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Vintage Moquegua: History, Wine, and Archaeology on a Colonial Peruvian Periphery (review)

From: Journal of Latin American Geography
Volume 11, Number 2, 2012
pp. 205-206 | 10.1353/lag.2012.0034

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This book reconstructs colonial viniculture in the Moquegua Valley of Southern Peru through which descends the Osmore River on its way to the Pacific Ocean. By 1560, Spaniards had established vineyards in the irrigated middle section of that valley between 1,000 and 2,000 meters above sea level. The timing could not have been better, for in the same decade, Spaniards had begun to exploit the huge silver veins at Potosí ca. 800 km to the south. Through the seventeenth century, Moquegua estates supplied wine to Potosí and other mining camps. In the eighteenth century, brandy became the preferred beverage. In the nineteenth century production declined as mining populations declined and the demand for ethylic libations. Plagued by phylloxera, twentieth-century Moquegua viniculture became nearly extinct, but that is another story from the auge vinícola covered in this book.

The author describes her work as a socioeconomic micro-history; one might add that the research plan itself had its own little history that resulted in more than a dozen earlier publications. Rice led the Moquegua Bodegas Project from 1985 to 1989 and in that time enlisted half-a-dozen graduate students to help her locate the remains of 130 wineries (bodegas) in a 29-kilometer stretch of the valley. The team also mapped at a larger scale 28 of these establishments and carefully excavated four of them. Artifacts catalogued included crushing pits (lagares), large earthenware containers (tinajas) used to ferment and store the wine, and smaller earthenware vessels (botijas) used to carry the wine products to market on pack animals. Wine was not then bottled and the two bottles prominently pictured on the book's dust jacket are misleading. Likewise, the word "vintage" in the title, suggesting to many people a product of commendable quality, is an inappropriate word choice. The wine from Moquegua or from anywhere in the Central Andes, was mediocre at best and, in any case, its quality was irrelevant for the making of brandy. Indeed, the triumph of Andean brandy, called pisco in Peru, was that poor wine could be distilled to make a much better product.

It is intriguing to note how this material-oriented research, complemented by archival documents, enabled the author to develop a long string of inferences covering social relationships, political structure, ethnic identity and political power. In the early decades after the Conquest, wine was so rare that only Eucharistic celebrants and wealthy Spaniards had access to it. By 1600, however, the flood of wine produced by bodegas made it so cheap and readily available that Indians began to drink wine as an inebriant. Although Spaniards were the main growers of grapes and makers of wine, headmen in some Indian communities also got into the activity. The dirth of a range of vinicultural details presented in this volume left me with unanswered questions about environmental adaptation, vineyard training systems, and Moquegua's competitors in the wine and brandy business in Alto Peru (now Bolivia). At the same time, the freshly harvested information in this book is not about empirical findings since they were previously published, but rather the broad contextualization and the application of theoretical ideas. Separate chapters sketch the vinicultural history of Spain and Andean colonial institutions. Readers may appreciate these presentations, though they contain little not found in other sources.

The author frames her data into three theoretical perspectives. One is that Moquegua, 1,200 km from the center of viceregal power in Lima, was in a peripheral frontier. Politically that was true, but economically Moquegua had a huge advantage over the vinicultural valleys lying farther north in the Majes, Sihuas and other valleys of the Arequipa region and those still farther north around Ica and Nazca. Not only was Moquegua closer to Potosí—then South American's largest city in the seventeenth century—but it also enjoyed a major advantage in transportation. Llama-herding folk on the northern altiplano, had old ties of reciprocity with Moquegua and they provided the multitude of pack animals needed to take liquid goods to the Villa Imperial of Potosí, Oruro, Callangas and La Paz. A second conceptual construct of the author, actor-network theory, fits the findings in this book...

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