Peruvian pisco exports up 48 percent since last year, surpassing Chile

Peruvian pisco, a grape brandy born in the fertile Peruvian desert more than four centuries ago, has maintained its comparative advantage over the Chilean brand, as sales abroad have shot up by 48 percent since last year, surpassing $1 million, reported Adex Data Trade, Peru’s export association.

Peruvian pisco exports have largely surpassed Chilean exports, which only generated $733,000 in sales this year, reported state news agency Andina.

Until recently, Chile far outpaced Peru in exports of its own inferior version of Pisco, while the two nations wrangled over rights to the liquor’s name — both claiming to be the inventors of the (sorry Chile…) obviously Peruvian brandy. 

Peru’s National Pisco Commission, or Conapisco, reported that exports to Chile — the largest importer of Peruvian pisco after the United States — helped boost Peru’s pisco exports in 2008.

But, according to Daniel Geller, sales manager of Viña Tacama, Peruvian exports are growing steadily and Peruvian pisco is successfully entering new markets. Sales in 2008 will exceed $1 million, without taking into account exports to Peru’s southern neighbor, Geller said.

“Last year we exported $880,000 (without tallying what was sent to Chile),” said Geller, “and this year we will largely exceed this. And projections for 2009 are even better.”

Like vodka to Russians and tequila to Mexicans, pisco is more than a traditional drink in Peru. It’s a symbolic cultural icon of Peruvian pride and heritage.

Pisco sour, the flagship drink of Peru prepared with pisco, lime juice, egg whites and regional bitters, even delighted world leaders — including U.S. President George W. Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso — during November’s APEC Summit, held in Peru’s capital, Lima.

Derived from the Quechua word for “little bird,” pisco is distilled from fresh grapes, is transparent or slightly yellowish, and has been described as a “rousing pick-me-up” by Peruvian author Ricardo Palma. Pisco production, which has been passed from generation to generation, is a ritual in many families.

But pisco is also at the center of a growing Peru-Chile trade dispute over which country has the right to market the grape brandy as “pisco.”

Peru claims proprietorship mainly on the basis of historical arguments, and claims Chile stole pisco from

Peru during the War of the Pacific in the late 1800s. Peru was defeated, and lost land in the desert area of Tarapaca, where Peruvian-style pisco production used to thrive.

While both countries claim a historical legacy to pisco, the underlying cause of the dispute is over exports and control over foreign markets. While Chile has cultivated a small export market for its pisco, Peru has only recently, but successfully, began capturing an export market for its pisco.

According to Conapisco, Peru exports its grape brandy mainly to the U.S., Chile, as well as other countries such as Panama, Switzerland, Argentina, Italy, Canada, Spain and Mexico. New markets were opened by Peru in Finland, Venezuela, El Salvador, Puerto Rico, and Thailand this year.

Today, Peru produces approximately 5 million liters of pisco annually, while Chile produces 50 million liters.

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