In the pantheon of world-renowned wine regions, Chile has assumed its rightful place alongside countries like France, Italy, and the United States. But it was not always this way. This esteemed wine country — now home to more than 400 producers — can trace its legacy to one man and the wine he inspired.
The story starts in 1883, when Don Melchor planted pre-phylloxera French vines at his family estate. He wasn’t the first to cultivate grapes here, but he saw something special in the vineyards. The founder of Concha y Toro wines, Melchor recognized the potential of the upper Maipo Valley, under the shadow of the Andes, where rocky soil encourages viticultural virtuosity.
Over a century later, in 1987, Melchor’s legacy was revived. An eponymous label was launched from grapes grown exclusively at this historic 314-acre property. The land straddles a pristine hillside known as Puente Alto — the highest terraces of Maipo, from which a world-class wine is born. Elegant and structured, Don Melchor is highly aromatic and full of flavor, balanced with a refinement that has earned the respect of oenophiles the world over.
For 30 vintages, Don Melchor’s sole expression has been a Cabernet Sauvignon made from this unique place. And for the past 20 years, its humble steward has been winemaker Enrique Tirado. Tall, with tousled hair, Tirado wears a knowing smile as he presents this signature bottling.
“You have to appreciate the influence of the Andes,” he says. “The altitude, the soils, and the weather in Puente Alto combine to make a Cabernet Sauvignon like no other.” Through the ages, glaciers and sheer gravity have deposited an abundance of minerals; round stones, clay, and gravel encourage the vines to work extremely hard. Down the mountain’s westward slope comes a chilled breeze, buffering the fruit from hot summer afternoons. These components converge to imbue the grapes with the singular character that is Don Melchor.
Among the first to sense this excellence was Bordeaux winemaking legend Jacques Boissenot, who became a mentor to Tirado. A kinship between their respective regions dates back to the 1980s. Since then — after all the work of each year’s harvest is completed — every assemblage of Don Melchor comes together through a marathon tasting in Bordeaux. There, Tirado tastes up to 150 components alongside Boissenot’s son, Eric, who has carried on his father’s legacy since Jacques’ passing in 2014.
The resulting blend displays fresh berries and ample density. It’s primarily Cabernet Sauvignon (the 2017 vintage is 98 percent), but Tirado has also planted parcels of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Merlot to be used selectively to round out the wine, varying on the needs of vintage. Despite the connection to the Old World, Don Melchor stands on its own: a singularly exceptional contribution to world-class Cab Sauv.
After two decades, Tirado is completely dialed into the land and the landscape that defines this wine. “I remember the first time I really saw Puente Alto, not as a vineyard but as many parcels,” he recalls. It was then that he had the foresight to subdivide the property into multiple parcels — each of which is vinified separately during winemaking. “Don Melchor is actually the sum of 150 different micro-vinifications and an intensive effort to find the perfect blend,” he explains. “Each year we have to choose the very best that nature gives us to blend the final wine.”
The 2017 vintage, which is the 30th anniversary release, incorporated a subtle yet significant redesign: The label depicts the Don Melchor Casona, the historic manor house that was once home to Don Melchor and his family. The wine has remained remarkably true for three decades. Robust and complex, the juice will continue to evolve in the bottle for years to come. Velvety tannins develop throughout that time, elongating notes of cassis, mint, and pepper along a sturdy compositional canvas.
The wine’s longevity was proven when Tirado recently hosted an exclusive vertical tasting at NYC’s Legacy Records. The 1987 Don Melchor vintage maintained a surprising degree of fresh-fruit characteristics, epitomizing the nobility of Old World grace and sophistication. Wines from the ‘90s — when Tirado became the winemaker — showed alluring notes of umami in the finish. Indeed, as it ages, this elegant Chilean Cabernet easily stands toe-to-toe with its bold red counterparts from Napa to Bordeaux. It is a wine that feels destined to reach further upward in the years to follow.
The wine’s future is now more promising than ever. This fall, Viña Don Melchor formally announced its status as an independent winery. For the first time in its history, it will operate separately from the larger Concha y Toro portfolio.
“We have our sights set on producing a single wine that is the unique expression of the Puente Alto terroir,” promises Tirado, who was just named general manager for the new venture. “We will pay homage to this fantastic place by continuing to deliver a wine with incomparable personality and expression.”
Under Tirado’s watch, Don Melchor faces an enviable future as a collector’s Cabernet Sauvignon. “We want to refine the way that our wine is distributed with a more independent focus on our most valued markets,” he adds. And these days, nobody has a greater thirst for premium Chilean wine than the States — where savvy Cab collectors love to explore. The decision to launch as an independent winery was the logical next step in the growth of Don Melchor. It’s also the next step for Chilean wine: The brand that put it on the map is now poised and positioned to define its destiny.
This article is sponsored by Don Melchor.