Discovering wines from Peru: Interview with winemaker Pepe Moquillaza

Pepe, since when have you been making Pisco? Since 2003, I have 13 years already making Pisco. And the mission we had was to rescue and revalue the Quebranta grape. What is the Quebranta grape for people who don’t know? The Quebranta grape, emotionally speaking, for Peruvians it is the Queen of grapes. But technically, it is a grape born in Peru, and is the product of the crossing of spanish grape varieties. It has adapted over four centuries and has achieved a great productivity and nobility. We are in Ica where you produce a lot of Quebranta. How does the grape behave in this region, which is a desert climate? The viticulture in Ica is an industry in the desert, like in Jerez. It has a very warm climate, and the soil is sandy in general, it is sandy loam and stony loam, but the sand is always present. And the luminosity is very intense. So, between the sand, very little water and the high luminosity, the Quebranta grape behaves like a grape that forms a high amount of sugar, in big berries. This is very important for the Pisco industry that obtains all that alcohol, or the potential alcohol. However, to make wine is the opposite – we need smaller grapes, with thicker and darker skin, and to obtain that the climate should be different and the soil as well. And here we are in a different vineyard? In Ihuanco, yes. What is different about this region and these vineyards in particular? Ihuanco is located 5 km from the sea, which gives us a positive maritime influence, which is expressed in breeze and fog, helping to keep the vines healthy. Ihuanco has a special minerality in the subsoil, we can find granite and quartz. And the roots take these minerals directly, giving a great complexity to the juice and wines. Even though are young wines (we are not talking about aged wines), they have an important complexity. What are the characteristics of Quebranta that you would find in a wine? The wines should be very fresh, but at the same time should express a lot of fruit, fresh fruit and some dried fruits as well because that’s the typical character of Quebranta. What we always wanted to recover this tradition. In the 17th to 18th century, the wine production was about dark wines, mistelas and aguardientes from Pisco. In the 21st century, only Pisco was produced, and we are working to recover this tradition using the same grape from the colonial wines, the colonial mistelas, and refining Pisco’s elaboration, because we want to be the best of the world, without any doubt. How do you see the future in Peruvian wine and the industry? It is coming on very strong, and we have two different paths. One way has been a path being formed since a long time ago, which is about getting better wines made from international grapes varieties. There are some wineries from the Italian school, others from the French school, and they put their focus in aged wines. In our case, we are developing young wines, from Pisco grapes that pair well with the gastronomy of Peru. That is our mission and where we are going. We’ve talked about Quebranta, but you are also working with other Pisco varieties. What are they and which have the best potential? Well, we are always investigating, developing tests, and as well as the Quebranta wine (which is called Quebrada de Ihuanco, the first one), we have white/orange wine, fermented as an orange wine named Albita de Ihuanco, which is a co-fermentation of the Muscat of Alejandria grape and Albilla grape, and it has gone really well. It is a product that needs to be understood, but those who do understand it, are enchanted by it. Then we’ve been continuing to try new wines in Ica Valley, by modifying some patterns to decide the right harvest date. We are picking the grapes earlier, and we have done tests with Muscat de Alejandria from Ica, with Torrontel from Ica, with Moscatel from Ica, and we have a lot of faith that a big window of possibilities with Pisco grapes will open to so we can have a more sustainable industry with these wines which will accompany the global expansion of Peruvian gastronomy. Speaking of the wines you can make from international varieties, which do you think are the varieties best adapted or suited to the region of Ica? I am surprised that some have adapted so well (although after a very long time): the Petit Verdot from Tacama, and the Tempranillo from Vista Alegre and Queirolo. I think these internacional varieties are ones that have been acclimatised very well. We have some very well made wines that want to express something, they still are saying everything yet, but they are already saying something. Pisco grapes say everything in the first sip! Although we are companions. The wine industry is growing. Peru is a natural blessed country, it is a marvellous country in its own natural conditions. And it is a country that keeps its arms open – all of those who respect the culture of the country are welcome! Speaking of great companions, Peruvian food is something that of course we all want to try and all know something about. But what would be your recommendations for pairing wine with Peruvian cuisine, which is quite complex and spicy? Yes exactly. We have two different categories of Peruvian food, probably three I would say. A traditional ‘criolla’ cuisine that is very spicy with long cooking methods for which the red wines that I have mentioned are very good companions. They are dense foods for dense wines. Then we have a very refined seafood cuisine, based on ceviche and all its variants, for which there are very good Peruvian wines like Blanc de Blanc and some Sauvignon Blanc are already being made well here in Peru, and they are good companions. And the third category is the haute cuisine – the tasting menus from these Peruvian restaurants that have been projected out to the world. In which the conventional wines due to their density and weight, cover over the elegance of the food a bit. So our mission as producers is that these wines from these grapes will be a partner for the subtlety of our gastronomy. Not to be the star of the table,
but to be a loyal friend, a loyal partner. And the sommeliers and chefs have understood this concept, and we are walking in this path together. We have been understood by them with this grape, as ourselves – as small producers with the limitations we have but with a huge soul. This shows in the wine as well. You are now recognised a great wine producer, but you also are known as a great Pisco producer. What for you is the secret of a great Pisco? The secret of a great Pisco is to make it as we always have done, and try that its making responds to a feeling, so that when someone drinks it – it inspires an emotion in them. We don’t sell alcohol, we sell Pisco which is a spirit from the soul, and we have to keep this clear.

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