The production of pisco consists of four main phases:
- Cultivation and harvesting of the pisco grapes
- Bottling in consumption units
The Pisco Designation of Origin states that all these phases must be performed on the pisco producing area.
The harvest of the pisco grapes begins by mid-February, usually with the earliest variety (Austrian Muscat), and concludes with those of the longest cycle (Alexandria Muscat and Pedro Jiménez). The harvest shall be determined by the potential alcohol content of the grape in the vine, which must be equal to or greater than 10,5° Brix. The grapes are received in the distilleries and separated from residues such as leaf and stalk. The grape is then pressed to extract its juice, which will be vinificated in controlled temperatures. The winemaking process takes an average of 30 days, depending on the technology incorporated into the process and the yeasts used for fermentation.
Once the wine is obtained, the distillation process begins in discontinuous copper stills, material does does not provide flavor to alcohol, resists acids and conducts heat well. The still is a device used for the distillation of liquids by a process of evapo- ration by heating and subsequent condensation by cooling. It was invented by the Persian wiseman Al-Razi around the 10th century, to produce perfumes, medicines and alcohol from fermented fruits.
The wine is poured into the still and is brought to boiling point to separate and captu- re the alcohol. The alcohol obtained from this process is divided into three parts: head, heart and tail. The heart is the purest part, used to craft pisco. The master disti- ller is the one who decides where the heart begins and ends in the distillation process, so the final product will undoubtedly have the seal of the master distiller.
The heart can be distilled once, twice or even three times, depending on the level of purity and organoleptic properties desired to produce pisco. The alcohol obtained at the foot of the still has an alcoholic graduation that can fluctuate between approxi- mately 60° and 73°. That is why, as in the production of distillates such as whiskey or vodka, the final alcohol content is adjusted with demineralized water.
The distillation of each season’s wines begins immediately after the wine is ready and cannot exceed the date of January, 31st of the following year, before the next harvest. After being distilled to produce pisco, this alcohol must have a minimum rest of 60 days, which can be done in raulí wood or steel barrels.
Once this alcohol is bottled, it can be called pisco. Unaged pisco is called “transparent”.
In the case of aged piscos, the alcohol obtained is aged in wooden barrels, the most popular being those of raulí, American or French oak. This process gives the pisco a woody flavor that combines very well with the grape flavor of the product, providing an amber color whose intensity will depend on the ageing period.