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Chile's Aurelio Montes Creates St.-Emilion Grand Cru

Bruce Sanderson
Posted: September 2, 1999

Chilean winemaker Aurelio Montes and his cousin Patrick Baseden, who manages family estates in the Graves and St.-Emilion regions of Bordeaux, have joined forces in a project that marries Bordeaux tradition, Chilean innovation and family ties. Together, they have created a St.-Emilion grand cru, called Sanctus, from the 1998 harvest.

Comprised of 70 percent Merlot and 30 percent Cabernet Franc, the wine originates from two plots, totaling 9 acres, on the St.-Emilion plateau. The blend is made from grapes grown in sandy soils, to provide finesse, and grapes from clay soils, to give the wine muscle and depth.

For Montes, the St.-Emilion project presented different winemaking challenges than those he experiences in his native Chile. "There was a certain fear of the climate, where we had to select the precise moment to pick the grapes," he explained. (In Chile, weather during the harvest generally remains warm and dry, whereas in Bordeaux, rain and cold temperatures often threaten the success of a vintage.) "And it was very interesting to see how the Cabernet Franc behaved differently there," he said.

The cousins plan to make Sanctus every year, and Montes is already thinking of ways to tweak grape quality to improve the wine. After his first year of working with French fruit, he says he would like to achieve riper Cabernet Franc on the clay soils and do a stricter green harvest (when grapes are cut off the vine before ripening) on the sandy soils to increase concentration.

The Sanctus name refers to the religious background of St.-Emilion, which is named after St. Emilian, an 8th-century Christian hermit who settled in the area and became the leader of a group of Benedictine monks. The label follows through on the religious theme with a depiction of two saints -- Emilian and Santiago (Spanish for St. James) -- who also represent the respective regions of the two branches of the cousins' family.

The family split off at the beginning of this century, when Montes' grandfather Wilfrid Baseden emigrated from his native England to Santiago, Chile, and Patrick Baseden's grandfather Clifford moved to Bordeaux.

Though continents apart, the two cousins both ended up in the wine business. Montes and Baseden first met in 1980, but the possibility of making wine together didn't arise until the early 1990s, when Baseden left his job as export manager for Veuve Clicquot to work with his wife's family estates in Bordeaux. He then proposed the idea of creating a Bordeaux wine together to Montes, who found it immediately appealing.

About 200 cases of Sanctus St.-Emilion 1998 will be available in the United States by spring 2000, at an estimated price of $100 per bottle.

To learn more about Aurelio Montes:

  • May 13, 1999
    New Wines Show Off Quality of Emerging Chilean Region

  • June 1, 1998
    Unfiltered, Unfined: Sticker Shock in Chile

  • Feb. 20, 1998
    Chile's Most Expensive Wine Released by Montes Winery

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