Montes using shells to warm his vines in Chile’s chilly south

Brave enough to make wine at Chile’s outer limits, Aurelio Montes is using mussel and clam shells to help heat up his vines on the island of Mechuque.

Aurelio Montes with his Chardonnay vines on the island of Mechuque in the south of Chile

Montes has a two hectare vineyard planted on volcanic ash soils on the island of Mechuque in the archipelago of Chiloé, 1,000km south of Santiago, which he discovered on a sailing tip.

He has planted the site with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño and Riesling, with the view to making still and sparkling wines.

Montes is using mussel and clam shells to warm his vines

Located at 42° latitude, at the limits of grape ripening in the country, Montes is experimenting with ways to keep the vines warm during the cold winter months.

“It’s a cool area, so to help the grapes fully ripen I’m experimenting with putting black and white mussel and clam shells between the vines to absorb the daytime heat and radiate it at night in a similar way to the pebbles in Châteauneuf-du-Pape,” Montes told db.

“So far the black shells are absorbing the heat better and may help the grapes to ripen more fully and completely. I’m not sure we can reach 12 degrees alcohol, but they’re good base wines for sparkling,” he added.

Montes had planned to release his first commercial wines from the vineyard next year, and is currently closely monitoring them to see when they will be ready.

“Of all the grapes I’ve planted on the island, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir seem to be the happiest here. The plan is to make a high-end traditional method sparkling wine from them,” Montes revealed.

In summer, the temperature on Mechuque ranges from 23° Celsius to a chilly 10°C, while in winter the temperature ranges from 12°C to 4°C.

Part of the island’s appeal to Montes is the fact that Mechuque is largely protected from the cooling influence of the Humboldt Current due to being located in a horseshoe-shaped bay, meaning frost is not a serious issue.

In addition to exploring Chile’s southern limits, Montes has a mountain wine project based around a vineyard in the foothills of the Andes planted at 2,000 feet above sea level.

“We’re getting very good results from Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc from there. It’s too cold for Cabernet but Syrah could work,” Montes said.

“The wines from our high altitude vineyard are so fresh, elegant, crisp and joyful. They have a mineral element to them too – the Andes Mountains were below the ocean at one stage so it’s not too hard to find fossils up there,” he added.

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