Aurelio Montes was an early pioneer of Chilean wine. After co-founding Montes Winery in 1988, he implemented a terroir approach in his vineyards, introducing the concept of planting vines by varietal at their optimal altitude and, as a result, creating super-premium wines for export. (At the time, Chile’s wine industry was largely family-run, with vines planted among other crops.)
Split across five estates, Montes Winery has vineyards in Chile’s central Apalta Valley (planted with cabernet sauvignon, carménère, syrah, merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot) and closer to the Pacific Coast at Marchigue (cabernet sauvignon, carmenère, syrah and merlot).
Purple Angel, a blend of carménère and petit verdot that’s aged 18 months in new French and American oak, is one of Mr. Montes’s most celebrated bottles. Robert Parker gave the 2007 vintage 94 points, noting: “Dense, chewy and opulent on the palate, this is a rich, already complex offering that is meant strictly for pleasure-seekers.”
This week, Mr. Montes is attending the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival, where his wines will be served at a sold-out winemakers’ dinner at West Restaurant Wednesday. He will also be in attendance at the International Festival Tasting on Thursday (tickets available at playhousewinefest.com).
When and how did wine become a big part of your life?
It all started because of my love of nature. I wanted to live a life, and work, outdoors. I decided as a young man to study agronomy. Viticulture is so important to Chilean agriculture, so I took some courses and I fell for it. I changed my specialty to oenology, and ever since I have been in love with winemaking. I studied oenology at Catholic University in Chile and graduated in 1972.
What do you look for in a wine?
I look for a perfect balance and ripeness. I love friendly wines with friendly tannins, a good structure and lots of fruit. I always compare wine with a marble column, where you can find a lot of strength and structure, yet the surface is soft as silk. I try to look for the same in a wine.
There are many myths around wine drinking. Which one annoys you most?
I don’t like those people who try to impose their palates on others. The biggest myth is that someone knows what is good for you. The best wine in the world is the one you love best.
What is the one thing you would do to change wine or winemaking?
Winemaking is essentially about learning and change. You can never make the same wine again. I look to always refine and improve from one vintage to the next. Viticulture, the study of the plants themselves, is ever-changing. That growing scientific understanding pushes the winemaker to do things differently always. But if there is no passion and restless determination to improve, then you will fail.
It’s your last supper. Choose the location, the meal and what’s in your glass.
Location: The dining room of the family home in my home city of Santiago de Chile.
The meal: Duck confit.
In my glass: Purple Angel.
This interview has been condensed and edited.