Day 1 ends – and Day 2 begins – MW trip to Peru and Bolivia, Welcome to the Ica Valley

The dinner at Huaca Pucllana was fabulous.

We got to meet some of the principals from the two major wine (and pisco) producers supporting this stage of the trip, our flying visit to Peru, Tacama and Santiago Queirolo. Apologies in advance for the quality of the photos – I did not get a shot of our second course (seared squid) in time – I forgot to get a snap off and so what you have is the cut short version. Sorry, sorry, sorry.

We had cocktails to start (Pisco Sour, of course, along with a Manhattan made using Pisco instead of whisky, called an El Capitan.) We got to meet several members of the Queirolo family, one of whom had to dash off (politics in Peru is in flux right now – the previous President had just resigned and Vice President had only been sworn in that afternoon, which may explain the frosty reception Igor and I had received from the guards at the Presidential Palace that morning.) We also got a very brief but passionate introduction to Pisco from José Antonio Olaechea, the owner and head of Tacama Winery in the Ica Valley.

After visiting this ancient temple site during the day, it was amazing to see the massive adobe brick structures lit up at night.

We started with a sparse crowd, but a couple of MWs joined us as the evening wore on and we were nearly a full crew by the end.

More on the food lately, but a wonderful start to our tour.

Day 2

A rude awakening, we had to be outside our hotel by 6.30am, with picnic boxes for our breakfast. I had stayed up until well after 2am watching the cricket match from Eden Park on my computer as the Blackcaps deservedly rounded out an innings victory in the first ever Day Night test in NZ against England. I had been there on the first day when England so I wanted to see it through. I even fielded a couple of calls from ecstatic Kiwis at 2.30am, didn’t have the heart to tell them what time it was in Peru.

It takes between 3 and a half to 4 hours to travel south to the Ica Valley, which is where some of the best vineyard land is in Peru and where a lot of the super premium Pisco starts life.

On the way we passed a few beach resorts for the wealthy Lima-ites. We saw some of the famous fog that comes off the Humboldt Current, but we also saw natural gas plants, mines, and lots of desert.

A short distance outside Lima we picked up José Antonio Olaechea, who was able to provide us with commentary on the trip down.

It is hard to believe that this is one of the driest places in South America, due to the influence of the Humboldt Current, until you get here. There are a series of east-west valleys opening into the Pacific Ocean, separated by barren desert outcrops. The landscape is forbidding and slightly out of this world, but in between there is irrigation, some from rivers, mostly from wells and there has been agriculture established that has brought life to the desert. Cotton was big here. There are still cotton plantations in places, and other crops (bananas, maize, citrus), but the agrarian reforms really mucked things up in the 1960s and so much of the good farmland was broken up into 4 ha blocks, many of which are blindingly obvious from the main highway South. Farms were put into cooperatives and the land was divided evenly in tiny pieces. José’s family is apparently slowly trying to acquire adjacent vineyards or land suitable for vineyards in Ica Valley, but it is a slow, painful process as Tacama has to deal with dozens of descendants of those first 4 hectare repatriations in the 1960s. Tacama is expending as quickly as it can, and vines are doing well in Peru, not just for pisco, and wine, production, but also for table grapes.

The landscape is stark.

José gave us a fantastic rundown of where Peru is at now with grapes, things are looking up, but it will take time.

Ica Valley is a little different as it mostly runs north south and we enter it just before we get to the port of Pisco. Pisco is named after all the birds that flock there – trying to hunt massive schools of fish just off the coast. This is why this area is so famous for its ceviche (cebiche?) And Pisco the port gave its name to the distilled beverage – English sailors apparently stopped over in the nineteenth century to load up on the stuff.

José’s parents used to have to ride a horse up the Ica Valley to get to the port – there is now an adequate, though only single lane highway – and then catch a boat up the coast to Lima. This all took two days. But Ica is not only a rich, fertile valley, it also has reasonable groundwater, if you have water rights that is. Wells are the main source for irrigation, but in trying to expand Tacama’s vineyard holdings, José also has to be mindful to purchase the water rights as well. Nothing grows here without this.

We pass lots of small, artisan producers of Pisco, a couple of open air restaurants and little holiday resorts. Eventually, after at least one U turn and a near miss on another intersection, we end up on a dusty bumpy dirt track and the spectacular estate that it is Tacama. This used to be an old convent (there is still a chapel there – and a belltower, which I got to ring), this wine estate is built on a “hacienda” model and now boasts an award winning restaurant and a massive winery complex dating back over a hundred years.

And we received a noble welcome – how about this for the welcoming committee, escorting our bus onto the winery…

Welcome to Peru, Masters of Wine!

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