An Industry in Recovery: Reviving the Peruvian Wine Trade

 

In the recent years, the international wine industry has been set abuzz by the small samplings of first-rate wines from Peru. Though still relatively unknown in most foreign markets, Peru has all the potential needed to become the next wine juggernaut from the Americas. For starters, the country’s land composition and climate are very similar to that of Chile’s, which means the land is well-suited to vine growing. Another thing going for Peru is that it has almost five centuries’ worth of experience in wine production. And not to mention this South American country was named in 2017 the “World’s Leading Culinary Destination” for the sixth year in a row by the World Travel Awards, beating other more notable contenders like France and Spain.

The Rise and Fall of the Early Peruvian Wine Industry

For a country in the New World, Peruvian viticulture has deep roots extending to the 1540s. Like most of its neighboring regions, the art of winemaking was brought to the country by Spanish colonists. According to 16th century historians, the legacy of systematic winemaking in the Americas began with widespread vine planting in the surrounding areas of Ica, in Southern Peru. The settlers from Extremadura and Andalucia had used these early vineyards to introduce wine grapes to the region.

By the start of the 17th century, South Central Peru was already home to the largest and most well-known vineries in the South American continent. This period also marked the start of Peru’s flourishing wine trade, with local vineyards exporting wine to the mining city of Potosi, located in modern-day Bolivia.  However, the industry’s success was short-lived.

In 1687, Peru was struck with a magnitude 8.7 earthquake that saw the destruction of large sections of Ica, Lima, and Callao. Most of the country’s top wineries and wine storage cellars were instantly destroyed, effectively halting the country’s wine boom.

The industry suffered another blow at the suppression of the Jesuits in 1767. Vineries owned by Jesuit missionaries were auctioned off. Unfortunately, the new owners of these vineyards didn’t have the viticultural expertise needed to ramp up wine production. In the end, the country’s local wine supply just continued to dwindle. Winemakers also began focusing on other types of liquor.

By the late 18th century, only 10% of local vineyards were creating wine; the rest had shifted to the production of Pisco. As the demand for wine remained high, Peru had to start importing tipple from Chile.

In the 19th century, the large demand for cotton in Europe and the United States had many winemakers converting their vine area into cotton fields. This move, though lucrative for the former vignerons, left the wine industry in tatters.

By the time the 20th century rolled in, the country’s vine area had gone from 125,000 acres in the 1800s, to 2,500 acres in the 1980s.

A 21st Century Revival

Peru regained its economic footing in the early 2000s. Along with the stability of the local economy came a resurgence in the public’s interest in winemaking. Today, the country’s vine area is estimated to be at 11,000-15,000 hectares. Many of the country’s wineries, particularly those in Ica, are also producing high-quality tipple that rivals the offerings of their European counterparts.

Navigating the Landscape

Peru is a tropical country found in the western section of South America, directly beneath Ecuador and the equator. Though its location places it completely outside the southern Wine Belt, the combination of the country’s landscape and climate still makes it an ideal site for vine growing.

A number of the country’s vineyards are found in the surrounding coastal plains of Pisco, and the oasis of Ica. While the coastal plains may be the core of Peruvian winemaking, Ica is the heartland of the country’s wine lifestyle and culture. Surrounded by the long stretches of sand in the Atacama Desert, the oasis in Ica is as fecund as any lush vineyard in Europe. This is why some of the most prominent local vineyards are found in the region.

Like neighboring Chile, Peru is also home to a wide array of grape varieties, including Alicante Bouschet, Barbera, Grenache, Moscatel, Torontel, Albillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Sauvignon Blanc. Most, if not all, of these grape varieties adapt well to heat, thereby ensuring continued production, even during the summer months.

Sips of Peruvian Wine: A Taste Test

Here at Singapore Wine Vault, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite Peruvian tipples. Note that these are just some examples of the fine liquor you’ll find in the country.

Pinot Blanc – Peruvian Pinot Blanc is characterized by its rich and fruity aroma, generous hints of yellow plum and peach, and the touch of smokiness, which rounds out its elegant flavor.

Chardonnay – The country’s Chardonnay offers great balance between the sweetness of its fruit flavors—think ripe melons and crisp pears—and its zesty and savory undertones. This refreshing and light tipple is always an excellent pick for wine lovers who prefer the delicate side of wine.

Grenache – For the wine enthusiast who doesn’t shy away from an extra kick of alcohol, there’s the Peruvian Grenache. Don’t’ worry, the alcohol is beautifully balanced with raspberry and strawberry candy undertones. Expect moderate acidity and tannin content.

Malbec – If you’re a fan of Argentine and French Malbecs, you should definitely try this Peruvian beverage. With its rich, berry fruit flavors, (think blueberry, raspberry, and blackberry), dark chocolate undertones, and mouthwatering aroma of bacon and roasted meat, this wine is a masterful balance of the sweet and the savory. The best part is that despite its dynamic flavors, the liquor maintains a sweet and delicate stand on the back end.

Tannat – Rounding up our short list is the rich and heavily concentrated Tannat. This wine offers a mouthful of strong flavors—herbs, oak, plums, and a distinct brick or mineral edge. Like most young red wines, the Tannat is tight and tannic, but may mellow out over time. Give it a few years in the wine cellar, and things might just smoothen out.

Production and Market Forecast

While the country’s wine export industry may be in its early stages, demand for Peruvian tipple is expected to rise in the next couple of years. The country’s 2013-2018 Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) is also predicted to be at 11% in total volume sales and 12% in total value sales.

Last year, Peru this Week, also reported that Chilean wineries were looking to invest up to US$100 million in Peruvian land. The companies were planning on establishing more vineyards in the area.  If this trend of increasing exposure and foreign investment continues, we might just see the emergence of another key wine industry player from South America.