While my life is an endless vacation, Matt had his first vacation last week. Because we are saving Machu Picchu, the main Peruvian attraction for when we have visitors, we decided to head south to the Ica region of Peru to see the sights and do some wine/pisco tastings. Easier said than done; given our Cajamarca location, our trip required us to first fly to Lima for the evening and then catch an early flight to Pisco. Imagine our surprise when we discovered this was our commercial airplane to Pisco:
Neither Matt nor I fear flying, so we didn’t mind the small plane although it was a little disconcerting to realize the co-pilot was being trained. But there was even complimentary snack service, which is more than most major airlines provide these days.
We landed in Pisco (which is both a place and a liquor) and were picked up by our driver, Guillermo, and our English-speaking guide, Patricia. While we were originally going to go to our hotel in Huacachina for a few hours and then have our wine/pisco tours in the afternoon, the plan changed and we were at our first winery stop, Vista Allegre, by 9:30 am. We were hoping to find some good Peruvian wine on this trip, but our tours confirmed our fears: there is no good Peruvian wine. There is some okay, everyday wine, but nothing amazing. We also learned that Peruvians are incredibly proud of their pisco and are in a feud with Chile over the right to call their respective liquors pisco. In early October, the El Salvador Supreme Court ruled that only Peru may use the name pisco. I am not sure whether that means anything outside of El Salvador (the way only France can market champagne), but the Peruvians were pretty happy and proud to share the news with us.
Our drive was surreal; there was no confusing our location with Napa. We were in a desert with huge sand dunes, yet Ica is also an agriculture area due to its sunny climate. Check your asparagus – it may be from Peru. Other crops include cotton, potatoes, olives and, of course, grapes for wine and pisco. As a result of the agriculture, transplants from the jungle, where there is no real industry to support people, migrate to the area to work in the fields. We saw many odd straw hut communities in the middle of nowhere that didn’t appear to be inhabited. We were told they are “planned invasions” – transient communities that come and squat on the land and eventually own it if the government cooperates and no landowner throws them off. The process is very political and some locals greatly oppose it. It sounded very odd at first until we thought about Western migration in the US.
We were handed off to the winery’s tour guide, a young guy who spoke decent English and did a nice job explaining the pisco distilling process. (Although I think Matt was offended when the guide disparaged blended whiskeys.) I assumed pisco was like grappa and was made from distilling the leftovers (stems, seeds, skins) of the wine making process, but it is not. Fresh grapes are pressed/stomped to make pisco. If you are interested in learning more about the process, this link will take you to a decent explanation (although we did not go to this winery). http://www.barsolpisco.com/web/index.php/process
After our tasting, we headed to our next stop, Tacama, the oldest winery in Peru. We were excited to go there as Tacama Gran Tinto is one of the few Peruvian wines we drink and we were hoping to try some of their other reds in an effort to find a better one. Unfortunately, the Gran Tinto was the best we tasted. The grounds at Tacama were beautiful and the traditional caballero/señorita dance was a nice touch.
Our final stop was a smaller producer, Bodega El Catador, which is on a compound of several wineries and restaurants owned by different members of a family. The tour showed the traditional way of making pisco, complete with ceramic casks. It was very interesting and we made our only purchase of the day: a bottle of fig-infused pisco. It has a creaminess reminiscent of Baileys and is quite tasty. Or maybe it just seemed tasty because we were up at 5:00 and wine/pisco tasting by 10:00 am!
Next up: We hit the dunes!