jueves, 21 de enero de 2016

In the land of Pisco... Pisco, Preparation and standards

The production of pisco protects the old preparation processes. The quality of the drink, obtained through the fermentation of special grapes treated in copper alembic stills, gained great popularity and prestige during the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries, not only in the Peruvian territory, but also abroad, even reaching European countries and the United States (California). 
In Peru, the preparation of pisco begins in March each year with the harvest of carefully selected grapes from the coastal vineyards. Baskets of grapes are loaded in trucks, weighted, and unloaded in a rectangular masonry presses (“lagares”) that are necessarily located in the highest point of the cellar. From there, juice and musts will flow due to gravity, first into fermentation tanks and then to the still itself. Seven kilos of grape produce one liter of pisco. 

“Grape stomping” generally begins at dusk, avoiding the tiring heat of the day, and lasts until daybreak. A team of six “stompers” or threshers spread the grapes into the presses. Between songs and jokes, threshers do their job while drinking “chinguerito", a punch made from the same fresh grape juice they are squeezing, an adding a good portion of pisco, lime, clove and cinnamon. 

After the sixth threshing, the press gate is opened and the fresh grape juice falls into a deposit (puntaya), where it is stored for 24 hours. After that, the juice is taken to fermentation tanks through an ingenious channel system. Current cellars use garrotas (presses), grape mills and pneumatic presses, transforming the traditional stomping process in a highly efficient mechanized system. 

An biochemical process of alcohol fermentation occurs in the tanks, where the glucose contained in the grapes’ natural sugar becomes pyruvic acid and forms an ester, which losses carbon dioxide when releasing the carboxyl functional group of pyruvic acid through a biological mechanism typical of yeasts. The produced ethanol later accepts two protons from the NADH and the one released in the initial glycolysis stage, turning into ethanol or alcohol for human consumption.  

This is achieved through small natural yeasts contained in the fruit skin which digest one gram of sugar and transform it into half a gram of alcohol and half a gram of carbon dioxide. The process takes seven days. The producer checks the fermentation for any interruption to the process, and controls that the must temperature is not too high as the fruit may lose its natural aroma, which gives pisco its characteristic touch. When fermentation is concluded, the liquor is taken through the channels to the still, where distillation begins.  

The distillation technique and art consists in regulating the heat supply to achieve a low and constant rate that permits the generation of the desired aromatic components in the right moment. The process has two stages: vaporization of volatile must elements and condensation of vapors.
Pisco-producing areas 

The sole areas recognized as producers of pisco are the coast of the regions of Lima, Ica¬¬—where the Pisco Valley is located—Arequipa, Moquegua, and the valleys of Caplina, Locumba and Sama, in Tacna. 

A valley, a river, a port and a city located in the Peruvian coast have been known as Pisco since ancient times. These sites even appeared in a map of Peru made by Diego Mendez in 1574. 

In the mid 19th Century, Peru had planted almost 150,000 ha of vines for pisco production. This production level decreased gradually until reaching 11,500 ha in year 2002, due to a lack of incentives and the substitution of crops for others that bore greater short-term profits. 

After verifying the decline of this ancestral crop after almost four hundred and a half centuries, and aiming at progressively recovering previous production levels, in early 2003 the Peruvian Government decided to promote the increase of grape growing areas and pisco exportation, enacting the corresponding special measures.

At the same time, specific and strict legal mechanisms were issued, to allow producers to reach a high quality level, disqualifying those who failed to meet the basic requirements of obtaining a top-class liquor, even prohibiting them from exporting the liquor under the name "pisco”.

Current sown hectares produce some 800,000 liters of pisco per annum. In 2007, the main export destinations were: the United States, France, Spain, Germany, Canada, Colombia, Mexico, Argentina, Australia and the Czech Republic.

jueves, 14 de enero de 2016

In the land of Pisco... Difference between Pisco and other eaux-de-vie

The difference between authentic pisco and grape eaux-de-vie  made in other countries lies in five main characteristics. We do not intend to prejudge the quality of the latter; our only purpose is to highlight their differences from an objective point of view.
The variety of grape used as a raw material: 
The raw materials used in craft and industrial manufacturing are one of the great differences. Taste is emphasized over aroma, and therefore the grape varieties used go beyond aromatic Muscat grapes to include mainly Quebranta grapes (a Peruvian mutation) and, in a lower amount, Common Black and Mollar non-aromatic grapes. 
Non-rectification of vapors:
The distillation process used for preparing pisco takes place in discontinuous alembic stills or “falcas”. This prevents the elimination of several constituent elements of pisco during the rectification of distillation vapors that would otherwise fade if continuous alembic stills were to be used.

Period of time between must fermentation and distillation:
The definition of pisco says that the liquor is obtained by distilling fresh—that is, recently fermented—juice or musts. This prevents the use of long-stored grape juices or musts or already made wines. Current regulations in Peru provide that alembic stills used for preparing pisco must comply with the requirements defined by the commission for the supervision of technical standards, metrology, quality control and para-tariff restrictions of the National Institute for the Defense of Free Competition and Intellectual Property (INDECOPI).
No additives:

In Peru, the pisco distillation process does not stop until the alcohol by volume reaches an average of 42º or 43º Gay-Lussac degrees. No distilled or treated water is added in order to preserve the liquor’s body, color and other distinctive characteristics.
Process for obtaining alcohol contents:
At the beginning of the distillation process, the fresh musts’ alcohol level is high, reaching 75º Gay-Lussac degrees, approximately. As the process continues, this level decreases and permits other constituent elements to seep into the pisco distillate. Depending on the skill and tradition of the Peruvian pisco-maker, the operation is extended until an average of 42º to 43º degrees is obtained, although it can be reduced to a minimum of 38º Gay-Lussac degrees.


Translated by Katrina Heimark

miércoles, 6 de enero de 2016

In the land of Pisco... Exclusive Peruvian Appellation of Origin

Pisco, besides being the traditional beverage of Peru since Colony times and a symbol of the Peruvian spirit, is also what is called an “appellation of origin” in international trade.

Pursuant to the provisions of the Lisbon Agreement for the protection of appellations of origin and their international registration, and in accordance with the definition set forth by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), an appellation of origin is the name of a country, region, or a determined place that is used on products manufactured within them, which have qualities or characteristics that are essentially due to the geographical environment in which they are produced, including natural factors (geography, climate, raw material, etc.) and human factors (workforce, art, skill, tradition, etc.) 

Similarly, the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV) also considers the “fame” or “reputation” before recognizing appellations of origin. It is, thus, a comprehensive concept of deep importance for the vinicultural sector, as it constitutes a legal instrument for the development of an economy that pursues a “collective promotion”, guaranteeing the quality, origin, and, in many cases, the tradition and history of products that are conceived by the close relationship between human groups and their land.

Moreover, appellations of origin are a mechanism for consumer protection and the defense of free and fair competition. Regarding Geographical Indications, Section 3 of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), signed within the guidelines of the World Trade Organization, establishes that: “the countries shall provide the legal means to prevent the use of any means in the designation or presentation of a good that indicates or suggests that the good in question originates in a geographical area other than the true place of origin in a manner which misleads the public as to the geographical origin of the good, and also to prevent any use which constitutes an act of unfair competition.”

In conclusion, one of the key elements for recognizing an appellation of origin and/or geographical indication is the pre-existence of a geographical reference that creates the denomination of a good produced in such territory. Accordingly, the countries define an adequate legal framework to prevent the use of a designation or the presentation of a product that suggests that the good in question comes from a geographical area other than its true place of origin.

In accordance to this concept, the word “Pisco” is an exclusive Peruvian designation, firstly because it refers to a geographical location that has existed and been known by such name since Colony times, encompassing a city, a valley, a river, a port and a province in the southern coast of Peru.
Furthermore, from the legal viewpoint of provisions regulating the political boundaries of Peru, the District of Pisco exists as such since Peru became and independent republic in 1821, and it was registered as a Province through a Congress Law dated October 13th, 1900, published in “El Peruano” Official Gazette on October 30th, 1900.

Secondly, the extraction, harvest and subsequent manufacturing and preparation of this liquor is carried out through a unique productive process based on the Peruvian technique developed and spread in the producing regions.

Furthermore, the grape used for preparing pisco grows thanks to the mild weather and the tectonic formation of the land that characterize the province of Pisco and also extends to the valleys of the Departments of Lima, Ica, Arequipa, Moquegua and some valleys of the Department of Tacna, where similar conditions exist. Additionally, the reputation of pisco has a clear Peruvian origin that dates back to the 17th Century and continues up to our days.

One of the many examples of the history of pisco are the testimonies collected by Herbert Asbury, who researched, among other aspects, the popularity of pisco in the Western coast of the United States. One of them is quoted below:

 “The Bank Exchange was especially noted for Pisco Punch, invented by Duncan Nichol, who was second only to Professor Jerry Thomas as bar-tender. During the eighteen-seventies it was by far the most popular drink in San Francisco, although it was sold for twenty-five cents a glass, a high price for those days. (…) But descriptions of the San Francisco of the period abound with lyrical accounts of its flavor and potency, and it must have been the crème de la crème of beverages. Its base was Pisco brandy, which was distilled from the grape known as Italia, or La Rosa del Peru, and was named for the Peruvian port from which it was shipped. (...) And the brandy itself, (...) was thus described by a writer who first tasted it in 1872: ‘It is perfectly colourless, quite fragrant, very seductive, terribly strong, and has a flavour somewhat resembling that of Scotch whiskey, but much more delicate, with a marked fruity taste. It comes in earthen jars, broad at the top and tapering down to a point, holding about five gallons each’.”

One further example that explicitly mentions the origin and prestige of Pisco is the centenarian “Boletín de la Guerra del Pacífico” (“War of the Pacific Gazette”) published in 1980 by Editorial Andres Bello of Santiago, Chile. Their pages include testimonies of Chilean soldiers who participated in the occupation of Ica and Pisco in Peru, and they textually state the following:
“... their main buildings are used as cellars to store cancos (jars) full of the famous eau-de-vie that took up the name of the port (…). The city of Ica has between seven and eight thousand residents and is surrounded by farms that specifically grow the grapevines used for producing pisco (…). The occupation troops eat wonderfully: good vegetables, abundant meat, fresh bread, a glass of pisco at lunch, a glass of wine at dinner and, above all, delicious, abundant watermelons, which are the favorite of our rotos.” (Report of Colonel Jose Domingo Arrunategui. Boletín de la Guerra del Pacífico [War of the Pacific Gazette], Santiago de Chile, Editorial Andrés Bello, 1980.)

The Peruvian legislation establishes that appellations of origin are owned by the State, which in turn grants authorizations for their use.

It is noteworthy that, to date, no country has registered the pisco appellation of origin under the scope of the Lisbon Agreement. A multilateral system of notification and registration of geographical indications for wines and spirits is under negotiation within the multilateral framework of WTO, and Peru is actively participating in this process. However, the word “pisco” is registered in some countries as a brand, in violation of current international regulations where it is clearly stated that an appellation of origin cannot be registered as a brand under any circumstance.