The Yak sat down with Don Melchor winemaker Isabel Mitarakis Guilisasti to talk vintage.
Isabel, as a woman – how hard was it to break into what is ostensibly a man’s world?
My experience is that through the years, more women are involved in the wine business, even though it is a little bit different in the cellars as the majority of workers are still men. There are certain areas of cellar work which are championed by women as we tend to be more meticulous and are more adept at work that requires fine tuning. In terms of winemaking, there is also a different perspective in terms of tasting palate, perception of aromas and flavours. The wine world is evolving, since I started working not so long ago, I think there are more women involved in the winemaking business.
Who or what was it that made you want to study wine?
I have been in touch with grapes since I was a little girl. We used to spend our whole summer vacation in a vineyard that my family owns in the south of Chile. We harvested the grapes, we played in the vineyards, so for me, winemaking has always been a part of my family’s history, and it is part of who I am. I will always have a strong connection and fond memories of the vineyards. In school, I loved to study science. I loved to spend hours in the laboratory, so when I had to decide my profession and what I wanted to spend most of my time doing, there was no doubt in my mind that oenology was my calling.
You studied and apprenticed in Europe Italy and France – what have these experiences brought to your career?
It was one of the most exciting experience I had ever had. I worked at Mouton de Rothschild in Bordeaux on the 2012 vintage and had the privilege to know Philippine de Rothschild. She was so inspiring and charismatic, and she was so involved with all the workers who are working in the vineyard. We always had lunch together as a team, the work culture of Mouton and the bond I felt with the team there made me feel at home. It was through this amazing experience that allowed me to understand clearly that in the wine industry, no matter where you are or who you are, when you work directly with nature your perception of life is so different as there are no social or ethnic barriers; you just have fun and work together. Professionally I learned a lot and had the opportunity to taste beautiful wines.
You joined the Don Melchor team in 2013. It is said that it is one of the greatest Cabernet Sauvignons in the world. Tell us more.
I believe that Don Melchor represents the beauty of balance, due to its extraordinary terroir. The conditions for growing Cabernet Sauvignon at the foot of the Andes Mountains shaped the character and style of Don Melchor. The 40-year-old vines are planted in the oldest terrace of the Maipo River, the vines are selection of the pre-phylloxera rootstocks which were brought to Chile in the middle of 19th century. The soil is very poor in nutrients, but its beauty comes from its diversity, millenary erosions give origin to these soils with different percentages of clay, gravels, sand, silt, extraordinary good drainage and low fertility encourage the vines to produce good quality and concentrated fruit.
Due to the proximity to the Andes, it provides us with good weather for producing Cabernet Sauvignon. Cold breezes refresh the vineyard every afternoon allowing big differences between day and night temperatures that allows the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes to slowly ripen with an extraordinary expression of soft tannins, fresh fruit character and full concentration of colours, aromas and flavours.
The vineyard has 127 hectares planted with 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 2% Merlot and 1% Petit Verdot. We identified different expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon in the vineyard and subdivided it into 7 parcels of Cabernet, and different small parcels of other varieties. Each parcel is subdivided into smaller lots that we keep separated through the whole vinification process. We know each vine, each row, each parcel looking for the best expression of each.
Finally, Don Melchor is the expression of different Cabernet Sauvignons coming from the same vineyard that is constantly searching for the beauty of balance between finesse and complexity.
What excites you about the wine industry?
The people, the winemaking and of course the beauty of its result – the wine.
Where do you plan to be in five years?
I believe I will always be connected with the vineyard. I just can´t imagine myself anywhere else, I love the vines!
If I wanted to invest some money in wine what 5 wines would you recommend?
Don Melchor 2013, 2014, 2015 , 2016 , 2017 , the vintages I have been working in Don Melchor, I am absolutely in love with the beauty of its expression.
And lastly, what are you hoping to achieve here in Bali?
To learn more about your country, your people, your culture and to show you in a glass of Don Melchor the expression of a culture, the people and the land from the extreme south of the world. I hope everyone here would get to experience the terroir of the Andes Mountains in each bottle of Don Melchor.
Many thanks Isabel!