I celebrated the first Earth Day by picking up potato chip bags, gum wrappers, and cigarette butts from the high school football and hockey field with plenty of classmates by my side and Crosby, Stills, and Nash tunes in my head. Many years and more environmental initiatives later, Earth Day means more than just keeping America beautiful. People around the globe have realized that a myriad of conservation efforts are needed to preserve our planet for future generations. Wine lovers, too, are united in seeking out wines that are produced using sustainable, biodynamic, and organic methods. One such example is dry farming, a system of water conservation; rainfall takes care of the irrigation process.
Recently I participated in #Sommchat, a weekly twitter chat often featuring a wine aficianado who shares his or her philosophies, notes about wines, and more. Highlighting the latest #Sommchat was renown winemaker Aurelio Montes, President, Chairman, Head Winemaker (take your pick!) at Montes Wines in Chile, who spoke about the benefits and challenges of dry farming. Prior to the chat, I received as tasting samples a Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Syrah 2012, and Carmenere 2012 from the premium Montes Alpha Series. All were sustainably dry farmed in vineyards located in the Colchagua Valley.
Montes explained that under their dry farming philosophy, “we leave nature to do the job of irrigation through rain. We don’t irrigate unless nature does not provide us with enough minimum rain that we have determined our vines need. In that case we irrigate to compensate the difference.” The result? Dry farming helps produce more ripe fruit and decreases the use of water up to 65%. There are challenges, however. Montes shared that “you sacrifice a lot in terms of yields.” Further, one of the most demanding aspects is “controlling tannin extraction and balance on the palate” and “not debilitating the vineyards.” In fact, Montes stated that “dry farming Carmenere sacrifices six to ten tons of fruit per hectare.”
The wines I tasted were produced from grapes grown in vineyards located at Montes Wines’ Apalta and Marchigue estates in the Colchagua Valley. Both areas have granite soils with different levels of weathering and “vary in terms of clay content, depth, and amount of organic matter.” The Apalta Vineyards are heterogeneous with areas influenced by the river or by mudslides that break from the nearby mountains. Marchigue is flatter with lower hills, moderate slopes and shallow clay soils that retain water. Soil in vineyards located in the flat zones consist of fluvial material and are poor in clay.
Aurelio Montes shared that Cabernet and Syrah grapes respond especially well to the dry farming system. In Bordeaux where rainfall is plentiful, Carmenere is dry farmed. In Chile, however, Montes stated that Carmenere must be irrigated on occasion for vine survival; there is not as much rain as in Bordeaux.
So how were the wines? Delicious. Each choice I tasted in the Alpha Series is under $20 and the price/quality ratio is going to be difficult to beat…I’m not even going to try!
The Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 presented intense aromas of dark cherries, spice, and pepper. Rich and bold on the palate, bright notes of black currants, more cherries, tobacco, vanilla, and toasted oak led to a long finish.
The angel on the label of Montes Alpha series wines “symbolizes the founder’s guardian angel, but now symbolizes protection for us all” according to Aurelio Montes. Thanks to Montes Wines’ practices of sustainability, I’m thinking that the angel is protecting the earth as well.