A new verse was added to my Peruvian adventure in Ica — a coastal desert town located 195 miles south of Lima and flanked by jutting Andes and miles of mountain-like sand dunes. Although the Ica Valley is widely known for its selection of bodegas and wine vineyards, Peru as a whole has yet to make it on the international viniculture stage. But that’s slowly changing. Since the political chaos of the 1980s, Peru has amped up its dedication to wine making, giving it the opportunity to make a run for best South American wine exporter. However, most people argue that Peruvian wine is just not that good — Maybe a tour of some of Ica’s bodegas will change your mind.
Our tour of Ica Valley’s wineries started in Huacachina, a nearby desert “oasis” filled with local artisans, tourists, and a mysterious lake with just as mysterious a legend. From there, we made our first stop at the award-winning Bodega Tacama, Peru’s number one wine exporter. The ride was a short seven mile taxi drive from town, down a narrow dirt road lined with skinny sunbathing dogs, shabby one story houses and of course rows of grape vines.
We made it to Tacama’s Spanish-styled hacienda, complete with red washed walls, archways, and a bell tower crowned with the Holy Cross. Sitting around a small wooden table on mini wine barrel chairs, we started our wine tasting session with several generous pours of their semi dry whites, rosés and darker reds (tintos). Our favorite was the Amore de Ica, an exclusive grape concoction with hints of fruity strawberries that left a warm loving feeling way long after it had been consumed. We were offered pour after pour, with little introduction, save for the small leather bound dossier filled with brief descriptions and wine pricing.
Our tasting session was followed by a quick tour of the winery and vineyard lead by an enthusiastic Limeño whose passion for the satisfyingly sweet liquid sent him knocking on the doors of Tacama only five months earlier. Our tour guide introduced us to the nursery which was filled with neat rows of grape varieties like sauvignon blanc, tannat, chardonnay, moscatel and malbec, all in their infancy state. He ran through a brief history of Tacama wine making and the winery’s introduction to French grapes and techniques in the 1960s. Before ascending the bell tower, we explored the inner workings of a 16th century lagar, a large grape press made of sturdy huarango wood. After a three story climb to the top of the outlook, we were greeted with knockout views of Tacama’s 220 acre vineyard, set against a stellar Andean backdrop.
Just a few miles down the road was Bodega Lazo, an eclectic artisanal bodega founded in 1809 and currently run by art collector Elar Donayre Bolívar. Step into Bodega Lazo and the world suddenly changes. Light and dark shadows are overplayed by the streaming sun that enters through the one or two ceiling skylights. Here ancient ceramic botijas hold the aging sweet wine or pisco, which are scooped up via a hollow bamboo stick, and poured into small plastic tasting cups. But Bodega Lazo is more than another wine tasting free for all. It’s a private museum packed with what collectors would call a cultural gold mine: stuffed sea lions, Spanish conquistador swords, European oil paintings, old typewriters and Peruvian artifacts.
Peru may or may not be making a world wide wine comeback, but through the exciting extracurricular sport of bodega hopping, it’s clear that a unique wine and pisco culture thrives without the help of international recognition. Whether Peru wine making industry ever tops Chile or Argentina is questionable, but as long as their beverage specialities are served with a loving smile, what does it matter?
Lani is writer for the Karikuy volunteer program. Visit www.karikuy.org/volunteer for more information.