Peru's Colonial Wine Industry and Its European Background

By Rice, Prudence M. | Antiquity, December 1996 | Go to article overview

Peru's Colonial Wine Industry and Its European Background


Rice, Prudence M., Antiquity


The Moquegua valley and its bodegas

An important - if little heralded - economic enterprise of colonial-period Peru was its wine industry. Begun by Spanish colonists in the mid 16th century (see Brown 1986; Cushner 1980; Davies 1984) to alleviate chronic scarcities of wine for both religious and secular consumption, vineyards and viticulture expanded and prospered over the centuries, despite ineffectual prohibitions from the Spanish crown and regional boom-and-bust cycles.

The Moquegua valley in far southern Peru is one area where the wine and grape brandy 'industry' flourished, benefiting from proximity to the thirsty silver-mining centres of 'Upper Peru' (modern Bolivia). The 'Moquegua valley' is a 29-km long stretch of the Osmore River valley lying just above and below the colonial and modern city of Moquegua. A narrow strip of irrigated bottomland at an elevation of 1100-1700 m, it is bordered by steep, barren, desert hills. An environmental survey (ONERN 1976) estimated that this mid-valley sector of the Osmore had some 2000 hectares of 'good' agricultural land of a total c. 2800 arable.

The Moquegua Bodegas Project, carried out during six summer field seasons, 1985-1990, investigated the archaeology and history of the colonial wine and brandy industry. The project began with pedestrian surveys (assisted by aerial photographs) to locate the ruins of winery sites, bodegas. Mapping and shovel-testing focused on 28 of the better-preserved, and more extensive excavations were undertaken at four (see Smith 1991; Rice & Smith 1989). In the Moquegua Archives, notarial records dating back to 1587 provided information about the establishment and sales of haciendas (heredades, as they were called in 16th-century Peru and Spain) and wine production and trade; unfortunately no maps were located.

Project surveys recorded 130 wine hacienda site locations in the valley, most strung along the hillsides at the margins of agricultural land [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1, 2 OMITTED]. Many have been nearly obliterated by modern construction; most sites have standing architecture, portions of which are occupied today, often by squatters. (In the late 1980s, only four bodegas in Moquegua still made wine, brandy (pisco) and other liquors.) The haciendas date from the beginning of Spanish settlement and foundation of the wine industry in the valley, c. 1570, to its demise in the early 20th century. Most are believed to date from the 'brandy boom' years of the late 18th century by dates inscribed on tinajas (fermentation jars) and recovered artefacts, but they have not been unequivocally dated by documentary or chronometric means.

The sites are adobe complexes of cane-roofed structures and open courtyards or corrals that reflect residential as well as 'industrial' usage ([ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 3 OMITTED]; for discussion of site plans and 'industrial' facilities, see Rice 1996a). Facilities associated with wine- and brandy-making are primarily tank-like lagars for crushing grapes (often with near-by scatters of grape seeds) and large rooms holding earthenware jars or tinajas for fermenting and storing wine; less frequently kilns (for firing pottery and calcining lime; Rice 1994; Rice & Van Beck 1993) and distilleries are noted and, rarer still, items such as wooden screws from presses, barrel fragments, etc.

The identification of some 130 wine hacienda sites in the tiny Moquegua valley is eloquent testimony to the intensity and success of colonial viticulture there. Somewhat unexpectedly, analysis of colonial Moquegua's wine-making facilities and technology revealed similarities not only with the Iberian homeland but also with ancient Mediterranean practice. The present article explores the significance of these technological continuities that persisted over two continents and more than a millennium and a half, from Roman Europe through medieval Iberia and then to the New World.

A brief viticultural history

The wine grape, Vitis vinifera, is believed to have been domesticated in the Old World around the Middle East and 'Transcaucasus', perhaps as early as 6000 BC (Olmo 1976; 1995; Unwin 1991: 63; McGovern et al. …

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