The Unmitigated Spirit Of The Grape
The formula used to produce pisco has remained pure and protected for centuries, altered only to make room for improvements in the quest for perfection. Modern technology makes it possible to guarantee more precision in certain processes, but can never replace or betray the tradition founded by the first producers of pisco.
At the Antigua Hacienda La Caravedo, we love pisco; it’s history and heritage. That is why we preserve spaces where the pioneers of this craft laid the foundations of the legend continued today by Caravedo Pisco.
The History of La Caravedo Press and Stills
In the local pisco-making slang, “the office” is the place where pisco is made. Established in 1864, the La Caravedo “office” is the crowning example of its kind, through which millions of liters of this most Peruvian of beverages have passed. This “office” is composed of the elements described below.
This is a stonework basin in which the newly-harvested grapes are placed for treading or pressing by foot. This fresh grape juice, or “virgin must,” flows by the force of gravity to the puntaya, a collecting basin where it is left to settle so the gradual pre-fermentative maceration process can begin.
The pomace, composed of grape pulp and skins, is placed in the press. In order to process this “cap” of fruit pulp and skins, a screw press is used, formed from an enormous wooden screw made from the native huarango trunk, has been lowered, pressure is exerted on the pomace so that the “press must” is extracted. This then flows to where it is collected in the puntaya.
Via a simple system of channels – operated once more by the natural force of gravity – the must that has been macerated for 24-hours in the puntaya is carried to the fermentation vats. These vats are tanks with a capacity of approximately 1,500 liters. There, the must, which at this stage is simply fresh grape juice, begins to ferment through the action of natural wild yeast and that is contained in fruit itself, without the addition of artificial yeasts. During fermentation, the sugar from the must is converted into alcohol in a process that lasts between seven and eight days.
Once fermentation is completed, the must now transformed into a fresh wine, passes through an open channel to small stills, or “falcas,” where it will be distilled.
The wine is carried along by gravity through the channels until it flows into the falacas. These quite rudimentary stills have been used for centuries in the production of What is Pisco?Pisco. At La Caravedo, the stills are made entirely from copper.
These flacas differ from traditional stills in they do not possess a still-head nor a swan’s neck. These elements are replaced by a lateral copper flute called “canon,” which traps the vapor formed during distillation. This feature enables a slower rate of rectification of the distillate, imbuing those piscos produced in flacas with very special characteristics that translate into an incredible and agreeable sensation in the nose and mouth during tasting.
Traditionally, the fire for the furnaces used to heat the stills and falcas during distillation were fed with logs and branches from the huarango tree. This native species is now protected, and so the furnaces at La Caravedo now use the logs and branches gathered during the regular pruning employed to maintain the hedgerows and trees on the hacienda, including eucalyptus, mulberry, orange, and avocado trees, as well as other species.
The vapor produced during distillation is captured by the flute or “canon” and funneled to a copper coil submerged in the tank called “alberca,” which is a large basin containing the water that causes the vapor to condense.
The liquid obtained from this process is known in pisco-makers’ argot as “chicharron”. It is then deposited in holding tanks and left to settle. In the past, typical earthenware pisco vessels were used during this stage of production.
Once this process has been completed, and after it has been left to settle for one year at La Caravedo, the pisco is ready to be bottled and enjoyed, which is the final phase of the journey that began when the grapes first ripened on the vine.
Caravedo Pisco is not subjected to certain stages of the rectification process, as it occurs with other spirits that require aging in wooden barrels in order to take on their distinctive characteristics. This is a fundamental departure; the exquisite distillate that emerges from the still and is then left to settle while its aromas and flavors develop is the spirit contained in the glass you will eventually raise to your lips. It is free of all additives, artifices or manipulation of any kind because it simply does not require improvement. This is the secret of its purity and unique quality.
Pisco is also distinguished by the evolution of the alcohol content of the beverage. The special climatic conditions of the territory in which they are grown mean that the vines produce the grapes with high sugar content, and of course this is converted into alcohol through the fermentation process. The higher the sugar content, the higher the alcohol content, meaning that when our pisco emerges from the still it has an alcohol content of approximately 43% after a single distillation.
Owning to this happy circumstance resulting from the qualities of the variety of grape we used, Caravedo dose does not require demineralized or distilled water to regulate its alcohol content, and in fact this procedure is outlawed in the context of pisco production, whereas it is employed in the making of other spirits.
Also, pisco does not require aging in wooden barrels or casks, as in the case of cognac, for example. This is because the varietal used to make cognac is acidic so that in order to develop its particular character the distillate must be left to age in wooden casks for between 20 and 25 years before the cognac as we know it is finally produced. When, upon sampling a good cognac, we perceive aromas and flavors that evoke vanilla, smoke, wood and other elements, we are experiencing the qualities evolved during the aging process in wooden casks, and these were not present in the liquor that emerged from the still. In the case of Caravedo Pisco, th original structure of the product is 100% the same as that we will enjoy when the time comes to drink it. A true pleasure.
It is important to understand the Caravedo Pisco, once it has been distilled, must be left to settle in containers that do not add any odor, flavor, or color, so the original and authentic structure is maintained, in terms of both aroma and flavor, along with the translucent quality in which its beauty resides.
As we have already explained, freshly made pisco is held in storage vats, called “cubas de guarda”. This phase is essential and extremely important. When pisco is left to rest, its component parts are able to blend, evolve, intermingling harmoniously to create what will be the beverage’s eventual structure flavor and aroma.
It is the combination of distinctive traits which makes Caravedo such a truly extraordinary spirit.