Finding true passion in winemaking is one of the ingredients for making outstanding premium wines. This passion is the case when you meet Aurelio Montes, Jr., winemaker for Kaiken. His exuberance for his craft is quite evident when in his presence. You immediately sense his passion for wine, the terroir, and the process of making wine.
Kaiken might be considered the Argentine branch of Viña Montes. When Aurelio Montes, Sr., winemaker and owner of Montes discovered the terroir and viticulture of Argentina and, more specifically, Mendoza, he was inspired to expand his winemaking prowess. He accomplished this feat by having a hand in making wines in a country very close to his native Chile but so different in the styles of winemaking. Hence Kaiken was established in 2002.
Kaiken got its name from the Wild Geese, Caiquenes, that cross the Andes between Chile and Argentina during the migration season. The name of the winery represents not only this wild goose but also the Montes team that crossed the Andes to create the wonderful wines that embody the Kaiken label.
The Caiquen is also a very social bird and thereby suggests the social aspects that bring people together over a bottle of wine and food. This bird symbolizes Aurelio’s cosmopolitan interpretations of his wines. He loves cooking and combining various spices to enhance the cuisine. His conception of producing quality wines follows this same pattern. In essence, blending different areas and flavors together from good grapes, thereby creating unique wonderful wines.
I first experienced a Kaiken Malbec Reserva about a year ago while traveling in Mendoza. It was a real treat when I was invited to meet Aurelio Montes, Jr., and experience the portfolio of Kaiken wines that are now sold in the United States.
Aurelio Montes, Jr.
After graduating from the Universidad Catolica de Chile’s Agronomy program in winemaking in 1999, Aurelio traveled to Australia to work at Rosemount and Cape Mentelle and later to Napa’s Franciscan Estate Winery before returning to Chile to become the assistant winemaker for Viña Ventisquero. By 2006 he moved up the ladder to become winemaker. In 2007 he joined his family’s winery, Viña Montes. In 2011 Aurelio and his family moved to Mendoza to head the Montes’ Kaiken project. With this venture, Aurelio introduced some of the key components, biodynamics, organics, and sustainability to Kaiken that make this winery stand out through both their wines and working environment.
Kaiken is different than most wineries in Argentina because three years ago, the winery’s vineyard viticulture became biodynamic. Kaiken also utilizes organic principles and sustainable practices. As Aurelio describes it, “We are coming back to our roots. It is the way my grandparents worked in the vineyard.” While the winery’s philosophy and use of biodynamics are giving to the soil, at the same time, Kaiken is receiving the bounties its grapes have to offer. At the winery, they are establishing natural ecosystems.
In addition to the grapes, they grow their fruits and vegetables. Chickens, sheep, geese, and horses are all part of the program. Aurelio has found that since introducing these programs, the vineyard has changed because it is healthier, and the quality of the grapes is better. Not only are the people who work at Kaiken happy, but they also are excited about the work they do to make this winery a sustainable community.
These practices are all part of the Kaiken mission, which is to “respect the environment, embrace sustainable practices, work in harmony with the local community and to create value for the shareholders and employees.”
It is the vineyards themselves that enhance Kaiken’s mission and values. They reflect all that the Argentine terroir has to offer. The vineyards are located in three distinct regions of Mendoza. Vistalba, Agrelo, and Vista Flores. Each location has different soil types that ultimately reflect each wine produced. The lowest is Agrelo, while the highest is Vista Flores in the Uco Valley.
The winery is approximately 80-years old and is located in Lujan de Cuya, which is closest to the Vistalba vineyards. It is the wines themselves that speak to the language of terroir and share the vision that Aurelio has established through his biodynamic and sustainability programs.
I started with Kaiken Brut. This elegant sparkling wine establishes the freshness and minerality found in the Uco Valley. It is a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that ages for two years. The flavors of pear are quite evident.
The 2012 Torrontes, which comes from Cafayate in Salta, is the first grape that Kaiken harvests. With its citrusy aromas of orange and lemon, there are some sweeter tropical flavors of pineapple and some florals like Jasmine.
Kaiken Premium Wines The Reds
Both 2011 Reserva Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon aged for six months to a year in 40% oak and 60% concrete. The Malbec, with its aromas of Licorice, was bright with red fruit and very drinkable while the Cabernet displayed an earthy green pepper quality.
The 2012 Malbec from the Terroir Series with its intense dark purple color and flavors of dark fruit such as blueberries typifies the wines Kaiken creates from the Vista Flores Vineyard in the Uco Valley. This Malbec has a silky, velvety quality with hints of spice and a soft rounded finish. The wines aged ten months in French Oak and six months in the bottle. It was one of my favorites.
The Ultra combines the grapes from vineyards in Uco Valley and Vistalba. The wines are quite complex in structure. The 2011 Ultra Cabernet Sauvignon aged for 12 months in French oak. The wine has 5% Malbec and is earthy, silky, and round.
Finally, Kaiken I sampled the 2007 Mai. Mai means first in Spanish. It is the first and top-level wine of Kaiken. The grapes for this wine are hand-selected from 80-year old vines. It is the true expression of the terroirs in Agrelo, Vistalba, and Vista Flores that make up this winery wines. Aged 18 months in new French oak and then another 24 months in bottle, this elegant wine is what Aurelio calls the wine that represents his vision of “Argentine Style.”
Aurelio Montes, Jr is driven by his passion. Integrating that passion in combination with sustainability, Argentine terroir, the biodynamic and organic practices are the elements for the outstanding premium wines one finds from Kaiken.