By Patrick HiegerLate last Friday, we gave mention to a story that Decanter had written about Chilean wine maker Aurelio Montes’ plan to test growing grape vines in Peru’s Sacred Valley, near Machu Picchu, in partnership with an importer who, as of then, had yet to be named. Seemingly standard reporting of the news for us, the post managed to cause a decent reaction, particularly with wine makers and other experts, but not just in Peru. Many said that both our and Decanter‘s articles were poorly written, occluding details, and not taking the issue seriously enough. Some accused us of not knowing our geography. And then there was a whole conversation about whether wine should even be grown in the Sacred Valley at all. In short, we caused a stink, which was never our intention.
Our goal in writing the piece was not to offend local Peruvian cultures, nor to suggest that simply throwing a few vines up on the side of the Sacred Valley just to see if they’ll grow is standard, or acceptable practice. In all honesty, it seems that Montes’ words might have been taken out of their original context, considering the wine maker’s status in the region, as well as his coming in as a foreign investor. If, however, Montes does see this simply as a fun experiment, he might want to reconsider his approach to the proposed land, as well as to the people around it.
To get a better sense of the issue, we reached out to a few wine experts, writers and grape-growers in the region to get their feelings on the Sacred Valley as a potentially serious Peruvian wine region. Overall, people seem positive about what the region has in store, but would like to make sure that local, ancient cultures, as well as the land, are treated with the utmost respect. We also found that Aurelio Montes, and his father, are well-respected wine makers, who most believe wouldn’t be entering into such an “experiment” without a good idea that it was going to work.
Pepe Moquillaza | Owner, Pisco Inquebrantable
“Both notes (Decanter and Como Sur) showed an initiative without any studies. It was also unpleasing to find out the news from an outside source and that the local partner hadn’t given his name. It’s a sacred valley with many ancient communities living there and everything should be done in harmony with them. I have the best references with Aurelio senior and I met Aurelio junior in Lima, but we don’t do things like that in Peru, even less in Cusco where the social equilibrium is very fragile. Following that line of ideas, what calls my attention is preventative, and that they do things well and with plenty of respect.”
Gregg Smith | Head Sommelier, Central Restaurant
“I can’t really comment on the appropriateness of the climate and soil for wine production in the Sacred Valley, but I suspect that Aurelio Montes wouldn’t enter into a project that didn’t have some potential. And we know who the wealthy importer is, Glenn Wong of Premium Brands. Who knows? Maybe they’ll make some good juice and surprise everyone.
At any rate, it will be an interesting study on the effect of altitude, climate, and solar radiation. We have to remember that at latitudes near the equator the days are not as long in summer as they are at higher latitudes so the grapes don’t have the benefit of long days of ripening as they do, say, in France and Germany. Remember in summer the daylight lasts past 9 pm. Also, vineyards in the Sacred Valley would have to be situated where a mountain wouldn’t cause a huge shadow blocking sunlight. But maybe the intense solar radiation would make up for the shorter days.”
Melina Bertocchi | Editor, Revista Sommelier
“To me it seems that this is very important news, above all for the wine-growing industry. I had heard about this a while back, but no one really said anything. Now that Decanter published it, I think it’s the moment to start talking, but it’s also an issue that needs to be treated with care, quite delicately, because the Peruvians that live in those regions are really quite sacred, almost untouchable. So, then, Decanter’s tone does sound a bit light, a little too “easy.” To say, ‘I’m going to plant a few vines and see what happens…’ A giant like Montes doesn’t do things by improvising. But I do think it’s a positive foreign investment in the theme of Peruvian wines. And I’m not so extreme to say that they can’t do things in Cusco. If they’re in a regulated zone, they’ve done their research, and they manage to make a good, valuable wine and thereby help the people in the region, then I say welcome.”
As of the original publishing of our article, Montes was set to start planting vines as of this week. We’ll be following closely to see how his partnership with Glenn Wong pans out, as well as how locals react.