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Ava Leigh Stewart

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By Ava Leigh Stewart   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Posted: Thursday, December 10, 2009

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This is an article I wrote detailing the ancient process of making Pisco Brandy in a quaint coastal town of Pisco, Peru. It was published in 2004.

PISCO:  a traditional winery of Peru

Leaving the coastal town of Paracas, one of Peru’s most beautiful places, we were embarking on a sojourn to see a Pisco winery.  Driving on the Pan-American Highway, surrounded by the barren desert landscapes, drenched in sun, as far as the eye could see, the breeze was humid like a blanket of heat.  The van took a turn onto a narrow dirt road seemingly in the middle of a farm.  As we continued, thick walls of maize were rising from either side of the road.   Deep furrows in the road made the ride a bit bumpy and dust billowed from all sides of the van.  Dilapidated buildings, most with only walls left standing, stood on the roadside, graffiti littered across the crumbling walls.  Approaching an intersection, the van slowed, there was a primitive fountain pouring water from a pipe.  Swarms of local village children made peace signs and yelled “Hello”.   We reached the grand entrance to the vineyard.  Inside was a quaint stucco home, sunken into the ground with a large neon sign that read “El Catador”. 

This winery’s beginning dates back to around the 1600’s when Pisco was born during the colonization of Peru by the Spaniards.  Originally, the area was inhabited by the Paracas culture, known for their cone-shaped pottery that they used to hold Chicha, a native beer, and other alcoholic beverages.  The Paracas culture was conquered by the Inca who named the tribes Pisco, a word from their local dialect, Quechua.  The meaning is “little bird”, a name given because of the wide expanse of coastal birds inhabiting the area.  During the colonization of Peru, Spaniards brought Mediterranean grape vines to the southern coastal areas for cultivation of wine in the sixteenth century.  Using the skill and knowledge of the ancient Peruvians, the Spaniards were able to irrigate the desert and create a climate that was ideal to grow these grape varieties.  In the seventeenth century the King of Spain banned wines coming from the colony, so there was a surplus of grapes.  This surplus was used to make brandy or aguardiente in Spanish.  The port of Pisco was known for the brandy by sailors coming to get guano, a valuable mineral that comes from bird droppings.   In 1630, Peru exported 20 million liters of grape brandy which was given the name of the port, Pisco.   Today, many grape varieties, especially the Muscat are used to produce the different types of Pisco.   The process has not been changed by modern invention and remains the same as the sixteenth century. 

We got out of the van and our guide Gianella Mayorga Alguiar from Condor Travel lead us through the vineyards to the beginning of the tour.  The harvest of grapes is from January to March by hand.  The grapes are brought to a large basin in preparation to stomp.  The sweet smell of the harvested grape’s juices attracts killer bees, so they begin the grape stomping at sunset around 6p, until sunrise around 5a.  The stomping is a festival that is comprised of singing and dancing, as the grapes are crushed in the basin by the whole town.  Once the juice has been released from the grape skins, they remove the cork from the first basin, so the liquid drains to a second basin.  The remaining skins are bundled like bales of hay, then wrapped and put under a press to get the last remaining juices.  The dried skins are then used to keep the dust on the unpaved roads to a minimum.  In the second basin, the mixture of liquid and skins are pressed with a metal plate that is attached with a rope to a “huaranjo” tree.  The trees petrify over time and remain intact for up to one-hundred years.  Once all the juice is extracted, the final product of juice is pushed into the next basin where many of the skins are filtered out and only liquid remains.  This basin has two metal faucets coming from the base.  These faucets are used to fill large pisco jars or in Spanish bottegas for the fermentation.  The pisco jars are filled and placed at an angle leaning on one another to remain upright.  They are left in the Peruvian sun for 18 days to ferment.  After the process is done the jars are poured into a large fermenting chamber that is fired by a wood burning oven for ten hours.  The pisco is funneled from the large chamber through a large pipe to a final faucet.  The pipe runs through a basin of cold water to cool the liquid and stop the process of fermentation. Once ready the pisco is poured into jars at the faucet.  The first ten percent of liquid is methanol which can be deadly if consumed, but works as a cleaning solvent for the basins.  The next 60% of liquid is 70% alcohol.  The final of roughly 30% liquid left is about 30% alcohol.  The mixtures are combined to reach a final level of 45-50% alcohol level.  Each crop yields 300 liters of pisco from the 1800 liters produced.  

The tour ended with a tasting of all the products that the winery sold.   The pisco alone is much like the Greek “Grappa”.   The infused wines taste much like infused Vodka, but with stronger alcohol content.   The famous Pisco sour, which is the national drink of both Chile and Peru, has many variations, but it is much like a tart version of a margarita.  The products that are widely sold are pure pisco which is slightly amber liquid, infused pisco which the locals call pisco wine, green pisco, and creole pisco.  The pisco wine is infused with orange, fig, mango, cherry, lemon, and custard apple.  The flavors are added after fermentation and are produced for local consumption, not for export.   Pure pisco is made from fragrant grape varieties.  Green pisco is made from partially fermented cultures.  Creole pisco is made from a mix of several grape cultures.  Some popular recipes are below.



1 cup of pisco

1/3 of a cup of lemon juice

1/3 of a cup of white sugar

1 egg white


Blend ingredients in blender, add egg white and ice cubes.  Sprinkle a few drops of ground cinnamon. 



½ cup of pisco

½ cup of red vermouth


Mix and add ice



3 cups of pisco

1 cup of carob syrup

1 cup of sweet condensed milk

2 egg yolks


Shake ingredients with some ice cubes, pour, sprinkle with ground cinnamon.



1 cup of pisco

½ cup of orange juice


Mix and add ice



Copyright © A. L. Stewart  




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