The Economic Impact of Heroic Viticulture
Updated: May 22, 2021
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.
“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.