• Apu Winery

Updated: Aug 18, 2019


Our red wine is now resting in French oak barrels, allowing the flavors and aromas to stabilize and meld. Harvest is long over, but we still reflect on the gratitude we feel when the last hand-picked grape is crushed. Seeing the fresh juice flow from the press reminds us there is something profoundly satisfying about growing grapes deep in the Andes.


Operating a vineyard at this altitude is no small feat. Standing among dramatic peaks of the Andes, contemplating a precipice lined with vines, one doesn’t wonder why growing grapes in extreme conditions is called “heroic viticulture”. The term applies to vineyards planted on difficult terrain: altitudes over 500 meters (1,600ft), on slopes greater than 30%, on terraces or embankments, or on small islands (Centre). While vineyards must only meet one of the criteria to be considered “heroic”, we meet 3 of them. The difficulties we face with our high-altitude, steep slopes, and terraces make us feel especially proud of every bottle of wine we produce.


However, overcoming these orographic obstacles isn’t the most rewarding part of this project; its economic impact on local communities is most satisfying. Manual labor is necessary at heroic vineyards where the conditions of the terrain are so challenging that the use of machines is impossible. In larger, more accessible vineyards, machines do most of the work. On our steep slopes, mechanization is not possible, so we require many human hands to complete the grape-growing and winemaking cycles. Everything here is done manually, from planting to pruning, to harvesting, crushing and bottling. The more hands we require, the more families we provide for.


Some vineyards in this classification are located in remote areas that have little possibility for economic development. This is the case of our region, Apurimac. According to a study monitoring poverty in Peru, Apurímac is the second poorest region in Peru (INEI). In this agrarian society, most landowning families depend on short-term crops for sustenance and income, leaving them vulnerable to overproduction, debt and other risks. Those who don’t own land find themselves susceptible to predatory renting practices, low wages and unemployment when their services aren't needed. Women are especially susceptible, as they are often the sole breadwinners of the family. They earn even less than men, their wages so low that they are unable break the poverty cycle. Recognizing the struggles of our female workers, we created a stipend program to cover their monthly food expenses, which we hope relieves the pressures of single parenting in one of the poorest regions of Peru.


Since viticulture is a year-round activity, we frequently have large groups of workers to maintain the plants, for weeding, and for construction projects. For time-sensitive projects like harvest and pruning, we require even more hands, sometimes tripling our worker base. Viticulture is a skill that can be learned. We are developing an educational program with scalability that can be applied to other remote areas of Andes that are suitable for grape growing. Teaching Andean people how to tend to vines will allow them to diversify their crops and make long-term investments for their futures.


The economic benefits of heroic viticulture go beyond Apurímac. In her article, What Businesses Are Involved in Heroic Viticulture?, Marina Novato noted its significant economic impact across the world in Europe, the Americas and the Middle East: “It has a decisive economic role in some areas. Think, for example, of the particular mountain areas or small islands that have found, precisely in the planting of heroic vines, an effective way to turn the difficulty of the territory into a great resource”. Microclimates across the entire Andes mountain range could provide optimal conditions for vitis vinifera. We envision patches of vines surrounding small communities like the Curahuasi Valley, long-term investments that will provide for generations of families across the span of Peru.


Heroic viticulture means so much more than overcoming physical and geographical obstacles. We hope to see more heroic vineyards in the Andes and beyond, creating monetary benefits to those in remote areas. Successfully planting vineyards at 3,300 meters in the Andes was ambitious and exciting for us, but the economic impact was the monumental force behind this project.



Sources:


“A Centre for the Heroic Viticulture.” Centre for Research, Environmental Sustainability and Advancement of Mountain Viticulture, www.cervim.org/en/heroic-viticulture.aspx.


“Evolución De La Pobreza Monetaria, 2007-2016.” Instituto Nacional De Estadística e Informática, May 2017.


Lovato, Marina. “What Businesses Are Involved in Heroic Viticulture?” wine2wine, 6 Nov. 2018, www.wine2wine.net/what-businesses-are-involved-in-heroic-viticulture/?lang=en.

Updated: Aug 18, 2019



Part of the adventure of this ambitious project in the Andes has been living completely “off-grid”, which required us to change our mentality about energy and resource consumption. Although it was difficult to adjust our lifestyle, reducing our carbon footprint and promoting sustainability in winemaking has been surprisingly gratifying. Here are some examples of how we operate sustainably here at Apu:


Electricity- Manual labor replaces the work of machinery such as crushers and destemmers. With the assistance of the steep slopes at our location, we have a gravity-flow system, which efficiently channels water to our home, winery, and vineyards, eliminating the need for pumps. Furthermore, we have 4 solar panels that convert the sun's rays into 12-volt electricity, which transfers to 3 batteries. A transformer then converts the energy, supplying 220-volt electricity for all our needs.


Refrigeration- 2 solar panels provide electricity to our small refrigerator and freezer. This is sufficient to keep our food safe for consumption. We will soon be investing in a larger solar freezer so we have chillers onsite to assist with cooling during fermentation.


Water- The water that supplies our vineyard, winery and home comes from: runoff from the Andes, high-altitude Andean lagoons, and rainwater. We use rain gutters and tanks to collect precipitation and cement and fiberglass tanks to collect runoff. A system of tubes, valves and drips form part of our gravity-flow irrigation system, which functions when the runoff gains velocity as it descends down the mountainside, creating the necessary pressure to expel the water from the tubes and drips. Finally, to make potable water, we use a system of carbon filtering, solar rays, and a ceramic cask filter system.


No-waste winery model- At Apu, we reuse all organic material from our home and winery. Food waste goes to compost and stems, seeds, and grapeskins are used to make pomace brandy (and then composted). All of our organic material is used as fertilizer in the vineyard.


Organic when possible- We avoid harmful chemicals whenever possible. This especially applies to our weeding technqiues. Since we can't weed mechanically and we don't use herbicides, we remove unwanted plants and brush completely by hand. In addition, here at Apu we have created an organic anti-fungus concoction of lime sulfur, copper sulfate and sulfur to control mold and mildew during the rainy season. So, instead of spraying with fungicides, we paint our recently pruned plants with this concoction, as seen in this photo:




Architecture- Part of our house is built underground, which provides a natural air conditioning system when days are scorching. These cool zones act as cold storage for wine bottles. They are also helpful when we need to slow fermentation or stabilize tartaric acid. Finally, the construction of the house was completed with recycled materials and plaster, eucalyptus and stones from the area.


It makes us proud to make delicious wine while supporting sustainable practices. We hope our model continues to work in the future as our vineyards expand and our needs for energy grow. In the meantime, we will be cognizant to technological advances that will allow us to operate even more efficiently in our off-the-grid home and winery.

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