Montes Winery in Chile’s beautiful Colchagua Valley is a “must see” destination for wine tours for its fabulous location, excellent wines, and warm hospitality.

Chilean Wine and Colchagua Valley

Chile is one of the best-known wine regions of South America. The long, narrow shape of this South American country borders the cool Pacific Ocean to the west, the snow-capped Andes Mountains to the east, the dry Atacama Desert to the north, and the South Pacific Ocean to the south.

Colchagua Valley is one of the most prestigious of Chile’s red wine regions. It lies in Chile’s Central Valley about five hours south of the capital city, Santiago, by car. Beyond the warm Mediterranean climatic influence, Colchagua’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean provides a beneficial cooling effect to the sun’s afternoon. Cool evening temperatures extend the growing season so that grape berries develop ripeness while keeping acidity.

Apalta, Colchagua’s Gem

Within the Colchagua Valley lies Apalta, the largest and best known of Chile’s Denominaciónes de Origen (DO) appellations north of the town of Santa Cruz. Like other highly respected appellations in wine-producing regions of the world with unique terroir, the “DO” on a Chilean wine label ensures quality. It also tacitly verifies that a minimum of 85 percent of the grapes come from the region showed on the label.

Apalta vineyard - Montes Winery - Chile
Apalta vineyard

At last count, 1,007 hectares of land remain under vine in the Apalta DO. Key grape varieties here include Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère, Syrah, and Malbec.

Montes Winery in Apalta

Aurelio Montes, Sr. in Apalta
Aurelio Montes, Sr. in Apalta

Aurelio Montes, founder of Montes Winery, is a pioneer of the region. Apalta first caught the eye of this trained enologist when he visited the then-barren region in his twenties. Finally, in the 1990s he was able to buy Apalta land and plant the vines. Aurelio Montes soon discovered which grape varieties grew best in Apalta, and where to plant them.

One of these grapes touched Chilean soils for the first time ever: Syrah. Aurelio Montes planted this grape on some of the steepest slopes in Apalta, to the disbelief of his neighbors. Not only was Syrah new to the land, but growers were accustomed to planting on flat valley ground. Aurelio Montes’ intuition proved resoundingly successful, as today some of the winery’s top wines come from these vineyards: Montes Alpha M, Purple Angel, and Montes Folly—this last named for the “folly” of his daring.

Aurelio Montes, Jr.
Aurelio Montes, Jr.

“We’ve been working since the ’90s to achieve a Denominaciónes de Origen (DO) for Apalta,” says his son Aurelio Montes Jr., who today runs the winery. Along with the neighboring Lapostolle winery, Montes Winery spearheaded the DO campaign. To win the campaign, Montes Winery and Lapostelle successfully proved that the horseshoe shaped Apalta Valley has extraordinary conditions for certain grapes.

I first met Aurelio Montes and his son Aurelio Montes, Jr. in 2007 when the two men visited Manhattan. That was 14 years ago, yet I remember clearly the remarkable vibrancy of Aurelio Montes and his almost visceral passion for his land and his wine. Specialized Chilean regions such as Apalta were just then earning fame for high-quality red wines. I dreamed I would be lucky enough to see it one day.

Montes Today

Today, 13 years later, the Montes brand enjoys global fame for its iconic red wines. And the architecturally gorgeous Montes winery is a “must visit” attraction when visiting Chile. I caught up with Aurelio Montes, Jr. for a virtual tasting of four of his wines. What’s more, I was lucky enough to visit the Montes Winery in Apalta in early March 2020, before the pandemic.

One can describe the architecture of the Montes Winery as minimalistic. Some visitors feel it has a certain “Feng Shui” quality. The Montes winery blends well into the natural topography of this mountainous region with its clear blue, sunny skies. A refreshing horizontal-shaped pool of water greets visitors as they approach the Montes Winery. Once inside the reception area, visitors see the familiar icon of the purple angel that is the Montes logo:

Montes logo - angel

The Montes winery offers gorgeous floor-to-ceiling views of the mountains and vineyards from almost every room. During my visit, I particularly enjoyed seeing all the memorabilia in the form of framed pictures of the Montes family from the 1980s. It was also a pleasure to visit the wine barrel aging room and hear its soundtrack of Gregorian chant, whose soundwaves are reputed to calm the wines, ensure graceful vinifying, and enhance the flavor of the wines.

Montes Winery - barrel room - Chile
Barrel room in Montes Winery

Booking Your Montes Winery Day Tour or Winery Tour

When booking a day tour, guests can also make a reservation for lunch at the Montes winery restaurant, Fuegos de Apalta. This lovely restaurant offers an assortment of dishes (including vegetarian and gluten-free) with views overlooking the Apalta hillsides and vineyards. As a VIP guest, I enjoyed the unique experience of a jeep ride through the vineyard and a private lunch with these iconic wines.

Getting to the Montes Winery

International flights land in Santiago, Chile. It is necessary to make reservations for tours to Montes in advance. Protocol changes frequently, so it is best to contact the winery about choices for wine tours.

Author

Marisa D’Vari discovered wine and food pairing with Julia Child as the program director of Boston’s American Institute of Wine and Food (AIWF). An interview with Robert Mondavi motivated her to achieve the Wine and Spirits Educational Trust Diploma (WSET), Certified Sommelier designation from the Court of Master Sommeliers, and Certified Wine Educator certification from the Association of Wine Educators. Since receiving her diploma in Winemaking from UC Davis, D’Vari is pursuing her Masters of Science in Wine Management from the OIV. D’Vari judges for London’s International Wine and Spirits Competition, Concours Mondial de Bruxelles, and others. She writes for several prestigious publications including Wine Enthusiast, London’s FT, San Francisco Chronicle, Decanter, and her online magazine AWineStory.com

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