Enrique Tirado2012 was a big year for Enrique Tirado the head winemaker for Don Melchor. He and his family took a year to immerse themselves in all things French, from language, to academics, to food, and of course, wine.It was a big decision to move my whole family to France for a year—but it was a good one. I’ve been working at Concha y Toro since 1993 and have been in charge of Don Melchor since 1997, so it seemed like it was time for some fresh inspiration, to catch up on the latest techniques and thinking in the wine world. I’ve always loved Cabernet and Bordeaux-style wines, so there was never much question about where to go… Bordeaux it was, and so early in 2012, my wife and I with our four kids (ages 4 to 15) set off on a year-long adventure in France.I enrolled in the University of Bordeaux and completed an overarching diploma program as well as two additional smaller diplomas in specific areas. Ten courses total… all in French… what a challenge!I love working with Don Melchor—always have. When I was studying enology, I did my thesis project on Cabernet Sauvignon, and in 1992 (the year I graduated) I was invited to participate in a couple of blind tastings of “Top Chilean wines.” The amazing thing is that both times, my favorite wine, the one I ranked Nº 1, was Don Melchor. Needless to say, I was very happy to start working at Concha y Toro a year later, and thrilled when I joined the Don Melchor team in 1995. Imagine how I felt when they put me in charge two years later! Sure, I made some changes when I “inherited” Don Melchor, but it wasn’t a matter of style. That doesn’t change much over the years. It’s not a matter of winemaker style. My goal is to make an excellent Cabernet Sauvignon that fully expresses the natural characteristics of Puente Alto, in the Alto Maipo Valley. And that means special dedication in the vineyard, so the most important changes I implemented had to do with how we work in the vineyard. Any technology and methodology we incorporate is always in function of that goal.We’re looking for a wine with the perfect balance between Cabernet fruit and elegance. It’s not easy, and it doesn’t happen just anywhere. It takes terroir and know-how. What we have at Puente Alto is the Andes, which influences the soils—rocky soils mean good drainage—and the climate. We also have the human factor—a group of hard-working people dedicated to making Don Melchor everything it can and should be without overworking it. It’s important to know when to back off and let the wine be itself.We’ve just launched the 2009 vintage, and while it is clearly Don Melchor, it has its own character, mostly due to climatic differences. Both 2008 and 2009 were warm years, but the advantage we had in 2009 was that the soil absorbed more water over the winter and spring, so we didn’t have to irrigate until much later in the season, and that benefits the vines. When the CELLAR NOTES Nº1 JUNE 2013Enrique Tirado in Pauillac, France.But it wasn’t all about studying. We wanted a genuine French experience, to actually live there, to truly feel the culture—in situand on a daily basis. Our kids went to school and all learned French. My wife studied cooking, and we traveled around the country every chance we got, visiting chateaux and immersing ourselves in the French way of life. It was a wonderful experience for each of us personally, for us as a family, and obviously for me, it was an excellent professional experience.My program spanned a wide range of areas, not only in the vineyard and cellar, but also included courses on research and communication. And while all of this information helped broaden, my way of looking at the field, my intention is not—and never has been—to try and copy a French model here in Chile. I don’t want to make a French wine; I want to make the best Chilean wine I can. We aim for a Cabernet Sauvignon that expresses the very best of Chile.One of the first things we did was sectorize the vineyards. Today we have a total of 127 hectares—114 in those days, and we divided them up into 100 parcels to work each independently and then organized them into seven overarching groups according to their characteristics to make the different Cabernet wines that ultimately go into the final Don Melchor blend.Over the years we have tweaked our techniques, improving canopy management, experimenting with irrigation methods, fine tuning harvest dates, etc. The same goes in the bodega—we’re continuously working on perfecting maceration schedules, punch downs, and timing, right down to the smallest detail. In the end, making a fine wine is the culmination of an enormous number of decisions made at every step of the process—all aimed at producing the desired result, which in our case is a wine that shows plenty of fresh fruit, with lively acidity, pleasing concentration, and well-rounded tannins.plants have ready access to natural reserves of water the fruit conserves its freshness better, and this comes through in the 2009. It has more fresh fruit expression and livelier acidity than the 2008. They’re similar in their composition—the 2009 has a bit more Cabernet Franc (4% vs. 3% in 2008), and both spent 15 months in French oak barrels (72% new), so the differences are clearly due to the weather. The 2009 is full of red fruit and bright acidity to complement its greater depth and density.So what’s ahead? My family and I have already returned to “real life” here in Chile and are assimilating our tremendous experience into our own lives. For me, professionally, it’s a matter of reflecting on everything I learned last year and determining how and where I can apply it in my work. And for Don Melchor? We’ll have to see how it responds to the gentle adjustments we make to help it better express its own rich and unique personality.