Wines of the New World: Peru

By Neal Johnston


The earliest recorded historical evidence of setllements in the countries of the new world, also known as the Americas were attempts at colonisation made by the Europeans in as far back as the tenth century. During long voyages of exploration, Scandanavian ‘Norse’ saiors built the very first settlements of the Americas, in Greenland and Canada. Chrsitopher Columbus expanded on the idea having sailed west when he established a new trade route to reach the far east. He inadvertantly landed in what came to be known to the Europeans as The New World.
Spanish speaking Peru is one of the countries that make up the Americas, or New World, and it is showing great potential to becoming one of the newest and emerging wine producing regions in the global wine market today. Wine makers are keeping their eyes and ears firmly planted on the ground in Peru as they stay on the lookout for available plots of land for new working vineyards. The Peruvian population is estimated at just over thirty one million as recorded in 2015. This includes American Indians, Europeans, Africans and Asians. A heady mixture that has resulted in a wide diversity of expressions in different fields including art, cuisine, literature, and music. A multi ethnic society like this means much greater diversification not only demographically, but both creatively and in terms of cultural influence as well. Building on these combined cultural influences is perhaps in many ways key to understanding and contemplating Peru’s future potential as a diverse, engaged and competitive breeding ground for viticulture on the international stage. Variety is after all the spice of life and this particular melting pot of cultures lends it self towards ingenuity and exploration. Viniculture in 2016 not only in Peru but in many other countries of the New World is becoming more inventive and innovative by the day.

One very beneficial feature Peru shares with another great wine producing country, Chile, is that it is set at the very same high altitude and therefore benefits well from the weather influences of the South Pacific Ocean. Peru’s vineyards are maintained throughout five different regions. The North, Central and South Coasts, the Andean Sierra, and the Selva. There are a grand total of eleven thousand hectares of vineyards throughout Peru, however this number will keep changing as viticulturalists continue to hone in on and explore more ambitiously the future prospects of some of the Central and South Coasts’ best known grape varieties. These include Tacama, Vista Alegre and Ocucaje.

This is good news for the future of wines of the new world and is both refreshing and encouraging, like a breath of fresh air for the industry. The Pacific coastal region of Peru is comprised mainly of desert. This barren and isolated landscape is undulated by a series of valleys flowing down from the Andes Mountains toward the sea. These fertile irrigated areas in valleys can hold cool currents of sea air which means that the balance between the humidity and temperatures can fluctuate significantly daily. This provides good enough weather for perfect growing conditions. The terrain is characterized by the natural diversity of its inner and outer landscapes.

While Peru’s shores are lapped by the Pacific Ocean the Altiplano High plateau sits at an average height of three thousand seven hundred and fifty metres above sea level, and then plunges downwards to meet the deep tropical rainforests of the Amazon. Peru has one of the world’s most complex river systems and it is in the Peruvian highlands that the great Amazon River begins.

Peruvian territory was once home to the ancient cultures from the Norte Chico civilization in Caral, one of the oldest in the world to the Inca Empire, the largest known state in Pre-Columbian America. The Spanish Empire successfully conquered the region in the 16th century. Peru’s independence was formally proclaimed some two hundred years later in 1821. The representative democratic republic of Peru today is divided into twenty five individual regions. This is an evolving country with a higher than average human development index score, and a poverty level of around twenty five percent. Some of its main economic activities include mining, manufacturing, agriculture and fishing.

Peru’s climate lies outside of the southern wine belt, the band of latitude that encircles the southern hemisphere of between thirty and forty five degrees in which quality viniculture is considered practicable. The wine belt theory was posited in an era when some parts of the New World were reliant almost entirely on their domestic consumption alone, with very little financial motivation for change and development. The altitude and maritime influences are not accounted for by the wine belt. More so the wine belt relies entirely on latitudinal information which does not take in to consideration Peru’s coastal plains. Yet it is precisely here that Peruvian viticulture has found a safe haven, between the cooling waters lapping in form the edge of the Pacific Ocean and the Andean peaks as they rise to heights of ten thousand feet or more within just a few miles of the coast itself.

On the coastal plains surrounding the city of Pisco we discover the heartland of Peruvian wine production. Just over one hundred and twenty five miles south of the capital, Lima, Pisco is at the centre of Peru’s Pacific coastline. On either side of this are the towns of Chincha, Ica, Moquegua and Tacna. These are Peru’s viticulture hot spots. Ica is known locally as the land of the sun, an oasis of fertile land on the northern edges of the Atacama Desert where a great abundance of vineyards are separated from barren desert by a matter of just yards. The grape varieties used in Peruvian winemaking are well adapted to warm-climate viticulture. Grenache and red-fleshed Alicante Bouschet are two very popular varieties. Cabernet Sauvignon is also become increasingly more popular along with Bordeaux Malbec, which has proved to be very successful in exports to Argentina. Light-skinned Torrontes is another esteemed white wine variety, which goes under the local name of Torontel.

Along with Sauvignon Blanc and various forms of Muscat these are some of the brands that define Peru at this point in time. These particular grape varieties are well known for their ability to thrive in open warmer climates. ‘Pisco’ is a grape brandy quite like Italy’s Grappa. It also happens to be Peru’s national drink of choice and is heavily contested as being the nation’s favourite beverage in neighbouring Chile as well. The clear grape brandy wine is exported from Peru and it is considerably more successful and popular than the country’s domestic wine to most Peruvians. The famous beverage also benefits from a reliable domestic consumer base.

As Peru’s wine makers are learning more about individual wines they are also gaining further recognition of their products outside of Latin America. Production is completed on a relatively small scale for the most part and Peru would like their finer wines to be able to compete more in the future of the international market. Santiago Queirolo Winery’s Intipalka, is one of few Peruvian wines which is exported to the U.S. Europe and China respectively. Ocucaje is another top producer which has gained wide recognition after it won a silver medal for its esteemed Cabernet Sauvignon at the 2012 Vinalies Internationales in France.

Peru’s winemaking legacy has its origins in the sixteenth century. Following the Spanish conquest Peru was the first South American country in which systematic viticulture, the technical term for the cultivation of the grapevine was actively encouraged. Vines were planted in coastal areas with the majority being placed around Ica, a region just south of Lima. Over the years, pests and politics have reduced the country’s vineyards from 125,000 acres in the nineteenth century, to little more than 2,500 acres by the 1980s. But as Llanos Goyena notes, once economic stability returned to Peru at the turn of the millennium so too did a renewed interest in winemaking.

Peru’s rich and varied cuisine includes a wide range of ingredients including maize, tomatoes, potatoes, avocado, and exotic fruits like the chirimoya, lúcuma and pineapple. A typical Peruvian dish is ‘Ceviche’ which is a combination of fish and shellfish marinated in citrus juices. Another popular dish is Pachamanca which is a combination of meat, tubers and beans cooked slowly to perfection in an enlarged stone oven. Peruvian food can be accompanied by typical drinks like the ‘chicha de jora’.

A unique type of beer made by germinating maize, extracting the malt sugars, boiling the wort, and fermenting it in large vessels, traditionally huge earthenware vats for several days. There are also chichas made from purple corn and peanuts. Since the 1980’s Peru has made a concerted effort at revamping its wine making business and expanding on its development. Productivity in 2016 is placed well within the realms of a country that could soon be in the running for best South American wine exporter.

With the unprecedented level of innovation and experimentation that the global wine industry has been experiencing in recent years the future course for development is looking good not only for Peru but for much of the rest of the new world as well. Hot on the heels of climate change meteorological expert opinion would tend to agree almost unanimously that the great variety of new, unexpected and dramatic shifts in today’s weather will more than likely significantly affect the global wine industry’s future course for development. While further scientific discoveries are being made in accordance with these changes these discoveries will help to pave the way for a better, brighter and even more prosperous future for the wines of the new world.

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