A lot of sons learn a trade — and maybe even take over a family business — from their father, but you don’t hear about it as frequently in the wine industry. This week, Chile’s preeminent father and son team from Viña Montes held a tasting, reception and luncheon at New York City’s popular Beekman Hotel to talk about keeping it in the family, as well as terroir, grape varieties, and winemaking philosophy.
“In Chile, we’re the only family of winemakers that work together,” shared Aurelio Montes Sr., who began his winemaking career 40 years ago, and founded Viña Montes in 1988 with the desire to elevate Chilean wines on the world stage.
“I never dreamed… that one day I would taste, discuss and compare my adventures in winemaking with one of my sons, far away from Chile.”
That son, Aurelio Montes Jr., came upon his oenophile enthusiasm honestly — meaning Dad didn’t push it on him, but he gave him a more than gentle nudge.
“When he was about 15 years old, I wanted Aurelio to become an oenologist. I took him to Napa to see if he’d be hooked.” Aurelio Jr. was — and after his studies, worked as a winemaker in France, Australia, and Napa, before rejoining his Father at Montes in 2007. In 2011, he moved to Argentina to lead another of the family’s ventures, Kaiken winery in Mendoza.
“When you look at someone so passionate about what he’s doing – as a kid, you look at him as a hero. Of course, this life is not easy; He made me work. During my summers, when all of my friends were in the beach, I was working,” laughed Aurelio Jr.
Despite his elevated status as Winemaker at Kaiken, Aurelio Jr. may sometimes still feel like he’s working under his father. “I’m sure he admires me, but is scared [of me] as well,” Aurelio Sr. jokes, admitting he can be very tough when things aren’t done exactly as he wants. But Aurelio Jr. dares to contradict him… Choosing his battles, of course.
Like that time he “took back his rebel spirit” to create the Kaiken Obertura (a 100% cabernet franc experiment, SRP $35); His father wasn’t keen on the grape, but after a blind tasting, even Sr. was jumping on the bandwagon.
In the end, they agree that working together is the best and worst part of the bargain they’ve struck. Jr. benefits from an older generation’s transfer of knowledge and experience, and Sr. gets the younger one’s youthful energy and experimentation.
The situation is not exactly ‘like father, like son.’ The duo compare their styles to another of their shared hobbies — flying. Aurelio Sr. likes to pilot his small plane. Jr. likes to skydive.
So it’s been fun for them to make wine on both sides of the Andes, with Aurelio Sr. in Chile and Aurelio Jr. in Argentina, near Mendoza. The operations are so close, yet so different. Montes and Kaiken wines — even when made with the same grape varietals — have stark contrasts due to terroir and other atmosphere differences.
“We do more or less the same things in Argentina as we do in Chile,” Aurelio Sr. says. But “the tannin structure is better in Argentina and the flavour profile is better in Chile.”
But sometimes they like to mix it up… because they can. “I got so angry that Malbec was doing so well in Argentina…” Sr. joked, so he created a Chilean Malbec (Montes Alpha, SPR $19.90), which is excellent, but perhaps not quite as excellent as the 100% Malbec you’d expect to see from Argentina: Kaiken’s Mai (SRP $70).
And then there is the Montes wine that best expresses their spirit of family, Taita, meaning “beloved Father” or “Grandfather,” and said with respect or devotion. The Montes Taita (SRP $249) is the height of the vineyard’s offerings, and is made in exceptionally limited quantity. Of the 3,000 available for the 2010 year, all are already sold out, and with good reason.
32 years ago, it wasn’t so easy for Aurelio Montes Sr. to sell his Chilean wines to an American audience, but through time, trials, and family tradition, he and his son have solidified their Chilean foothold and even brought new Argentinian offerings to the forefront. If his passion made him Aurelio Jr.’s hero once-upon-a-time, he’s aiming to reach Superman status.
And the family fun is likely to continue. You hear an echo of his Father’s zeal when Aurelio Jr. suggests, “Hopefully, one day, one of my children is going to follow in my footsteps, too.”