Chile has historically provided fertile ground for outside wine companies to invest in, with big names such as Lafite Rothschild, Mouton-Rothschild and other high-profile vintners involved in ventures there. But now, Viña Montes—one of Chile's biggest names—is turning the tables with its own project in a high-profile region, becoming the first Chilean winery to set up shop in California. Production of two Cabernet-based wines is slated for the 2006 vintage.
"We are in Napa because we love challenges, and we want to prove ourselves against the big names in the valley," said Viña Montes co-owner and head winemaker Aurelio Montes.
Montes, considered one of Chile's most experienced and respected winemakers, will source grapes from Napa Valley vineyards in the Oakville, Stags Leap and Yountville districts for the as-yet-unnamed project. Montes has a one-year contract for grapes in 2006, and then will begin to look for longer-term sources.
"My policy in every country, even in Chile, is to sign long-term contracts only when the quality of grapes has been proven," said Montes. "Napa is no different, so we will be scanning the whole area to get hold of the best grapes in the region in the long term."
The top wine, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, will retail for around $70, while a second wine made primarily from Cabernet Sauvignon with small percentages of other varieties, possibly including Syrah again, is earmarked for a $45 price point. Total production for the project is slated to be around 6,600 cases in the 2006 vintage, with plans to grow to about 15,000 cases, one-third of which will be the top wine. Montes will make the wines at the Artesa winery facility located in Carneros. Montes is considering building his own facility down the road, assuming the project flourishes.
Montes is no stranger to high-end Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, as his top Chilean wines (Alpha M and Folly), which feature these varieties, have been among the top-rated wines from Chile in recent years.
In Napa, Montes will have local help. Working with him as a consultant on the project is Larry Levin, former head winemaker at Franciscan. The two met while Levin was at Franciscan, and they kept in touch while Levin consulted at Chile's Veramonte winery.