The Story of Capel
Pisco is the national spirit of Chile, a young, clear or aged grape brandy. In the mid 16th Century the Spanish conquistadors planted the first grape vines in the region for the production of wines and spirits. It is supposed that the first Pisco type drink was developed by the Spanish settlers as an alternative to imported alcoholic drinks and to provide something to which they were more accustomed than the local spirit.
In Chile, vine cultivation can be traced back to the founding of the city of La Serena in 1544, with harvests known to have taken place in the region of the Elqui Valley from 1551. To this day, this long narrow valley through the Andes is still home to the production of the finest Chilean Pisco.
Chile´s historical statute books provide evidence of the evolution of pisco production. A series of regulations and edicts from the 19th century through to the country’s first Alcoholic Beverages Law, passed in 1902, helped define pisco as produced directly from the distillation of fermented grapes, with neither aromatic additives nor any other substances, bottled by the distiller.
In 1931, a 'Denominación de Origen' (D.O.) was established, limiting Pisco production to the Atacama and Coquimbo regions both of which had the ideal ecosystem for the production of the aromatic Muscat grape from which much Pisco is made. The area is described as having a predominantly sub-desert climate with unique characteristics due to the strong Pacific influence giving minimal cloud cover and no rainfall nine to ten months of the year. The vines are planted as high as 1800 meters above sea level, with both modern structured vineyards and some simply covering the mountain sides.
Created in 1938 by a group of small distilleries located in the Elqui Valley, Capel is now the largest Pisco producing company in Chile. With 9 wineries and distilling plants scattered all over the picturesque valleys of Copiapó, Huasco, Elqui, Limarí and Choapa the company has a production capacity of 4 million cases a year which represents more than two thirds of the Chilean market. The head office and main bottling plant are located in Vicuña in the heart of the Elqui Valley and the company is the largest white wine producer in the world.
The steps in pisco production are all carefully monitored to ensure freshness and quality:
The ripest and most aromatic grapes are harvested by hand and carefully transported through the steep valleys. They are then de-stemmed, de-pipped and carefully pressed to obtain the most characterful juice. The grape then undergoes a temperature controlled fermentation, on the skins, using selected yeasts. The wine, which is periodically pumped over, will achieve around 14% alcohol when fermented totally dry.
Double-distillation of the wine, to a strength of 60-63% alcohol, takes place in copper pot stills and then the spirit is allowed to rest, prior to cask ageing or filtration for bottling, all of which must take place in the D.O. Pisco region.
The D.O. regulations also define the minimum alcohol content for different kinds of Pisco and terminology for those aged in oak.
30% for Pisco Tradicional (Traditional)
35% for Pisco Especial (Special)
40% for Pisco Reservado (reserve)
43% for Gran Pisco (grand)
Pisco Guarda requires a minimum of six months in oak cask
Pisco Envejecido a minimum of 12 months