Wine and Society in the Viceroyalty of Peru

Wine production was an economic activity in which certain social groups could act outside their regular social limitations. The two that most obviously did so were the Jesuits of Peru and women in the area of Mendoza during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. However, this mostly came about due to the specific environment of colonial Latin America at the time and the relationship it had with Spain as a mother country. The actions of the Jesuits and the women of Mendoza as entrepreneurs were part of the broader trend in colonial economics of providing goods in which Spain proved deficient.

Viticulture arrived in the Viceroyalty of Peru between 1531 and 1534 in conjunction with Francisco Pizarro’s conquest. Grape vines were cultivated for a variety of reasons shortly after arrival. The most powerful impetus was the need for wine in sacraments and general consumption. What was soon to be known as the flota system proved inadequate in providing colonies with supplies. Since a ship only came to port with goods once or twice a year wine was limited. Garcilaso de la Vega accounted, “In 1554 and 1555 there was a great shortage of it everywhere in Peru. In Lima it grew so scarce that there was none even to say mass with… This scarcity lasted days and even months, until a ship came into port.”[1] Naturally, colonists saw this as an opportunity to fill the demand themselves. A secondary motive was expressed in a memoir of de la Vega when he visited an estate in the 1550s and was displeased when he was not offered a sampling of the grapes there, “The reason for this was that Pedro López de Cazalla wanted to win the prize that the Catholic monarchs and the emperor Charles V had offered him as a reward from the royal treasury to the first person who newly introduced into any Spanish colony a Spanish crop such as wheat, barley, wine, or olive oil, and produced a specific quantity of it.”[2] Cazalla banned the man showing de la Vega the estate from touching the grapes which demonstrates the distinction the prize must have carried.

State support if it was as lucrative as suggested, however, did not last. Towards the end of the sixteenth century Spain began to take measures to limit wine production in Spanish America. Viticulture was banned in New Spain by the end of the century, and restricted in Peru by 1569.[3] The difference between the regions likely was that transporting wine to Peru was much more difficult. Goods were unloaded and taken by land across Panama, and then sailed to Lima.[4] Wine was not the only industry targeted. Philip III became so obsessed with protecting peninsular products that he decreed “the demolition of sugar mills within six leagues of Lima.”[5] A fear that also loomed at the back of the Crown’s mind was the implication of a self-sustaining colony. A colony that no longer depended on the metropolis for daily goods threatened the longevity of the Spanish Empire.

Wine was produced mostly on medium-sized land holdings and on haciendas that were owned by emerging landed elite who eventually replaced the old economenderos as local hegemons at the turn of the seventeenth century. As the newly-established cities and local economies of Spanish America developed, the focus necessarily shifted from leeching off indigenous production, as its profitability shrank and conquistadors died, to building an Old World system based on Iberian agricultural goods. This incited the transition to the agriculturally focused landholdings. The inclusion of viticulture in this was logical because it garnered more profit on less land as noted by Robert Keith, “A man who planted a vineyard of fifteen or twenty acres with 1,500 or 2,000 vines was capable after several years of getting 1,200-2,000 gallons (300-500 arrobas) of wine a year. In Lima, this wine could be sold for six or seven pesos an arroba in the 1570s and for nine or ten in the 1590s… Thus a man with only a few fanegadas of land might make 1,000 pesos or more, and with less effort than would have been required for growing wheat.”[6] Pablo Lacoste credits viticulture for the development of success smaller landholdings by stating, “Las viñas generaron las condiciones para el desarrollo de una agricultura intensiva de pequeños propietarios, orientada a la industria con ciertos niveles de complejidad técnica, alta movilidad social y capacidad de generar una incipiente burguesía.”[7] Wine certainly was important in this respect. However, wine was not the only impetus for the rise of a bourgeoisie – sugar is often juxtaposed to wine as an early commercialized agricultural product.

The rise of the hacendados and medium-sized farmers departed from New Spain’s colonial status because they filled the demand for basic foodstuffs and beat competition from Spanish imports. In Peru, “the outstanding product was wine, which became second in importance to silver – though well behind – as a motor of the Peruvian economy.”[8] The mining communities of La Paz, Oruro, and Potosí served as reliable, profitable markets. In addition to the local market, intercolonial trade also evolved directed by merchants in Lima. It easily outpaced transatlantic trade even with the massive exportation of silver from Peru. Increasingly, the economies of Spain and its colonies appeared as two distinct entities rather than they depending on the other, a trend with which Bourbon rulers later grappled.[9] It is therefore easy to see how a Peruvian identity, for example, came to be established. The new landowners were Spaniards, but they were also “born in the colony who had no attachments to the mother country” as observed by Viceroy Cañete.[10] Their livelihood no longer depended upon Spain, but rather their own enterprise which was fueled by a vigorous local economy.

In the way the colonies distinguished themselves from Spain economically, certain social groups within the colonies gained momentum through their wine production. Jesuits defied their traditional social position in Peru by cultivating and trading wine for the purpose of profit. The profit was in turn used for evangelization efforts among native populations, and this work included alleviating economic problems in order to generate autonomy. In the view of Spanish colonial officials this was contrary to their responsibilities as a religious order, and, “conflicted  with the interests of the civil  authorities and the secular church who saw the missionaries’ role as preparing native peoples for integration into colonial society.”[11]

The manner in which Jesuits acquired land was typical of their status as a religious order. Donations were often made by lay persons in order to gain benefits in the afterlife. Jesuits were more easily able to obtain credit in order to purchase land as well due to their respectability. Another way they gained land was through purchasing neighboring properties whose owners were willing to sell. In order to form the vineyard at San Jerónimo the Jesuits purchased properties over the course of fifty years between 1605 and sometime after 1655. The sum of the estate was approximately 200 hectares. There were no official guidelines for land acquisition set in place by Jesuit superiors until 1699. The change in policy likely came as a result of accepting too many donations and investing too much in single estates with no guarantee of recuperating funds. Seeing returns on agricultural products takes several years, which the Jesuits likely overlooked due to their inexperience and in their rush to recuperate their money. Furthermore, certain haciendas almost failed, and the Jesuits did not appreciate risky behavior, a sentiment which Kendall Brown suggests detered them from high-risk enterprises such as mining.[12] The new process required the college to produce a meticulous report of potential income and expenses from a plot both in the purchase and sale of land. Whether or not the college needed the land was also a concern as one of the strongest criticisms of the Jesuits accused them of gluttony.[13]

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries until the time of expulsion, the Jesuits owned the “most productive and largest vineyards in the Pisco, Nazca, and Ica Valleys.”[14] At its peak between 1679 and 1766, the estate San Xavier produced 15,005 botijas (one was about eight liters) of wine.[15] At San Xavier, manufacturing the earthenware botijas and peruleras was an offshoot of the winemaking business, which proved more profitable in this case. The approximate 5,000 pesos San Xavier made in revenue 1664-1667 was in reality “principally from the several thousand wine and aguardiente containers sold to neighboring vineyards.”[16] The Jesuits were definitely interested in profit and went to great lengths to obtain it in order to continue their evangelization works. For example, Jesuit estates were vertically integrated demonstrating they wanted tight control over their operations.

Jesuits dealt with serious condemnation from their lay counterparts and even their brethren. The reason for this was that the Jesuit haciendas were alledgedly so grand and well-organized that lay landowners found them nearly impossible with which to compete. Jesuits were also exempt from the alcabala tax and others by claiming they provided essential services. Due to this, they were able to offer their goods at lower prices. Merchants often lashed out by charging the Jesuits were practicing negotiatio, or buying and selling land/goods for the purpose of resale to profit. Matters were not helped by the building of large churches, but rather this incensed Jesuit leadership in Europe. A Jesuit General named Michelangelo Tamburini in 1714 included in a letter, “the only purpose of superiors [in Paraguay] seems to be economic gain, a deplorable inversion of means and ends.”[17]

Women in the city of Mendoza, as social players like the Jesuits, found through a series of variables that they were also able to use viticulture as a means for economic mobility. Unlike the Jesuits, however, their participation was seen as more acceptable most likely because their enterprises were on a smaller scale, but also because viticulture was deemed appropriate for women. In Fray Luis de León’s La perfecta casada he states, “If a woman has valor, she will plant grapevines.”[18] If she had no other duty considered more important or if she was a widowed, contributing to the wealth of the family in an approved channel was one of the wife’s most important duties. She could only do this but through so many methods, and of the options then available de León stresses wine as a good choice. The need for women to provide for their family and make critical decisions was exacerbated in a trading city such as Mendoza due to the long absences of their male family members.

Women increasingly owned significant numbers of vineyards throughout the eighteenth century whereas they owned none until the seventeenth. In 1739, women in Mendoza only owned eight vineyards compared to fifty-eight in 1825. The value of the vineyards owned by women more than doubled during this period while the male percentage of the holdings decreased which was likely due to women owning more medium-sized properties while men usually fell on either extreme. Despite the mean values of the properties decreasing overall, the large gap between those owned by men and women significantly decreased during this time period. Instead of the difference being over $1,000 in 1739, it was slightly under $800 in 1825 with the men still coming out wealthier. There were of course women who represented outliers such as Francisca de Fernández, Melchora Lemos, and Juana Gil whose holdings were valued well above the 1739 mean.[19]

Pablo Lacoste is careful to point out the success of Doña Melchora Lemos who built one of the most successful wineries in Mendoza, “Through her own efforts, as the documents attest, Doña Melchora was able to establish the most modern winery in Mendoza during the first half of the eighteenth century.” An example of this was her use of wooden “pipes and barrels” rather than the old earthen botijas.[20] Impressive though she was, she was not a self-made woman, but rather of the aristocracy in Mendoza and thus enjoyed significantly more freedoms.[21]

Another way in which women were able to become economically independent was through the ownership of pulperías, or general stores and taverns. This was a venture particularly successful in Mendoza again due to its nature as a trade city. The influx of merchants kept numerous pulperías open in various parts of the city. The taverns were also an opportunity for contact between the different classes in colonial Latin America. Generally, pulperías were owned by creoles and merchants were peninsulares, and they were pass-through areas where one may not be as inclined to show off social standing. Pulperías were also known for the copious amounts of alcohol that flowed through them, “More than 20 percent of the capital invested by pulperos was spent on alcohol.”[22] In a place where one is conducting meager business for provisions and stopping to have a drink, this was likely an occasion in which people paid less heed to their own social class, and it was not an ideal opportunity to assert one’s standing. However, it seems highly unlikely one altogether forgot themselves. This phenomenon could also explain why the Crown viewed them as “socially and morally licentious” and why royal authorities took great pains to regulate them.[23]

Women in Mendoza were sometimes able to become pulperas by obtaining a license from the cabildo. The first of such women to do this was Doña Isabel, wife of Don Juan de Puebla, in January 1652. Her husband was often away transporting goods so in order to occupy herself and make money for the family Doña Isabel opened the pulpería. Doña Isabel managed her business with the help of one indigenous woman, and was able to do very well. However, her success translated directly to her husband’s who was reinstated in the cabildo and gained high offices. Additionally, the benefit she brought to the family was seen as positive also because it was a tangible business to be inherited. In this, she was very successful – her grandsons owned the four largest vineyards and wineries in Mendoza. In the end, it seems Doña Isabel worked closely within the confines of La perfecta casada.[24]

Doña María Lucero, presumably widowed, more exemplified a woman who used her ownership of a pulpería to act more outside the bounds of society. This is seen in the location of her business on the periphery of the city. Her customer base thus was affected – they were of the lower classes. While there is no exact mention of the value of the pulpería, it is suggested it was fairly lucrative because her sons disputed the inheritance. After Doña María’s death, her sons were unable to keep the tavern operational in a manner acceptable to local authorities. Problems with intoxication cropped up, “the Indians force the locals to remove their clothes, selling their possessions and anything else they are able to steal, and they force others to take their clothes off as well.”[25] Thus, the worst fear of local officials was realized, and the pulpería was eventually closed.

The two examples of pulperas – one successful after death and one not – demonstrate that the women involved in the operations were essential. Don Juan de Puebla was too preoccupied with his transport business to begin a venture that required such management. His wife Doña Isabel saw a need in her family for additional income and she filled it of her own accord as she was the one to approach the cabildo for a license. Doña María likely acting under a similar motivation was initially thriving, but her sons for whatever reason proved unable to keep the business out of hot water with the authorities. It is necessary to conclude in that case Doña María was talented in some respect her sons were not.

Conditions existed around viticulture in colonial Peru that allowed for the Jesuits and certain groups of women to develop non-traditional methods of income. Spain was unable to provide the daily need, the means by which to produce wine were present in the colonies, and there was a substantial market for it. The breakdown of economiendas and the rise of medium-sized landholders made sufficient land and technical knowledge available. The Jesuits took advantage of these circumstances to the fullest degree and in doing so definitely transgressed the line between a vertically integrated business powerhouse and a hierarchical code-bound religious institution. On a more local level, the women of Mendoza also found a situation favorable to viticulture and used the benefits therein to either act near to their ideal societal position or on the fringes.


[1] Garcilaso de la Vega, John Dickenson and Tim Unwin, Viticulture in Colonial Latin America (Working paper: University of Liverpool, 1992), 40.

[2] Ibid, 38.

[3] John Lynch, Spain under the Hapsburgs Volume Two (New York: New York University Press, 1981), 235.

[4] John Dickenson and Tim Unwin, 42-43.

[5] Susan E. Ramírez, Provincial Patriarchs (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1986), 100.

[6] Robert Keith, John Dickenson and Tim Unwin, 44.

[7] Pablo Lacoste, “Complejidad de la Industria Vitivinícola Colonial Crianza Biológica de Vino,” Latin American Research Review 42 (2007): 154.

[8] John Lynch, Spain under the Hapsburgs Volume Two, 235.

[9] Ibid, 238.

[10] Ibid, 235

[11] Olga Merino and Linda A. Newson, “Jesuit Missions in Spanish America: The Aftermath of Explusion,” Revista de Historia de América 118 (1994), 9.

[12] Kendall Brown, “Jesuit Wealth and Economic Activity within the Peruvian Economy: The Case of Colonial Southern Peru,” The Americas 44 (1987), 39.

[13] Nicolas Cushner, Lords of the Land (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1980), 38-40

[14] Ibid, 125.

[15] Ibid, 127.

[16] Ibid, 127.

[17] Nicolas Cushner, 177.

[18] Pablo Lacoste, “Wine and Women: Grape Growers and Pulperas in Mendoza, 1561 – 1852,” Hispanic American Historical Review 88 (2008), 365.

[19] Pablo Lacoste, 370-72.

[20] Ibid, 372.

[21] Pablo Lacoste, “Vida y muerte de doña Melchora Lemos, Empresaria Vitivinícola y Terciaria,” Revista de Indias LXVI (2006), 432.

[22] Ibid, 375.

[23] Pablo Lacoste, “Women and Wine,” 375.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Pablo Lacoste, “Women and Wine,” 386.



Brown, Kendall. “Jesuit Wealth and Economic Activity within the Peruvian Economy: The Case of Colonial Southern Peru.” The Americas 44 (1987): 23-43.

Cushner, Nicholas P. Lords of the Land: Sugar, Wine, and Jesuit Estates of Coastal Peru, 1600-      1767. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1980.

Dickenson, John, and Tim Unwin. Viticulture in Colonial Latin America: Essays on alcohol, the     vine and wine in Spanish American and Brazil (Working Paper 13). University of      Liverpool: Institute of Latin American Studies, 1992.

Lacoste, Pablo. “Complejidad de la Industria Vitivinícola Colonial Crianza Biológica de Vino.”    Latin American Research Review 42 (2007): 154-168.

Lacoste, Pablo. “Wine and Women: Grape Growers and Pulperas in Mendoza, 1561 – 1852.” Hispanic American Historical Review 88 (2008): 361-391.

Lacoste, Pablo. “Vida y muerte de doña Melchora Lemos, Empresaria Vitivinícola y Terciaria.” Revista de Indias LXVI (2006): 425-452.

Lynch, John. Spain under the Hapsburgs Second Edition. New York: New York University Press, 1981.

Merino, Olga, and Linda A. Newson. “Jesuit Missions in Spanish America: The Aftermath of Explusion.” Revista de Historia de América 118 (1994): 7-32.

Ramírez, Susan E. Provincial Patriarchs: Land Tenure and the Economics of Power in Colonial  Peru. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1986.

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