PiscoLogía was recently described as deliciously briny by a discerning piscophile. We thought that this concept of brininess was interesting, so we set out to find out the origin of these salty undertones. In the end, we discovered more about how the Pacific Ocean breeze affects the flavor of our grapes and the terroir of our vineyards.
Many people believe that the salty sea air influences the flavor of grapes (Griffin). The reason for this comes down to simple geography. Vineyards near the coast are exposed to the tiny particles leftover from evaporated ocean spray droplets. Air currents then carry the particles from the sea, dispersing them far and wide. In the case of a vineyard, these salty remnants would fall on grape skins and in the soil (Clarke). Salt on the skins and in the environment in Azpitia would blend into the batch during production, possibly altering the flavor of the wine.
We have explained that to make Peruvian pisco, you first start with wine. Since our pisco is distilled only once, many characteristics of the wine are preserved in the final product. A briny, minerally wine will create a pisco with similar descriptors.
Our vineyards are only 4 miles from the Pacific Ocean. The ocean breeze that comes off of the coast in the early evening cools our vines while leaving a brackish trail in its path. This salty mist is just like the natural yeasts in our vineyards in Azpitia; they are floating in the air, forming the uniqueness that is our terroir.
Clarke, Shana. “Forget the Fruit, Savor These Salty Wines.” Pastemagazine.com, 26 June 2017, 1:16pm, www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2017/06/forget-the-fruit-savor-these-salty-wines.html.
Griffin, Annaliese. “What Do We Mean When We Say a Wine Is Salty?” Quartzy, Quartz, 24 June 2018, qz.com/quartzy/1313189/what-do-we-mean-when-we-say-a-wine-is-salty/.
Brix levels have reached 23° and our grapes have ripened to perfection, thanks to the balmy Peruvian sun. The fruit has an acidity of 3.4PH because of the cooling effect of the evening Pacific Ocean breeze. It’s time for harvest.
Flor and Samuel, who help care for our grapes, gather their family members in preparation for harvest. With an expected high of 28°C/82° F and humidity of 69% in Azpitia today, it will be sultry. To avoid the heat, we start picking grapes at 5:00AM, when the average temperature is 20°C/68° F.
To maintain tradition, we harvest by hand. That allows us to hand-select each and every grape that goes into our pisco.
The grapes are then destemmed
and then crushed by foot, in order to extract the juice, but not crush the seeds that could add bitterness to the juice.
A secondary crush then extracts the juice that remains between the flesh and the skin of the grapes.
Nati throws some skins back into the juice, just to ensure Azpitia’s natural yeasts are present.
In 7 to 10 days, the yeasts work their magic, the juice ferments and the wine is ready for distillation.
Alambiques and Falca, as defined by the the D.O. in Peru
Today we would like to discuss a topic that we consider to be extremely important to protecting the standards of Peruvian pisco: the Denomination of Origin. On a worldwide level, a Denomination of Origin is created to promote and protect names of quality products. Only items that meet the various geographical and quality criteria may use the protected indication. Some of the most famous items protected by a D.O. are Champagne, tequila and many cheeses, ham and wine. Peruvian pisco is also protected and regulated.
The most practical way to explain the requirements in Peru is to provide an abridged translation of the Regulation of the Denomination of Origin of Peruvian Pisco, as an English version of the document does not seem to be readily available.
Peru was awarded the rights to protect and regulate the production of pisco in 1991. As stated by the Regulating Council, the clear brandy is a product obtained exclusively from the distillation of fresh, recently fermented musts of pisco grapes, using traditional production methods. It must be produced on the coast (no higher than 2,000 meters above sea level) in the Departments of Lima, Ica, Arequipa, Moquegua and the Locumba, Sama y Caplina Valleys of Tacna. The grapes must also be grown in these areas.
Pisco grapes are defined as any of the following varieties: Quebranta, Negra Criolla, Mollar, Italia, Moscatel, Albilla, Torontel y Uvina. Only Uvina grapes from Lunahuaná, Pacarán y Zúñiga, in the Cañete province (Lima), are protected by the D.O. Non-aromatic grapes are defined as Quebranta, Negra Criolla, Mollar y Uvina, while aromatic grapes are Italia, Moscatel, Albilla y Torontel.
Pisco must be produced by an authorized person & in a distillery that is accepted by the D.O. The grapes also must be grown in a vineyard approved by the Regulating Council.
The following types of pisco are recognized:
Pisco puro (pure)– pisco obtained solely from one variety of pisco grape.
Pisco mosto verde (green must)– pisco obtained from distilling fresh musts from pisco grapes. In a mosto verde, fermentation is interrupted, so you distill when there is still sugar present in the juice.
Pisco acholado (blend)– pisco obtained from a mix of: pisco grapes, musts of pisco grapes or pisco made from pisco grapes.
Fermentation can occur in the following ways: without maceration, with full maceration or with partial maceration of the grape pomace, controlling the temperature and sugar degradation process of the must. The distillation process must start immediately after fermentation, with the exception of mosto verde pisco, which should be distilled before the musts are fully fermented.
Pisco should rest for a minimum of 3 months, in glass or stainless steel containers (or any other container that doesn’t alter its physical, chemical, or organic properties) in order to promote the evolution of the alcohol and general properties of the pisco. Nothing may be added, not even water or sugar. The final product must have alcohol levels between 38% and 48%.
Pisco must be made by direct distillation, separating the heads from the tails, to select the body of the product. The machines used should be made of copper or tin. The pots may be made from stainless steel. Pisco should be distilled in falcas, alambiques, or alambiques with calientavinos (See figures above).
There are many more regulations such as reporting production volumes, labeling requirements, and the characteristics of the final product, but we will leave those for another post.
Some final comments: Nati strictly abides by the rules of the D.O. when she produces PiscoLogía. We believe her dedication to following the regulations makes our pisco one of the best.
We would like to emphasize the importance of enforcing the D.O. regulations on a national level. If Peruvian pisco is going to conquer top shelves across the world, only brandies of utmost quality should reach the market. Because the D.O. designation in Peru is relatively new, interpretations of the Regulation are constantly evolving and improving. It is our hope that one day the same strict standards seen in areas such as Tequila, Mexico and Champagne, France will be applied to the production of Peruvian pisco. Producers, consumers, and D.O. enforcers should all apply uncompromising criteria to protect this high-quality spirit. With collaboration on all levels and by investing time and necessary resources, Peruvian pisco will become the world leader of top-shelf spirits.