, Alfredo Vidaurre and Pedro Grand, Montes founded what became Viña Montes. Montes described the four friends as “poor guys dreaming” to produce world-class wine when Chilean winemakers were overwhelmingly focused on quantity. After surveying the Apalta landscape in a helicopter to discover its “hidden valleys, slopes [and] corners,” he made the bold decision to plant on hillsides when most Chilean vines were planted on the valley floor. The result was nothing short of a viticultural revolution.

But Montes has never been one to rest on his laurels. In addition to Viña Montes, he oversees the Argentine project Kaiken, which produces Malbec and Cabernet in Mendoza, and he recently made a longtime dream come true by planting vines in Chilean Patagonia, “the most crazy thing I’ve ever done in my life.” As he told the audience: “My philosophy is that dreams are [for fulfilling]—you don’t sit upon them. You go forward, and you do it.”

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