There are high altitude vineyards, and then there are the potato fields on Manuel Choqqueâ€™s farm in Peru.
Twelve thousand feet above sea level in Peruâ€™s Sacred Valley, Choqque grows a dozen or so varieties ofÂ oca, an heirloom potato that thrives in theÂ low-nutrient soilsÂ and harsh climate high up in the Andes.
Choqque, the so-called â€œpotato whisperer,â€ is the countryâ€™s most renowned farmer of these beloved native crops, which are called â€œuqaâ€ in the indigenous Quechua language.
Varying in size, shape, and color from bright yellow to deep purple,Â ocaÂ can be sliced and fried into addictive potato chips, simmered in stews, and slow-cooked with corn to make a sweet and creamy dessert custard.
But beyond their expected culinary applications,Â ocaÂ are now finding their way into the glass, as enterprising farmers like Choqque use their crop to create wine-esque beverages calledÂ vino de oca.
As with grapes in many wine-growing regions worldwide, there is one oca harvest per year. Choqqueâ€™s team plants 10 hectares of seeds in November and harvests the tubers in May or June, depending on the weather.
â€œFor that reason we produce alcoholic beverages based on oca once a year,â€ he says. â€œIt is a process very similar to that of grapes â€” fermentation, clarification, aging, and finally bottling.â€
Packed into 200-milliliter bottles, Choqqueâ€™s four types of organicÂ vino de ocaÂ are labeled Miskioca. â€œMiskiâ€ is the Quechuan word for â€œsweet,â€ but the name is a bit of a misnomer, as not all tout a high amount of residual sugar.
Miskiocaâ€™s juicy rosÃ© is made from Black Oca, a long, slender variety that releases a red fruity sweetness reminiscent of strawberry, cherry, or raspberry.
Another Miskioca variety is a red wine that features Mashua Negra, a black-skinnedÂ ocaÂ whose ends resemble the tightly wrapped petals of a flower; fermenting them results in an off-dry wine thatâ€™s almost a dead ringer forÂ Malbec. (Choqque says that sommeliers in blind tastings have actually mistaken it for a fruity, red-grape-based wine.)
YellowÂ oca, whose flesh looks similar to Yukon Gold potatoes, goes into both a sweet and a dry white liqueur with notes of apples, peaches, and white fruits. The former three undergo an eight-month fermentation process while the dry style takes four months.