Montes on climate change: I want to know hell

Co-founder of Montes Wines, Aurelio Montes Sr., says he wants “to know hell” and be prepared for the effects of climate change, as other Chilean wineries make “sacrifices” in order to safeguard their futures.

Speaking to the drinks business, Montes spoke of the importance of using controlled irrigation and making sacrifices in order to combat the effects of climate change.

With low rainfall in many areas of Chile and reduced volumes of water sourced from the snow melt, water for irrigation can be hard to come by.

Montes told db that his company had been controlling irrigation for 10 years and had achieved “unbelievable results” in the process.

By employing a system he refers to as rational irrigation, he said that the amount of water saved in one of his properties was equivalent to the water needs of 20,000 people in a whole year.

By restricting water, Montes has halved the yields achieved (from 10-12 tonnes per hectare to 5-6 tonnes per hectare), reducing the vine canopy to 0.9 metres and applying wooden chips to the rows of vines to create humidity in the root area and help prevent excess evaporation from the soil.

“Our yields have been cut very severely. You can’t have your cake and eat it too – if you don’t have much water you can’t have big yields.

“We haven’t increased the price of our wines at all. It’s a big sacrifice as a company, but it’s the way to go. You have to take out of your land what your land is able to give you. Don’t try to go over the limit. If the conditions of climate, water, soil and everything gives you a certain amount of grapes, stay there. Don’t try and go beyond it.

“The way I convinced my team was that I said: ‘climate change is here, it’s happening and it will keep getting worse so I want to go to hell. I want to know hell, I don’t want to stay in hell, but I want to know it. I want to see what would happen if we don’t have any rain at all in the future. I don’t want to react at the very end when the problem comes, I want to know exactly how to react. Let’s go to hell, and then run away.”

La Ronciere’s site in the Licantén DO

Making sacrifices 

Another Chilean wine producer to have made a change in order to mitigate the effects of climate change is La Ronciere. Having previously operated vineyards in Colchagua and Cachapoal, in 2012 the producer took a punt, planting its 200 hectare Idahue vineyard within the Licantén DO (a district within the Curicó Valley) 25km from the coast. It was the first, and remains the only, producer in the region.

Export director, María Pia Merani, explained to db how the company felt it was important to act in order to safeguard its future.

“There are a lot of people talking about the effects of global warming, but who is actually doing something actively about it? We’re the only ones as far as I’m aware that have actually moved our operations and planted in another area.

“It was a sacrifice. We didn’t really know what we were doing, we took a chance. If you don’t look ahead to where you’ll be in 20 to 30 years time, you will be losing money in the end.

“We can’t keep sleeping on our former successes, it’s our duty to innovate and it’s what Chile deserves.”

Founded by three brothers – José Antonio Orueta, Andres Orueta and Alejandro Orueta – La Ronciere planted only planted red varieties at its coastal site. Hiring winemaker Juan Aurelio Munoz in 2016, it has set about producing coastal reds, dividing its estate into 140 different parcels based on soil composition and aspect.

The aim for the company is to ultimately move its entire operation to coastal Curicó.

Merani added: “Licantén is our future and we’ve placed our energy and resources there. We’ll be making new lines from the area and moving our whole production there, year-by-year. We want other brands or companies to come to Licantén, it won’t be cheap but they’re very welcome. It makes no sense to be protective. We need some other players making some noise about the region.”

Speaking more generally about what Chilean wine producers must do in the future, she said: “We need to have higher quality wines on the market, and creating new DOs is helping this process. Consumers aren’t stupid and you can’t just change the wine label – you’ve got to have a story and make an investment to change what is inside the bottle.”

Licantén was one of four DOs that were given official approval in July last year.

Winemaker Munoz told db that he was planning a research trip to Priorat in Spain later this year, owing to its similarity to Licantén.

“They have the same llicorella soils and grow vines at a similar distance from the sea,” he said.

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