Piscologia | peruvian pisco
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Vineyards in Peru? Thank the Humboldt Current!

Desert along the Peruvian coastline

 

Most of the world’s premium wine production takes place between the 30th and 50th parallels of the Southern and Northern Hemispheres, where temperate conditions are conducive to grape growing. In these areas, grapevines generally thrive in warm, dry locations with distinct seasonal changes. The climates found between these parallels fall into 3 categories: Mediterranean, continental, and maritime. For example, the Saale-Unstrut wine region in Germany is located at 51° N and has a continental climate, while Tuscany, at 43.77° N, has a Mediterranean climate.

 

Tropical zones are defined as the part of the Earth’s surface between the Tropic of Cancer (23.5° N) and the Tropic of Capricorn (23.4° S). Growing grapes in tropical regions can be problematic for many reasons. It is widely known that the tropics are characterized by heavy rain, humidity, and high temperatures, three conditions that promote various diseases in vines, such as mold and mildew. Moreover, while cool nights promote acidity and balance in grapes in temperate zones, in tropical regions, minimum nightly temperatures fall no lower than about 71.6 °F (22°C), making it challenging to achieve that same roundness. Finally, because of the year-round sweltering heat in the tropics, it is difficult to complete a period of dormancy during the winter. Dormancy is crucial because it allows the vine to rest and conserve energy, in preparation for the next season.

 

Azpitia is located at 12° S in the tropics, so theoretically, it should be extremely difficult to grow grapes there, or anywhere else in Peru. So how are we able to produce healthy pisco grapes in this area of the world? The answer lies in an oceanographic phenomenon called the Humboldt Current.

 

The Humboldt Current is a cold ocean current that flows north along the western coast of South America. The current extends from southern Chile to northern Peru, bringing frigid waters from the south, cooling the ocean & creating dry, chilled air, which changes the tropical climate. This is why the Peruvian coastline is so barren. Where a dense jungle would normally lie, sand dunes and cacti line the coasts of Peru, creating very favorable wine-making conditions, similar to what you might see in the high-desert vineyards of Washington State.  Days are hot and dry, but nights are relatively cool in Azpitia, creating the perfect conditions for our vines. Because of this fascinating phenomenon, we can grow grapes in optimal conditions and produce the high-quality wine that we distill to make PiscoLogía!

 

Peruvian pisco – a brandy to be revered

Freshly made PiscoLogía

 

Peruvian pisco is classified as a clear brandy. By definition, brandy is an extensive category that includes spirits made from fermented fruit juice, most often grapes. However, brandies can be so vastly different from one another, so how do you distinguish one from another? For example, how do pomace brandies such as grappa, marc, and orujo differ from cognac, Brandy de Jerez, singani, Chilean pisco or Peruvian pisco? The answer to this question is quite complex. Not only do these brandies use different grape varieties in production, but they also vary in the way the grapes are utilized, the distillation and aging processes and often times, in the way they are enjoyed by consumers. By the end of this blog entry, hopefully you will understand what makes Peruvian pisco especially distinctive and intricate.

 

To demystify this complex spirit, it is helpful to separate it in two subcategories: pomace and fruit (grape) brandies. Pomace brandies do not use the grape juice; they are made from fermented pulp, seeds, and stems of grapes leftover after the winemaking process. Grape brandies are made solely from the fruit juice, which means all stems and seeds are removed before making the wine to be distilled. Both pomace and grape brandies can be aged. Some examples of aged brandies are cognac, Brandy de Jerez and Chilean pisco. The oak casks give them a dark color. In contrast, Peruvian pisco never ages in wood, thus making it a clear spirit.

 

Peruvian pisco is especially unique because, unlike other brandies, it is distilled only once. Furthermore, no water is added after distillation, which means you have one chance to achieve perfection with each batch. All other brandies are distilled twice and water is then added to reach a desired proof. Because of this single distillation, one can especially appreciate the flavors of each grape profile in Peruvian pisco, as many important flavors and aromas can be lost during second distillation.

 

Furthermore, brandies can be made from a multitude of grape varieties. While Chilean pisco and singani are made from the Muscat grape, Cognac is typically made from Ugni Blanc. Since grappa and orujo are made from the leftovers of wine production, both can be made from many different grape varieties. However, the Denomination of Origin in Peru requires that Peruvian pisco be produced from at least one of eight different grape varieties, all of which have distinct aromas and flavors.

 

People tend to mix Peruvian pisco in delicious cocktails, while they may drink other brandies such as cognac or Brandy de Jerez in a snifter. We recommend that the next time you open a bottle of PiscoLogía, treat it like a cognac- pour it into a snifter to fully enjoy the nuances of grapes. You will note no interference from oak casks or second distillations, just the pureness of the fruit from our vineyard. We are certain you will be thoroughly impressed by the delicate nature of this single-distilled spirit.

About that Terroir………

A peek at our soils in Azpitia

 

To make an exceptional craft pisco, you must start with a good wine. To make a fine wine, you must have the proper conditions, or terroir, to grow healthy, high-quality grapes. In a previous post, we talked about the ambient yeasts that grow naturally in Azpitia, forming part of the terroir of our vineyards. However, terroir involves many other factors that influence the quality and flavor of wine, including soil types, climate, sunlight, location, plant orientation and wind. Today we will focus on the soils and location of our vineyards.

 

The sandy, gravel and sandstone soils we have at Azpitia play an important role in healthy grape growth. Here is a chart to explain them:

 

 

Soil Type: Similar To: Benefit:
Sand The Italian wine regions of Piedmont Provides excellent drainage and protects against phylloxera, a deadly fungus

 

Gravel Some vineyards in the Rhone area of France Reflects and maintains heat, which allows for larger grapes with higher alcohol content

 

Sandstone Alsace, France Provides nutrients and minerals such as iron oxide to make sweeter grapes

 

 

Furthermore, similar to some of the most famous wine regions of California, Piscología’s vineyards are located close to the Pacific Ocean, at 200 meters above sea level. This proximity (4 miles) and altitude create a perfect storm in the evening, when the ocean breeze channels through the Mala River Valley to reach our vineyards, reducing the temperature surrounding our vines. This cooling phenomenon provides us with grapes with higher acidity levels. Grapes with higher acidity create a balanced, delectable wine, the wine we distill to create Piscología!

“La Magia” of Azpitia: Native Yeasts

 

One of the many factors a master distiller has to consider when developing a product is what gives fermentation its gusto. In the case of PiscoLogía, our native yeasts at Azpitia are what create the magic.

 

Wild yeasts are all around us, even on us. A traditional foot press crushes the grapes and mixes the pulp with the yeasts on the skins, and also diversifies the yeasts’ presence as they come off of our bodies. In Tequila, maestros used to ”dance” with the agave in the fermentation tank to pull apart the plants’ fibers, while also releasing new yeast cells from their bodies. And because there are so many yeast strains that we haven’t harnessed and cultivated, let alone identified, we like to refer to fermentation as half-magic and half-science.

 

In the game of yeasts, it’s survival of the fittest. 1000 yeast strains and 1 tank of sweet grape juice: who will take home the championship? Our bodega sits among our grapevines on the upper bowl of the Mala River Valley in Azpitia. Nati has entrusted the bodega’s ambient yeast with her sweet fruit and she loves what it delivers: a uniquely Azpitian flavor profile. She knows that these native strains help give PiscoLogía the unctuous, caramel and nutty notes that backdrop the bright, creamy fruit flavors of the grapes. She feels lucky to have this yeast strain living on-site naturally.

 

Now, what happens if local yeasts don’t provide you with the profiles you look for? Or what if a competing yeast beats the one you prefer? One can consider using “commercial” yeast, one that has been well studied and that has been proven to provide predictable and consistent results. Although the word “commercial” isn’t typically used with artisanal products, sometimes a distiller can greatly benefit by using something that he or she knows will perform well. Having something that is predictable can facilitate the entire production process.

 

We feel very fortunate to have the combination of science and magic working in our favor. The tremendous native yeast strains in Azpitia have provided us with consistent results since we started distilling PiscoLogía!