Terroir by the glass

By Mike Peters ( China Daily ) Updated: 2016-09-17 09:08:53

 Terroir by the glass

Winemaker Erique Tirado (right) brought celebrity chef Bruno Menard to Chile to plan a menu around his Don Melchor wines. [Photo provided To China Daily]

Geography matters

You would not expect a professional in a prominent agricultural business to get excited about "really poor soil". However, Tirado's eyes light up when he speaks of the alluvial but rocky material in which his prized vines are planted.

"The combination of stony soil and very little rainfall means that the roots go deep," he says of the cabernet sauvignon plants, now three decades old and well-established.

Other geographic factors have helped produced wines like the 2012 vintage, the company's "crown jewel" that won a 98-point rating from critic James Suckling and was named the year's best wine of Chile by Wine Spectator magazine.

The company's Puente Alto vineyard sits at the foot of the Andes on the Maipo River, where the grapes enjoy warm days but cool nights. Most of the year's rainfall comes in winter, not in late summer when it could spoil the harvest. The soil's high mineral content from clay, gravel and stones give the resulting wines a distinctive and consistent character. The nutrient-poor soil swept down from the Andes by the river is weakly absorbent, a combination that naturally limits both excessive leaf grown and fruit production.

The result is fewer but much better grapes.

While Tirado eagerly embraces modern technology as a tool, "it is observing and feeling each plant and wine that enables me to reach the perfect balance year after year." So while lab reports track the sugar levels, pH and other indicators as the fruits ripen, at harvest time he's out in the vineyard chewing on grapes and seeds every day, row by row.

"If you can taste a green note in the vineyard," he says, "you will get a green wine. That's very clear."

A major "secret" behind his wine's quality, says Tirado, is in the blending. Although the vineyard's 127 hectares are contiguous, the land is divided into seven distinct blocks and more than 100 parcels, each producing grapes that will deliver variations in aroma and taste as the wine is made. About 150 batches are tasted over several days each year; seven will be chosen for the final blend.

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