Pisco: How versatility can offset battered 2020 exports

“Some could not harvest anything and those who were able to harvest received such a low price that it did not cover their expenses,” says Rosa Grados of Peruvian brand Cholo Matías.

The La Caravedo winery in the Ica Valley, home to Pisco Portón – one of the bestselling brands in Drinks International’s Brands Report – experienced a poor export performance in 2020. Master distiller Johnny Schuler says Covid-19 has had a “brutal effect” on sales and that his brand exported less than 30% of what it did in 2019. As an authority on Peruvian pisco, Schuler adds that in the first half of 2020, Pisco Portón experienced a decline in orders from the US, Italy and Spain, which are some of the biggest export markets for the wider pisco category. All of these figures appear damning for the category, which had built up an encouraging export strategy over the past decade or so. But work is already well underway to try to offset the poor performance of 2020 and rekindle the flame of export markets. Across the border in Chile, where exports still represent a tiny portion of the category’s overall sales, Flores of Pisco Chile aims to increase the proportion from less than 1% to 5% in the next five years.


During Drinks International’s visit to Chilean brand Mal Paso in the Limarí Valley, Coquimbo, chief of operations Gustavo Javier Pozo Prohens discussed the countries being targeted for future exports. As well as Poland and Germany being focal points, Australia was singled out by Prohens as a future target. “Germany and Poland are our primary export focus,” said Prohens in February 2020. “We’ve built it to 1,000 cases a year and it’s slow but organic growth. Australia will be our next big target and I think bars are where the action is.”

A promising sign is that, in August last year, the brand announced its entry into the Australian market via a distribution deal with Pinnacle Drinks, suggesting that even in the thick of the pandemic there were still trade deals crossing the line. Aside from striking new overseas partnerships, Chilean pisco has been working hard to earn new Geographical Indicators in international markets. In July 2020, an application was submitted to gain recognition of Chilean Pisco in India, while the category also earned its name in Thailand in April this year.

Following the recent success in Thailand, the undersecretary of international economic relations, Rodrigo Yáñez, said: “This decision recognises the strength of our appellation of origin of pisco, the oldest in Chile, complying with the highest international standards.

“The ruling of the Court of Appeals is consistent with the country’s national strategy that seeks for the Chilean geographical indication to coexist with the Peruvian one in international markets.”

As early as 2012 Peruvian pisco brands had been reportedly piggybacking the international expansion of Peruvian cuisine, gaining listings in restaurants in some of the trendiest ‘foodie’ cities around the world. It appears this remains a focus for Peru’s export strategy, with the launch of a second Pisco College in Europe in March this year, the first having opened in Brussels in 2019. Paris is the location of the new training centre, which aims to educate hospitality and restaurant professionals in the French capital on everything there is to know about Peruvian pisco. Having a full education programme permanently located in one of the world’s top culinary cities could be an effective way to not only increase the presence of Peruvian pisco in restaurants globally, but open it up to a wider variety of cuisines.

It’s always impressive to see the resilience of spirits categories during troublesome times. It feels like the more pisco is backed into a corner, the harder it comes out swinging. With both Chile and Peru showing versatility to keep their momentum moving forward, the devastating effects of 2020 will be short lived. It’s probably naive to think it possible, but now more than ever Peru and Chile would benefit from establishing a more co-operative approach to pisco’s export growth, particularly in light of the economic effects which are likely to rebound from the pandemic in the future years.