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Aurelio Montes was named "Chilean Winemaker of the Year" in 1995. Born in Santiago in 1948, Aurelio studied oenology at the Catholic University in Santiago and graduated in 1971 with a degree in Agronomy and Oenology. He then travelled extensively acquiring Old World winemaking knowledge and exploring New World technology. From 1972 to 1984 he worked at the Undurraga Winery as chief oenologist before moving to Vina San Pedro where he worked as technical manager and chief oenologist for four years.

He co-founded the Montes Winery in 1988 along with three partners who each had experience in winemaking and the wine trade. Together they set out to produce top quality premium wines for the export market. At the time there were only 10 wineries in Chile who exported their wines - now there are over a hundred. "In the last two decades," says Aurelio Montes, "the main objective for winemakers has been to focus on improving quality rather than volume and building our export markets." Aurelio Montes' knowledge of Chile's varied wine regions has made him a very sought after consultant in the country and he advises other wineries such as Echeverria Wines, Santa Ines and Viu Manent as well as Casa Lapostelle.

Montes own five estates, three in Curico and two in Colchagua which add up to a total of 600 hectares of vineyards planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Carmenere, Petit Verdot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Syrah and Pinot Noir were introduced in 1999. Montes export 95% of their production to over sixty countries in five continents.

Aurelio Montes' great strength lies in his understanding of the terroir that he works with. He is convinced that great wine is really made in the vineyard: "I've been converted more into a vine grower than a winemaker; out of good grapes I can make either good or bad wine, but from bad grapes I can only make bad wine." He believes that different grape varieties thrive at different altitudes and firmly believes that the Apalta Valley is the best area in Chile to plant red vine varieties.

The success of this belief was proved after he planted Syrah on the higher slopes of the valley, an act that was considered folly by many local winemakers because Syrah was untried in the region and planted at such high altitude. In fact the resulting wine is rich and deep in colour and comes in at 14% alcohol. This is a wine that has attracted many accolades and Aurelio calls it "Montes Folly" as a result! It is planted on such steep slopes that it is said to be harvested by acrobats! It stands alongside the Alpha "M", a Bordeaux style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot also grown on the slopes of Apalta in Colchagua as Montes' top two wines.

The Montes Alpha range is the premium range that first made Monte's name as a leading producer in Chile. These wines are all aged in French oak and the range consists of a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Chardonnay, a Merlot and a Syrah.

The standard Montes range is aged in American oak and the emphasis here is on ripe fruit character. The Reserve Merlot for example, is deep and rich with powerful yet soft ripe fruit. These wines offer excellent value for money as well as deep concentrated fruit. "I'm a ripe-wine winemaker" says Aurelio. "I believe that human beings hate bitterness and astringency. We love voluptuousness."

Since Montes S.A. was created, the winery has been an undisputed leader in the Chilean wine world's push towards quality. Aurelio Montes has shown what Chile can do with premium grape varieties. "We're having fun" he says, "finding the right places for vineyards, planting on hillside slopes for vigor, in cool areas for whites and warmer areas for reds. We're optimistic."

Ian MacFadden