Circling Back to Spirits of Old: Peruvian Winemaking With Sweet Tubers (Potato Wine)

Header Peruvian Farmland

Figure 1 Header Peruvian Farmland in the Andes Mountains Source: Shutterstock

 

When we hear the word wine we automatically assume grape wine, but wine is made from other ingredients in different parts of the world. For example, wines can be crafted from many different kinds of berries, honey (also known as mead), and now one Peruvian has begun making wine with ancient Incan varieties of potatoes.

The Importance of Potatoes in Pre-Colonial South America

Over 10,000 years ago, potatoes were discovered in the Andes Mountains alongside Lake Titicaca. These potatoes were native to the area and grew in wild bunches around the Lake. It is said that they were first discovered and domesticated by the Incans. They quickly became an important crop to the Incan people and a staple of their diet. Not only were they revered for their ability to feed and sustain a large population, but potatoes were also used as a medicine, a means to predict the weather, and to aid in childbirth.

Additionally, potatoes were occasionally used to produce the Incan pre-colonial alcohol, chicha. Although, chicha is more commonly produced using corn.

Peruvian Vendor

Figure 2 Peruvian Vendor in Traditional Outfit Holding Potatoes Source: Shutterstock

Who Is Manuel Choqque?

Potatoes have long been embedded in Choqque’s life, from his family cultivating them for multiple generations to consuming purple potatoes on father-son trips as a child. Thus, taking over the family business of growing ocas and mashuas (local heirloom potato varieties) was an easy choice.

Manuel Choqque grew up in the Andes Mountains in Peru, learning to farm various Peruvian potato plants from his father. He spent his college years studying agricultural engineering in Cusco at the Universidad San Antonio Abad. After a stint at the International Potato Center, Choqque traveled back to Huatata, his hometown, to take over the family business.

Choqque has a passion for local ancient potato varieties, and he grows many of these almost forgotten varieties. He also works on improving these old varieties by cross pollinating them. He currently has over 380 varieties of native potato plants on his farm.

Delving into Potato Research

As Choqque was delving into his hobby of examining potatoes which haven’t been in circulation since the Incan times, he discovered that ocas were an excellent source of natural sugar, a necessary component to making alcohol. When cultivated in ideal conditions, ocas can make wine that ranges from 11%-12% ABV.

Choqque took two years to fully research and investigate ocas as a suitable component of winemaking. After thoroughly exploring these sweet tubers, he created his own wine company called Miskioca. The name originates from the Quechuan word “miski,” meaning sweet. Over the years, he has curated four varieties of wine from oca, including a red wine, a sweet white wine, a dry white wine, and a rosé.

What Are Oca Potatoes?

These potatoes are grown in the Sacred Valley of Peru at about 1200 feet above sea level. While few plants survive the harsh terrain and weather in the Andes Mountains, this unique potatoe variety thrives under Choqque’s watch.

Did you know? The word oca comes from the Quechuan word oqa, which refers to the oca plant.[7]

Oca potatoes come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and even colors, with some featuring yellow interiors and others offering swirls of purple. While it was initially a staple for the Incans, it continues to be used in local dishes, from potato chip snacks to stews and desserts. Now, multiple farmers, including Choqque, are using it to create a unique wine, “vino de oca.” [8]

Summary

While Manuel Choqque is not the first to consider using alternative ingredients in wine, he is certainly the first to specifically use oca. His efforts are not in vain, considering multiple restaurants offer his wine on their menus. His current sales include 1,500 bottles of vino. However, he remains optimistic and hopes the next year will be nearly 10x this amount.

If you have the chance to try vino de oca, you’ll find the taste similar to wine yet with a unique flair. While it may not be everyone’s glass of wine, it’s certainly an exciting contender in the wine industry, inspiring wine producers to pursue their creativity.

As you explore the world of wine, you can learn about wine slang, uncover the history of wine grapes, and more on the This Day In Wine History Blog.

Want to read more? Try these books!

The World of Natural Wine- What It Is, Who Makes It, and Why It Matters Techniques in Home Winemaking- The Comprehensive Guide to Making Château-Style Wines

References

[1] Johnson, Nick. “The Peruvian Wine Made from Sugary Potatoes.” The Daily Meal, 12 Dec. 2022, www.thedailymeal.com/1129606/the-peruvian-wine-made-from-sugary-potatoes/.

[2] T. Thomas, Alan. “Distilled Spirit | Definition, History, Production, Types, & Facts.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 15 Dec. 2022, www.britannica.com/topic/distilled-spirit.

[3] Birtles, Katie. “The Fascinating History behind Peru’s Humble Potato.” Real Word, 15 Mar. 2020, www.trafalgar.com/real-word/peruvian-potatoes/.

[4] Martinez, Alona. “The Hidden Beauty of Peru’s Pigmented Potatoes.” Atlas Obscura, 4 Oct. 2018, www.atlasobscura.com/articles/colorful-potatoes-peru.

[5] “50 next – Manuel Choqque – Gamechanging Producers 2021.” UI – 50B – 50 NEXT, www.theworlds50best.com/50next/list/2021/gamechanging-producers/manuel-choqque.

[6] Magyarics, Kelly. “The Peruvian Farmer Crafting “Wine” from High-Altitude Heirloom Potatoes.” VinePair, 8 Nov. 2019, vinepair.com/articles/peru-potato-wine/.

[7] Trombley, Jeremy. “American Indian Health – Health.” Aihd.ku.edu, aihd.ku.edu/foods/oca.html.

[8] “Peruvian Farmer Crafting “Wine” from Heirloom Potatoes.” Www.potatogrower.com, 11 Nov. 2019, www.potatogrower.com/2019/11/peruvian-farmer-crafting-wine-from.

[9] Magyarics, Kelly. “The Peruvian Farmer Crafting “Wine” from High-Altitude Heirloom Potatoes.” VinePair, 8 Nov. 2019, vinepair.com/articles/peru-potato-wine/.

Categories: This Day in Wine History | ArticlesTags: , By Published On: January 3, 2023Last Updated: February 28, 2024

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!