Wine In Her Blood

Interview by Anton D. Javier
Photos courtesy of VCT Wine Group
03 Sep 2017

Enter the world of Don Melchor's 2014 vintage with Chilean winemaker, Isabel Mitarakis Guilisasti

From that first curious sip when she was only 12 years old and later rediscovering the nuances of wine as an adult, winemaker Isabel Mitarakis Guilisasti comes full circle with the release of the Don Melchor 2014 vintage.

Talk to us about your earliest memory of wine. Did you know at a young age that you wanted to be a winemaker or did that naturally fall into place?
I’ve always had a connection to the countryside. I have memories of being surrounded by grape vines since I was a little girl and I used to spend summers at my family’s vineyard. So when the time came, viticulture was a natural decision for me. My family has always been tied to wine producer Concha y Toro — my grandfather, my uncles, and even my mother. I had my first taste of wine at a young age. I think I was about 12 years old, and I remember that it was red wine. 

I have always been aware that in order to make great wine, you need to know the vineyard and its characteristics, so I decided to learn the process in depth and then continue by studying oenology. I have participated in conversations about wine and viticulture since I was very young, and that has certainly made a difference.

You started your career with Concha y Toro in 2011. What would you consider your greatest achievement as a winemaker so far?
My work with Don Melchor has been a constant learning process. I started in 2011, but it took time to get to know the vineyard, the vines, and the soil. The weather conditions change every year and that forces us to react and modify certain decisions and processes. It’s also very challenging to work with Enrique Tirado, the head winemaker for Don Melchor, on a wine that is so emblematic for Chile. This is a wine that has opened doors for the Chilean wine industry to making world-class wines, so it’s always an enormous responsibility to be involved in its creation.

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Don Melchor 2014 has received outstanding recognitions from many prestigious wine publication and critics. Could you tell us what makes the 2014 vintage is so special?
Every vintage of Don Melchor is different, depending on the year’s weather conditions, but they all faithfully reflect the Puente Alto terroir. In 2014, we began the harvest in late March, and it lasted three weeks. It was a colder year, and the ripening period was slow, which resulted in greater natural acidity, softer and more delicate tannins, and very good expression of fruit and mineral notes.

For those who have not had the privilege of trying the Don Melchor 2014, how would you describe it to them?
This particular wine is 92% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Cabernet Franc and was aged for 15 months in French oak barrels. The nose shows notes of red fruit from the Cabernet Sauvignon mingled with the expression of freshness from this year. The wine stands out for its concentration and expression of mineral notes like cold ash and pencil lead, but most importantly, its expression of the Puente Alto terroir. This is very important when you taste Don Melchor. It’s a Cabernet from the rocky Andean soils at the foot of the Andes Mountains, where the Mediterranean climate is accompanied by a broad daily temperature oscillation generated by the mountain winds that cool the vineyard each evening.

Could you share with us some of your most memorable moments in the industry so far?
There are many things I enjoy about being involved in the world of wine. Certainly having the opportunity to present Don Melchor in other countries and to people from different cultures, and talking about Chile and its terroir is fantastic. I love talking about wine and sharing anecdotes and having conversations about tasting. One of the most memorable events in my oenological career was working a harvest at Mouton Rothschild and getting to know the entire process up close. But the person who impressed me the most for her charisma and passion was the Baroness Philippine de Rothschild. I have very fond memories of our conversations about wine. It was through her that I came to understand the importance of making each vintage a great work of art.

And what about the challenges?
As a winemaker, the great challenge is looking after all the details involved in the vinification of this great wine — not interfering with the extraordinary expression of the grapes from this vineyard or altering their qualities, but guiding them throughout the entire process. It’s a great privilege to work with a grand master such as Enrique Tirado — I never stop learning. There’s a constant rush of adrenaline. We work on each vintage for four years before it’s released to market, and we face a new challenge every time.

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Tell us about some of the trends in wine for this year. Is there a particular region that’s popular now, a type of wine that’s gaining more popularity, or wine and food pairings to try?
The world of wine is constantly changing and evolving, and we’ve seen new trends in recent years, such as respecting the expression of the fruit during the vinification process.

Today there’s a global trend toward seeking out wines that express their origin. The value of a wine like Don Melchor is precisely in its expression of its terroir, and therefore, has occupied a privileged place among the great Cabernet Sauvignons of the world, and Chile has become known as a great producer of the variety, just as New Zealand is known as a great producer of Sauvignon Blanc.

The different cuisines of the world are based on authentic flavors original to a region or country —simpler, less sophisticated dishes in which the basic ingredients reveal their natural expression.

I recommend being daring and just trying things because there is no perfect pairing. The wonderful thing about wine is that it has a different expression on each occasion. For example, drinking a wine by candlelight is not the same as drinking the same wine in a brightly lit setting. All of our senses interact to generate a unique and unforgettable experience.

How do you personally enjoy the Don Melchor 2014?
It’s not often that you find a wine with such a clear expression of place. When I taste the different vintages in the winery with Enrique, I’m always amazed by its consistency and extraordinary quality. I love the 2014 vintage and I try to enjoy it as often as I can, on memorable occasions and with very good company.