Learning from the Incas
Updated: Dec 5, 2020
Throughout Peru, there are thousands of ruins that demonstrate the engineering prowess of the Incas. Near Apu Winery are some of the greatest examples, such as the agricultural terraces of Moray and the irrigation canals of Sayhuite. Planting grapes near so many spectacular ruins, on the ancestral land of the Incas, we were inclined to explore the idea of reviving some of the extinct farming techniques of Peru. In the end, the choice was obvious; adopting the agricultural practices of the Incas was a necessary, sustainable choice for Apu.
The movement to return to ancestral roots is slowly gathering momentum among farmers in the Andes. As Cynthia Graber notes in her article “Farming Like the Incas”, Andean people are reviving ancient methods because they use water more efficiently and “modern farmers also believe the Incan ways can offer simple solutions to help protect communities’ food supply in the face of climate change”. We couldn’t agree more with this evaluation. To irrigate our vineyards, we looked to the past for answers. Using a system adopted from Andean ancestors, we efficiently channel water from higher altitudes to our vines. Furthermore, the Incan terracing system allowed us to plant grapes on the steep slopes of the Curahuasi Valley. In this blog post, we will delve more into the subject of these terraces, providing information about their benefits and explaining how these small platforms on very difficult terrain made this viticulture project possible.
According to Graber, “At the Incan civilization’s height in the 1400s, the system of terraces covered about a million hectares throughout Peru and fed the vast empire”. As you travel through the Andes today, remnants of these terraces are ubiquitous, giving you an idea of just how important they were for farming for the Incas. The most famous example may be the remarkable terraces of Moray. Archaeologists believe that the circular terraces of Moray allowed the Incas to experiment farming at different altitudes. However, they had many other uses, including: erosion control, improved water absorption, insulation of plants and roots, soil aeration, increase exposure to sunlight, and facilitating farming in difficult terrain.
While we had found the perfect viticulture conditions here in Curahuasi, there was one major obstacle remaining: how to navigate the 40-degree slopes of our land. We wondered how we would plant and tend to our vines without plunging down the hillside. Surprisingly, the answer lay scattered along the Andean hillsides: Incan terraces. After studying the engineering creations that lay abandoned in the Andes for more than 500 years, we realized the solution was quite simple. We would create a series of 1-meter wide terraces on our 40-degree slope. Now, on a vertical plot that was once considered inhospitable to crops, we have 55 terraces, perfect rows of hundreds of thriving grapevines. We can thank the Incas for teaching us how to reap the full benefits of our land, maximizing water efficiency, preventing erosion, insulating our plants, and allowing us to farm on this very difficult terrain.
We were the first to start a viticulture project in this area, but we hope we aren’t the last. Our success story can be applied throughout the Andes. Using this terracing method to promote diversification of crops, the regions of Cusco and Apurímac could greatly benefit, making a long-term investment to offset the effects of global warming and reduce poverty.
Graber, Cynthia. “Farming Like the Incas.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 6 Sept. 2011, www.smithsonianmag.com/history/farming-like-the-incas-70263217/.
“Incan Agriculture.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 27 Feb. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incan_agriculture.