Ica, Peru is a small-ish town about 4-6 hours south of Lima, making it a popular weekend getaway from the city. The climate is dry and desert-like, and it’s perhaps best known for its wine and pisco Bodegas outside of town. Ica is Peru’s primary wine and pisco producing region, and we were excited to both check out the local wine culture and taste the national beverages!
The winery was remarkably uncrowded for a Sunday afternoon (quite a contrast from Sonoma!) and we ended up getting a private tour. Tacama is one of the larger and more modern bodegas in Peru. It’s also one of the oldest, and even has an old monastery within it’s walls. The vineyards were expansive, and we would have had a great view from one of the towers, if not for the strong wind that was stirring up massive clouds of dust. We snapped a few photos then quickly headed inside to the building where the wine and Pisco are fermented.
Here, we checked out their oversized wine barrels, an array of winemaking equipment from over the years, and got to see the Pisco distillery in operation.
Our tour finished with a tasting of 7 different wines and piscos. We were surprised to find that the wines varied from sweet to sweeter. Apparently for Peruvians wine is not meant to be paired with dinner — it’s an aperitif with high sugar levels. We also sampled a couple piscos and were impressed by the nuances. It was smooth (with a kick!) and the characteristics of it reminded Kyle of a floral blanco tequila. Needless to say we ended up going home with a few bottles!
Day two we headed out to Huacaccina, the much touted “desert oasis” of Peru. Since the wind from the day before never died down we were greeted by a hazy, dust-filled town with mostly deserted sidewalks. Still, we tried to make the best of it and went out for a sandboarding excursion in the surrounding dunes.
The vastness of the dunes was an impressive site; once the town disappeared behind the first dune it was nothing but sand as far as we could see. Sandboarding itself was a bit of a letdown though — the boards were meant mostly for laying on sledding-style, and when we did convince our guide to let us give it a go standing up it was pretty anticlimactic. I’d compare it to very, very slow snowboarding…while being pelted in the face with blowing sand.
For our last full day in Ica it was back to wine — we opted this time to check out one of the smaller “artesianal” bodegas that still uses traditional methods for wine and pisco making. Ica has a significant number of these small bodegas, though most don’t have the infrastructure set up to handle visitors, and aren’t exactly known for quality — very different from the small family vineyards that we love in California.
Our visit to El Catador was structured much like Tacama with a tour followed by free tasting. The tour here was much shorter, but it was cool to see the more traditional wine and pisco making setup. In the back behind the tasting room workers were in the process of stomping grapes in massive concrete holes with their bare feet. We learned that here (and supposedly at a lot of the other small bodegas) they use a different winemaking process than we’re used to. Since pisco is the primary product and wine is somewhat of an afterthought, rather than age and ferment the wine as it’s own product they actually distill most of the grapes down to pisco that is then added to grape juice to make their wine.
The town of Ica itself isn’t very impressive – the garbage-strewn streets are dusty and crowded with tuk-tuks and tiny shops. There are some budget hostels and hotels, but I’d recommend following suit of vacationing locals and booking one of the boutique hotels in a gated community just out of town.
Given the significance of the Pisco industry to Ica, it’s almost impossible to leave without trying some. I’d recommend trying it straight from one of the Bodegas if possible so you can sip and compare the different styles. We both preferred the sweeter, more floral blends styles as they were a bit less harsh to our inexperienced pisco palettes.
- Wineries in Ica are very spread out. It’s easy (and fairly cheap) to access the main ones via cab, but if you want to try to hit multiples in one day you’ll need to either book a (more expensive) tour or negotiate a day rate for a cab. We’d recommend leaving at least a couple hours per winery.
- Don’t mess with the fruit in Peru. Seriously, if you don’t want to take the time to peel it, then just pass. It’s not worth the risk. Trust us.