Winemaking in Peru dates back to the Spanish colonisation of the South American country in the 16th century. With grape varietals; arriving shortly after. In the 1540s, Bartolomé de Terrazas and Francisco de Carabantes planted vines in Peru, with Francisco establishing vineyards in Ica. Spaniards from Andalucia and Extremadura then used these to introduce grape vines into Chile.
Historical records from the time note that the first vinification in South America took place in the hacienda Marcahuasi of Cuzco. However, the largest and most prominent vineyards of the 16th and 17th century were established in the Ica Valley of south-central Peru. With the growth of mining in what is now Bolivia during the 17th century.
This created a demand for wine; which was supplied mainly by Peru. With part of the workers’ salaries; being paid in wine. Furthermore Peruvian wine growers supplied the city of Lima, the most important political centre in South America in the 16th and 17th centuries.
In 1687 the whole southern coast of Peru was struck by the ‘great earthquake’ which destroyed the cities of Villa de Pisco and Ica. The earthquake destroyed wine cellars and mud, pottery containers used for wine storage. This event marked the end of the Peruvian wine-boom. Peruvian winemaking was further challenged by religion and by the fact that production of ‘Pisco’, also made from grapes, increased considerably in the early 18th century. Pisco has attained a certain degree of world fame and is considered to be Peru's national drink. It would be very hard to find a Peruvian winery that does not make Pisco alongside their wines.
During the 19th Peruvian winemaking further declined, with the demand in industrialized Europe caused many Peruvian winegrowers to shift land use from vines to lucrative cotton fields. Peru shares a similar favourable climate for producing wine, with the wine-regions of Chile. In 2008, there were some 14,000 hectares of vines planted in Peru, including table grapes, with 610,000 hectolitres of wine produced, and a growing trend for more to follow. Most vineyards are located on the central coast, around Pisco and Ica, where most of Peru's winemaking takes place.
Peruvian wine exports were very limited until recently - when compared to other more commercially developed South American countries, such as Chile and Argentina. Peru's boutique wineries have been working quietly and slowly with different varietals and with winemaking techniques. Peruvian wine has again arrived on the international market - with some surprisingly high quality wines.
The province of Ica is an ideal place to grow wine varietals, Peru's best wineries are located here and are referred to as ‘bodegas’ meaning ‘wineries’. All Peruvian wineries are prefixed with this word; Bodega Tacama, Bodega Ocucaje, etc. The key cultivated grape varietals include: Albillo, Alicante Bouschet, Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Malbec, Moscatel, Sauvignon Blanc and Torontel.
Peruvian wineries follow many of old winemaking traditions, including crushing the grapes by foot. During the harvest season, there are many festivals throughout Peru and it is not uncommon for the entire community located near one of these wineries to help stomp the grapes during the celebrations. There has been a recent move for wineries to abandon the traditional Peruvian methods in favour of more accepted practices of fermentation in oak barrels and the use of stainless steel tanks.
There are five different vineyard regions in Peru: the North Coast, the Central Coast, the South Coast, the Andean Sierra and the Selva. The most important wine areas lie in the Central and South Coast where the best known wines, like Tacama, Vista Alegre and Ocucaje are produced. The best vines are grown in these fertile irrigated areas, which benefit from the cool currents of offshore air that rise up into the vineyards. These diurnal differences can provide exceptional vine growing conditions. Peru has the same high altitude and ocean influence as Chile. Peru has virtually no frost and in many parts is desert and dry, as with northern Chile - It has great winemaking potential.