(based on Steven Everett article “Peru and Wine”)
The wine industry in Peru has actually been around far longer than most people realize. Wine grapes were first introduced to Peru by the Spanish conquistador Marquis Francisco de Caravantes who visited there during the sixteenth century. Ever since then, Peruvians have been working on perfecting their wine growing techniques. Today, wine makers in province of Ica are producing some very good wines. Peruvians know this well and now the rest of the world is finding out too.
Until recently, Peruvian wine exports were very limited. This is because Peruvian wine production has traditionally been quite low when compared to other more commercially developed South American countries, such as Chile and Argentina. The biggest Peruvian wine exporter is Bodega Tacama and they do produce very good Red and White wines, as well as Champagne Brut. It is also possible to find wines produced by Bodega Ocucaje, Bodega Tabernero and Bodega Vista Alegre.
Peru’s micro wine production has actually played to their favor though, by allowing them the time to experiment with different blends and wine making techniques without getting a reputation for low quality wines. Instead, Peruvian wine exports have arrived on the market as a seeming newcomer with surprisingly high quality. In fact, you could be forgiven for not even knowing that Peru has a wine industry.
Peruvian Wine Culture
The city of Ica lies within the province of Ica, which is the center of Peruvian wine culture. This is the area where wine grapes were first introduced and many smaller wineries still make use of ancient techniques to produce wines.
The province of Ica is known as an area of sand, sea and oases. Despite its hot and dry climate, Ica is actually a perfect place to grow wine grapes. The fields are thoroughly irrigated with water from the Andes and virtually any crop in the world can grow here. Peru’s best wineries are located here and are referred to as “bodegas” which actually means “wineries”. All Peruvian wineries are prefixed with this word; Bodega Tacama, Bodega Ocucaje, Bodega Vista Alegre, Bodega Tabernero, etc.
In some ways, Ica (the province) is not just the cradle of Peru’s wine culture but of Peru as a whole. Saints and medicine men are a part of everyday life and this is also where the best Pisco brandy is distilled. Pisco has attained a certain degree of world fame and is considered to be Peru’s national drink. It would be very hard to find a Peruvian winery that doesn’t make Pisco alongside their wines.
Peruvian wineries have a long way to go before they can compete with other more developed wine growing countries like France, America, Italy and Australia. Even their neighbors, Chile and Argentina, are much more developed that Peru is when it comes to commercial wine production. But, that is also one of things that make Peruvian wines stand out the most. They are different. The diversity of wines from around the world is probably the one thing that makes wine the best drink in the world. So if you are looking to try something different then you may find that a wine from Peru is exactly what you are looking for.
There are four industrial wineries in Peru worth mentioning and all are located in the province of Ica.
Tacama’s vineyard was founded in the 1540’s, making it the oldest South American vineyard in the New World. Located in the valley of Ica, the Tacama vineyard sits in a fertile oasis surrounded by desert, 300 kilometres from the city of Lima, capital of Peru. The climate and land of Ica are ideal for the cultivation of wines with real character.
Throughout the years, Tacama has selected and introduced the best grape varieties to its vineyards and perfected its cultivation and production techniques, using French technology as well as extensive consultants with French experts to produce exceptional Peruvian wines. Red and White Tacama wines have won several awards in international shows with well-respected experts classifying the wines as being of world- class quality.
The winery Tacama lies about 10 kilometers north of the city of Ica and is one of the best known and well respected wine exporters in Peru. Their Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc wines are a true testament to what they can do with wine grapes. If you have ever tried a wine from Peru there is a good chance that it came from Tacama.
Viña Ocucaje was founded in 1898 in an excellent viticultural zone dating back to the 16th century. Located in the agriculturally privileged region surrounded by the smooth hills south of Lima. Ocucaje takes its name from the Aymara word “Okukaje”, meaning “Between Hills”. In the 1930s imported grapevines especially selected from France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and the Rhine Valley were introduced to the Ocucaje estate and the society Viña Ocucaje S.A. was formed. Today they continue to employ traditional methods, producing red and white wines, as well as Pisco of excellent quality.
About 40 kilometers south of the city of Ica is the winery Ocucaje. Ocucaje is arguably just as well known as Tacama, mainly because Ocucaje was the first winery to be established in this area. They are mainly known for the care and attention they put into producing some of the nation’s best Piscos year after. But, they have not shied away from putting that same effort into producing high quality wines as well.
One of the largest vineyards in the country has maintained a long tradition of careful selection, dedication and diligence since its incorporation in 1857. Today this tradition is maintained and reinforced with the implementation of innovations and expansions which presently makes Vista Alegre one of the oldest but at the same time one of the most modern vineyards in Peru.
Vista Alegre combine tradition and knowledge together with antiquity and modernisation to produce impressive Peruvian wines and Piscos.
The winery Vista Alegre lies about 3 kilometers north of the city of Ica and produces wine and Pisco using some of the most modern machinery available. Vista Alegre is probably the most technically advanced of the wineries located near Ica but they have also managed to keep some traces of Peru’s rich wine growing history. A wine from Vista Alegre is certain to be good.
Bodega Tabernero was founded in 1897, with its famous vineyard situated in the Chincha valley south of Lima, where the combination of rich soil and an ideal climate are central to the cultivation of a wide variety of grapes. The Tabernero vineyard produces excellent Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Italia, Muscat, Quebranta (for Pisco) and Burgundy varieties. Today, Tabernero continue to employ the World’s leading technologies to produce outstanding Peruvian wines for both the national and international markets.
Beyond the four industrial wineries, there is also a collective of about 85 different small wineries known collectively as the Artesanales wineries. These wineries follow many of old wine making traditions, including crushing the grapes by foot. During the harvest season, there are many festivals throughout Peru and it is not uncommon for the entire community surrounding one of these independent wineries to help stomp the grapes during the celebrations. While the three industrial wineries have abandoned this practice, there is something to be said for making wine in the traditional fashion and wines labeled as “Bodegas Artesanales” do have a certain old world charm to them.
While some Bodegas Artesanales wines are good, do not expect the same level of quality that comes from the industrial wineries. The industrial wineries have abandoned the traditional Peruvian methods in favor of more the widely accepted practices of fermentation in oak barrels and the use of stainless steel machinery.