Th e pisco flows through the veins of Chile, proud guardian of a history of more than five hundred years of effort and constancy.
Born at the foot of the desert, warmed by the impassive sun and raised under the reflection of the purest skies in the world, the pisco is ambassador of the character of the inhabitants of the regions of Atacama and Coquimbo, of their patience and taste for perfection.
As a result of the roots of Chile, pisco is a proposal of new sensations. Distillate of genuine drinking wine of premium category, from 13 varieties of aromatic grapes, grown and processed in the regions of Atacama and Coquimbo. Its production consists of four main phases: growing and harvesting fishery grapes, winemaking, distilling and bottling.
D ue to Chilean Pisco regulations, distillers are allowed more influence over their final product, they may run the spirit through multiple distillations or barrel age. Varieties range from mildly to highly aromatic; from abundant wood aromas to none at all, giving sophisticated consumers something to suit every taste. It can be enjoyed neat, on the rocks, or combined with a broad range of soft drinks, fruits, and other liquors.
Pisco is produced in the northern region of Chile, an area of great contrast between mountain deserts and fertile valleys. The area is described as sub-desert climate but unique due to the strong Pacific influence. Providing minimal cloud coverage and no rainfall nine to ten months out the year, resulting in 300 days of sunshine and the clearest skies in the southern hemisphere.
This fine spirit is the outcome of the hard work of over 2,800 Pisco grape farmers from the only two regions in Chile where Pisco can be produced, according to its Designation of Origin.
This story begins with a great misunderstanding: looking for a new route to the Indies, Christopher Columbus encounters a New World, initiating an intense exchange of products, cultures, and visions. Spanish colonizers brought with them European plants and animals, to ensure access to their usual nourishment during their lifetime in the New World.
Mirrors, salted meat, firewood, legumes, and vines were some of the first products that Europeans began exchanging for gold, tobacco, animals, and other exotic products from the Americas.The Spanish vine adapted with surprising speed to our fertile soils, delivering much more wine than what was necessary to celebrate Mass and support the evangelizing process. This is how a flourishing wine industry began in the Spanish colonies, especially in the Viceroyalties of Peru and La Plata.
In 1549 the Chilean city of La Serena was refounded and the first vines were planted in its surroundings, which then extended to the valleys of Copiapó, Huasco, Elqui, Limarí and Choapa. The unique characteristics of these lands allowed the production of wines of high quality and intense sweetness. But it is precisely this sweetness that complicated the transportation of this sought-after product because it deteriorated rapidly.
To ensure proper preservation, and to reduce the transported volume, producers began to extract alcohol from the wine. This process, known as distillation, was leveraged by the presence of copper and craftsmen specialized in working it, called “fragüeros”. They forged the copper still, which is to this day the soul of the pisco. In 1586 María de Niza registered in Santiago the first still in South America.
The brandy was bottled in pots of cooked clay called “piscos”, containers manufactured by the indigenous people of the area that we know today as part of Peru and Chile. Thus, they made long voyages to supply vast mining areas of the Viceroyalty of Peru.
In the heart of the Elqui Valley, next to the Claro River, south of the actual town of Monte Grande, pisco was born. In the Hacienda La Torre, the decision was made to use the word “pisco” to refer to the grape brandy made in the area.
Thus, it was formally registered in a Protocol made by the Writer of the Spanish Empire, in 1733, currently preserved in the Judicial Fund of La Serena of the National Archive, in Santiago de Chile. This document recorded the existence of three containers with pisco in this vineyard. Since then, the custom of using the word pisco to name the local brandy spread through the haciendas of the area, in Diaguitas and other towns of the Elqui Valley.
Hacienda La Torre was the work of Don Pedro Cortés y Mendoza, known up to nowadays as the “Hero of Tongoy” for his determined action against pirates in 1686. Don Pedro promoted the emergence of a wine cluster at the eastern end of the Elqui Valley, 20 leagues east of La Serena, in response to the threat from overseas. Hence, in the narrow space between the Claro River and the mountain foothills, estates were established with all the equipment and facilities necessary to produce wines and distill spirits.
This area had significant strengths, such as the distance from the shores, leaving the haciendas out of the reach of pirates. This distance served to ensure the security of investments and encouraged local inhabitants to move to the area. The altitude of the territory (1,200 meters above sea level) represents an important advantage for distillation, because the temperature needed to reach the boiling point of the water is inversely proportional to the altitude. Therefore, under these conditions, stills are more efficient. In addition, the higher thermal amplitude of the mountain has a positive effect on the physiology of vine strains. The valley stands out for having a special microclimate and for the fertility of its soil, highly valued today to produce fresh fruit.
The winegrowers of Coquimbo led the diversification of Chilean viticulture; while in the rest of the country only the grape “país” was grown, in the Township of Coquimbo began to grow the Muscat of Alexandria as well, in the early eighteenth century. From the coexistence of these two varieties, and thanks to the process of cultural and natural selection, the native grapes emerged. Over time, they would form the rich variety of pisco grapes: Austrian Muscat, Pedro Jiménez, Yellow and Pink Muscat (“Pastilla”), among others.
Precisely in the Hacienda La Torre, the first clay oven was registered, as well as the first alcohol still in northern Chile. These innovations were then imitated by other local hacienda owners, and soon the dynamic wine-growing pole of northern Chile was completed. The inventories of goods preserved in the national archive repositories show in detail the investments that these estates had between the end of the seventeenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth century.
On June 9th, 1750, the notarized testament of Ms. Gerónima de Rivera y Rojas, in San Ildefonso de Elqui, included 9 pisco “botijas” or vessels. In 1758, a pisco “botija” appeared in the will of Don Cristóbal Rodríguez. After the death of Don Pedro Cortés y Mendoza at the end of the seventeenth century, his work was continued by his son Don Juan Cortés y Godoy (1717-1727), and then administered by the former Corregidor de Coquimbo, Don Marcelino Rodríguez Guerrero (1727-1733).
In 1882, winemaker José María Goyenecha -one of the most outstanding heroes of the pisco industry- registered the brand “Pisco G” in Copiapó, becoming the first official registration of a pisco brand worldwide.
The following year, the former governor of the Elqui department, don Juan de Dios Pérez de Arce, registered the trademark “Pisco Ytalia”.
These labels layed the foundations of pisco identity, which consolidated in the years to come. Neighboring producers became aware of the relevance of going through the legal procedures before the State office, as an appropriate tool to strengthen the identity of their product.
In the following years, different wine growers from Norte Chico followed this path: between 1894 and 1901, six other labels were registered as «pisco» to name their product: Pisco Olegario Alba (1894), Pisco Aracena Navarro y Cía (1895), Pisco Luis Filomeno Torres (two records in 1897) and Pisco Águila (1901).
In the following years this trend was consolidated. By 1930, 111 Chilean “pisco” labels had been registered.
First Brands and Labels
In 1882, the winemaker José María Goyenecha – one of the most prominent staples of the fishing industry – registered in Copiapó the brand “Pisco G”, becoming the first official register of a pisco brand worldwide.
The following year, the former governor of elqui’s department, Don Juan de Dios Pérez de Arce, registered the brand “PISCO YTALIA”.
These labels established the characteristics of the identity of the piscos of the North Chico of Chile and marked the trend of what would come next. These records allowed to establish the basis of a style that was consolidated over time, as other producers became aware of the relevance of legal procedures before the State office, as an appropriate tool to strengthen the identity of the product. In the following years, different winemakers from The North Chico followed this path: between 1894 and 1901, six other marbets were registered under the name “pisco” to refer to the Chilean product: Pisco Olegario Alba (1894), Pisco Aracena Navarro y Cía (1895), Pisco Luis Filomeno Torres (two records in 1897) and Pisco Aguila (1901).
In the years that continued this trend was consolidated. By 1930, 111 Chilean “pisco” labels had already been registered using this name (pisco) to name the product.
Tradition and Pride
F rom the colonial times to the present day, pisco producers have kept alive the oldest traditions of the master distillers, putting all their effort, affection and technology to create a product of the highest quality, pride of Chileans and a reflection of five hundred years of history of an entire country.
Currently, a production of 36 million liters per year is estimated, with per capita consumption of 2.1 liters per year nationally. As an export product, its main destinations are the United States, Argentina, and Europe. The largest importer today is the United States, due to the boom in demand for novel and high-quality products.
The pisco industry today aims at quality and versatility. We have a great variety of piscos, with different alcohol levels, ageing periods, grape strain combination, etc. In the market you can find transparent, fresh, and aromatic piscos, others with a touch of wood, or even dark, woody, and complex, with years of ageing. The concept of double and triple distillation has also been developed.
Until a few years ago, the Chilean market was more receptive to quantity than quality, so premium piscos had a limited space. After the massive arrival of imported alcohols in the 1990s, the supply of distillates and other alcoholic products expanded widely, and people began to prefer quality.
Since then, top range piscos have progressively increased their presence in the market, aiming at an audience eager to rediscover pisco, enjoy its versatility and dare to combine them with fruits, herbs and other distills.
The excellent quality of pisco has led it to be worthy of various recognitions and awards in the main international competitions. It has even received the distinction of “World’s Best White Distillate” from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Also “Eau de Vie” by Vinalies Internationales determined that one of our piscos is the “finest fruit spirit in the world”.
Pisco has a very positive evaluation by bartenders and sommeliers worldwide. Along with quality, one of the key factors in the positioning of pisco is its versatility: it can be enjoyed neat, as digestive, or in various preparations, from the simplest (mixed with sodas or juice) to the most elaborate, as a basis of high-end mixology preparations.
It’s been a long time since pisco was limited to piscola (pisco & coke) or pisco sour. The consumption trend has evolved into new experiences, innovative proposals and paired with local products. The gastronomic offer in general is experiencing a profound turn towards our roots, privileging local flavors and products. Today, historical cocktails, such as piston or pichuncho, are back, surprising with its freshness. Molecular mixology is also giving much to talk about, inviting you to discover new shapes and flavors in the world of cocktails.
Sophisticated and aromatic eau de vie, with silky tannins and delicate sweetness, which persists in the mouth, expressive and elegant. Pisco continues to gather recognitions and medals in the main international spirit competitions, being recognized as the best and finest fruit spirit in the world.