Mon, Oct 04, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Peru, Chile battle over hard liquor called pisco

AP , PISCO, PERU

When ships sailed out of this port some 150 years ago, it wasn't the guano fertilizer in the holds that high-flying California miners were waiting for -- it was the Peruvian firewater also stowed on board.

The bird-dropping boom has been over for more than a century, but Peru now is hoping to rekindle foreign interest in pisco, a clear grape brandy bearing the name of this rundown town 205km down the Pacific coast from Lima.

It's a campaign that has led to recriminations with Peru's southern neighbor, Chile, the victor in a war 120 years ago that still has Peruvians bitter. The long-running grudge, generally shrugged off by Chileans, also recently flared up over Peru's desire to reset the two nations' maritime border. Chile said no way.

The fighting word is "pisco."

With a port, a valley and a river named Pisco, Peruvians say the hard liquor is to Peru as scotch is to Scotland and port is to Portugal -- and they want exclusive rights to use the name overseas.

Chile argues it has as much right to the name, noting it has a town named Pisco Elqui in its pisco-producing Elqui valley. But Peruvians say that town, the birthplace of Nobel laureate poet Gabriela Mistral, was called Union until the Chilean government renamed it in the 1930s during a previous campaign to promote pisco.

In an effort to beef up Peru's claim, and standardize an industry dominated for centuries by a few hundred hacienda home brewers, government regulators revamped the "denomination of origin" law in 2002. Under those rules, liquor can be labeled "pisco" in Peru only if it is produced in five arid regions extending south from Lima to the Chilean border and made from eight approved types of grapes.

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