- Publish Date: Aug 5, 2010
The Second Man Behind Montes Aurelio Del Campo talks about making great wine. There's such a thing as having big shoes to fill--and then there's having Aurelio Montes, the most famous winemaker in South America, as your father. If you're the heir apparent, how do you ensure that you're truly ready to run Viña Montes, one of Chile's most prestigious wineries?
If you're Aurelio Montes Jr., at first you turn down the job. Instead he spent several years traveling the world and toiling at other wineries to gain work and life experience--and it all came in handy once he did finally decide to join the family business. Aurelio Montes Jr. had been running the Montes winery in Colchagua for just over two years when, this past February, a massive earthquake hit Chile, leveling the homes of the winery's workers. Right after the catastrophe Aurelio Montes Jr. was hard at work making wine and helping his employees piece their lives back together.
Aurelio Montes Jr. believes that to make great wine, you have to give 24-7 dedication to it in every way. That means having passion for the people who help make and drink the wine, not just care for the grapes and the land. If you have all those things, you don't need a famous winemaker for a father--but like him, you'll make wines that people love drinking.
When do you first remember becoming interested in wine? Was it as simple as it always being around, because of your father?
There are many reasons why I'm in the industry. First, because of my father and his influence. But the main reason is when you see your father so passionate about something, it has to be something so special. That's why I got curious about the industry. [I wanted to] work in the agriculture area, but not the wine industry. When I was a kid I loved nature and the outdoors life. I knew I wanted to be involved with nature. So I studied to be an agricultural engineer. One of the areas of study is winemaking. I didn't know I wanted to be involved in wine, so I studied both agriculture and winemaking. There were two areas I really liked, fruiticulture--growing fruits, like apples. And then also studying soil. I also liked animal products. At the end I was a little confused, but one of the things I really knew was that I wanted to be involved with fruit. Of course, when you're producing fruit, it can be very boring. IT's always the same every year. But in the wine industry, every year is different. It's really amazing how many different things you can do every year in the wine industry. I was still confused, so I decided to work in other places, so I went to Australia for a year to work in the wine industry, just to try it. Then I decided to give my life to wine. What are some of the most important things you learned in your travels?
It made me realize that Chile's not the only place that makes great wine. I met so many people and new friends. I worked for six years at another winery, and traveled to more than 40 countries, and met so many different people. That's what I loved: To travel and understand different people. When you open a wine, you're traveling. When you open a bottle of wine, you're going to that place even if you haven't been there. In terms of winemaking or philosophy is there anything that you and your father do or believe completely differently?
There's nothing hugely different. We're a different generation: We don't like the same food. I love sushi and he doesn't. I love Pinot and he doesn't. In the end we love high-quality wine and we love concentration and working with different barrels. At the end, that's exactly the same. The only things are that we don't necessarily like the same things in life. But the main philosophy is definitely the same. I have my own style and he has his, but I'm always looking to young people to see what they like, since they're the next generation drinking the wines. What advice would you give people who want to be winemakers, but didn't grow up in a winemaking family, as you did?
Normally every year I go to the university to talk with the young students who want to choose what kind of area they want to work in. If you want to be a winemaker, you have to have passion and patience. You have to give all your life to the wine, because the industry takes you 24-7. You have to think about wine, dream about wine, go out and have wine. During harvest for four months you have no time for your family and friends. And after that you have to travel around the world for three months selling wine. So you spend at least half the year not having a normal life. If you like that, you will enjoy it. Everyone involved in the industry are very nice people. Everyone who drinks wine is having fun, and wants something special. That's why I love what I'm doing. It's a lifestyle. Outside of South America, what are your favorite varieties or regions?
Tuscany. I really like Super Tuscans. And I also like Burgundy. This year I'm going to do a short harvest there. I want to learn a little more about Pinot Noir, to know how they make theirs. But I love Italy. Every time I go there, I fall in love. If I had to choose a place to live the rest of my life, it'd be Tuscany. What's your favorite wine-and-food pairing?
I love to cook. I love to match food with wine, to find the great taste. I love Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. But normally during the week I don't have time to cook seriously. But on the weekends we cook a lot of meat. Depending on how I cook, is the wine I'm going to choose. [With] Montes M, I never drink the first glass with food. The second one, with different types of meat, like fillet. Maybe with vegetables cooked in a wok, without oil. Very elegant, very soft, with mushrooms. And depending on the type of carpaccio, it's nice. Not with lemon, because that would kill the wine. How did the big earthquake affect the winery and your staff?
It was one of the worst ever on Earth. It wasn't a problem for us, it was a problem for the country. The main problems we had with our people, who lost their houses. So we have been building new houses for them. They're going back to their lives. In the winery we didn't lose much wine really, but we were very affected in the beautiful parts of the winery--we lost all the gardens, and we're working on all that again. We suffered damage with the walls, and all the windows, and all the decoration. When we cleaned up, we realized it wasn't too bad. It's like when you drop one glass of wine, it looks really bad, but not when you clean it up. Two weeks after the earthquake, we processed all our grapes. We were really prepared. In Chile, we're used to these kinds of things. All the damage, if you compare to other parts of the world, like China, we didn't suffer much really. We only lost 380 people in all of Chile, and that's with an 8.8 quake. In the end, we're prepared--the buildings are designed for this. We were also lucky that it was during the night, so everyone was at home. We were not affected in production, but more with people. But we're working with them, with psychologists, to help them all start again. Will this affect what Chilean wines we see on store shelves over the next couple years?
I did a big presentation for the agriculture minister, and I explained that we lost 125 million liters. But that's only 10% of Chile's production in one year. And in 2009 we overproduced by 20% over a normal year. And we lost every type of wine, cheap and expensive. But no one winery is suffering because they don't have wine. Everyone has enough to supply consumers. It's more the houses. Our area was really affected--all the churches and old, beautiful houses are gone. We're working on that, and in a few more years we'll be back.