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Melanie Asher

Macchu Pisco
Distiller and Master Blender

How does an investment banker on Wall Street become the world’s first female pisco distiller? For Melanie Asher—the Peruvian Embassy’s 2013 “Peruvian Woman of the Year in the U.S. in Business” and founder of Macchu Pisco—it comes down to family: collaboration with and encouragement from her sister, Lizzie, the company’s President; the support of her mother and late father; and the mantra of her 99-year-old grandmother that a nip of pisco every night is what has kept her young. “My grandmother still tastes every blend of our ultra-premium line, La Diablada, before we officially bottle it,” says Melanie, who founded Macchu Pisco in 2004. “Our pisco is so smooth that it makes you happy. ‘All the highs without the lows’: That’s our company tagline, and it’s always been our ethos. It’s infused into every bottle.”

Born in Peru, Melanie had her first taste of her homeland’s national spirit at the age of 12 when she topped her ice cream with a few sprinkles of her family’s pisco. These early tastes inspired her dream to start a pisco company.

Prior to 2006, when Melanie first introduced Macchu Pisco to the North American market, the pisco category was small and little-known to the American consumer. Armed with an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School and experience working with large spirits firms, Melanie recognized that the country’s rapidly growing interest in cocktails and the wide world of artisanal spirits set the stage for introducing a pisco that would exemplify her homeland’s national spirit and help launch the category in the U.S. Uniquely qualified for the job, Melanie was able to combine her business acumen with knowledge of winemaking that she had garnered while living in France, where she spent time in Bordeaux at both the Mouton Rothschild and Lafite Rothschild wineries – essential knowledge as the first step in pisco production is to create a superior young wine that is then distilled. In addition, Melanie spent two years in a pilot program overseen by the government of Peru to promote and incubate pisco producers.

Melanie intuitively recognized that success in her endeavor would be linked to not only creating a delicious product, but doing so authentically and responsibly. She proceeded to design a vertically integrated company from start to finish, ensuring she had control over taste, quality, and value at each step of the production process. Right from the beginning, Melanie insisted on paying fair wages to the women who harvested the grape crops, which set a precedent for progress in farm-work standards in Peru. “We were definitely met with resistance from other companies that purchased the grapes—they were trying to keep costs down by paying little to laborers,” Melanie says. “We simply wanted to make sure we were creating jobs that allowed people a real quality of life—and producing a pisco that we are all proud of.”

In recognition of her impact in promoting Peruvian culture, Melanie has been appointed to the Global Council on Gastronomy, the only pisco producer to have this honor. She is actively involved in organizations promoting fair trade in her home country and Latin American women in business, including the PROMPeru trade commission; Kiva and Pro Mujer, micro-lenders enabling financial opportunities and empowering women; Coprodeli, a nonprofit providing aid to Peruvian families in need; and the Esperanza Education Fund in Washington. D.C.  Due to all this ground-breaking work and commitment, Melanie received the Tumi Award recognizing Peruvian entrepreneurial leaders in the US.

For almost half the year, Melanie lives and works in Lima, Peru, overseeing harvest and production at the distillery. The rest of the year, she calls Bethesda, MD, home.