WB: 1. Where are you from? Who inspired you to be a distiller of Pisco?
I’ve lived in Peru most of my life – now with my wife, daughter and 4 grandchildren -- though I was born in the Bolivian jungle. I have both a Peruvian and Swiss passport.
Destiny brought pisco into my life through a beautiful chance opportunity. Back in 1987, having become an avid taster from judging many wine competitions, I founded the first wine club in Peru. I also created the first-ever Peruvian Tasters Guild, Academy of Pisco much later. One night, a friend called to ask if I could fill in at a Pisco tasting competition -- because the judges were too inebriated to continue! I initially said no because I was more fond of wines, cognacs and scotches.
As a restaurateur at the time, I only knew how to consume Pisco in a Pisco sour. Eventually I agreed to show the other judges how to approach Pisco as a wine (nose, taste, etc.).
By the fifth or sixth sample, I had to re-smell so I could determine if the aromas of flowers, mangoes, pineapples and chocolate, etc. were real. I could not believe it was pisco! It was so smooth, delicate, elegant, it had a long finish - it was liquid velvet. In that moment, I fell madly in love with Pisco and Pisco fell madly in love with me.
I knew immediately that I had two choices: become a producer, or help Peru put Pisco on the international map. I’ve spent the last 25 years personally financing this project, which included bringing professionals from other countries to Peru to show them how Pisco is made, and writing five books.
I’m proud to say that because of my work, I earned a Congressional Medal of Honor from the Peruvian government.
WB: 2. I'm sipping on your lovely product right now. How do you like to see it served? Do you employ a mixologist to create cocktails for you with the Pisco Porton?
I love seeing Pisco Portón served as a beautiful appetizer in a Pisco Sour before dinner to really open up the system. It goes very nicely with the citrus in ceviche. I’m a firm believer that a meal should have grape all the way through -- meaning a Pisco Sour with your appetizer, sipping Portón neat as an after-dinner drink, and using pisco as an ingredient (it works well being reduced to make sauces).
Pisco Portón does not employ mixologists, we greatly support the ones who are loyal brand fans.
WB: 3. Who taught you to cook? What inspired you to become a chef and restaurateur?
My father was a Swiss restaurateur. I remember when I was 9-10 years old, he cooked a lot at home. On the weekends, we would have 30-40 people over and I got to be my father’s sous chef. I worked as a cook in Switzerland and, after finishing my education in the U.S. (I studied hospitality at Cornell University), I returned to Peru to pursue my passion for food. I opened my first restaurant in Peru in October 1977 and now own several restaurants and catering companies. I still love being in the kitchen, but nowadays cooking is more of a hobby for me.
WB: 4. Is there anything that you eat or drink that brings a tear to your eye when you (eat/drink) it? Why? What is your favorite food?
The sense of smell triggers memories and emotion. I get teary whenever I smell roasted potatoes because they remind me of my father. Also, every now and then I sit in my favorite worn out chair with a glass of Portón while listening to a nostalgic song. This reminds me of old times and people I miss so I sometimes get a tear in my eye.
I love Pisco because of the aromas. The sense of smell is an overlooked sense but it is the most beautiful. 100,000 times more aromas can be detected by the sense of smell than the eye can recognize colors.
Let me tell you about my favorite meal. I would start with a ceviche made of grouper from the Pacific north waters of Peru freshly caught on the hook. The second course would be a rack of lamb or a leg of lamb, slightly pierced and filled with garlic, with rosemary wrapped around it. I would cook it in a low heat oven for about 4-5 hours until it is medium rare inside, and enjoy it with roasted potatoes and a bottle of wine. The perfect dessert -- a Crème Chantie (cooked with Porton!) on fresh strawberries and raspberries sprinkled with a bit of vinegar and cracked pepper because it brings the flavors of the berries out.
WB: 5. What is in your refrigerator right now? Any cocktail ingredients?
Everything in my refrigerator is fresh. I don’t eat pre-boxed or processed food and instead go to the market to buy fresh vegetables, fruits, fish and meat. And we always, always have fresh limes! We even have a lime tree because we use limes in every meal. My bar is completely stocked. We always have a bottle of Grey Goose because my wife drinks it and a bottle of Maker’s Mark for me.
And I also have thousands of different Piscos, of course!
Thank you Johnny for being so kind to me! wb
One of the images attached illustrates Pisco Porton’s techno artisanal approach – with the gates of Hacienda la Caravedo distillery (founded in 1684) alongside Porton’s new eco-friendly facility.
Porton combines centuries-old gravity power traditions combined with modern, eco-friendly techniques, a process preserves the terroir of the grapes. Alongside its Hacienda la Caravedo – the oldest working distillery in the Americas – Pisco Portón’s new distillery boasts waste-reducing features that include a roof garden to naturally convert carbon dioxide emitted by fermentation into oxygen and a water treatment system that recycles water from the distillation process into irrigation water for the vineyards. It is also one of the only spirits distilled to proof --never adulterated with water or other additives. Pisco Portón is a mosto verde pisco (the category’s equivalent of single-malt scotch) -- the grape juice is not fully fermented before it is distilled lending a smoother finish and more vibrant flavors.
Porton just picked up five gold medals in five different categories at the Regional Pisco Championship of Ica, Peru – a first in the competition’s history.
All photography with kind permission of Pisco Portón