From The Grapevine – April 2012

From The Grapevine

By Robert Kleffel and Noemí Paz

Grape Expectations

History of Wine in Mexico


roberto-y-noemiHernán Cortes, the first governor of New Spain, ordered new colonists to plant 1,000 grapevines for every 100 natives in their service. The grapes flourished in New Spain and in 1531, Charles I decreed that all ships sailing to New Spain carry grapevines and olive trees to be planted there. The quality of Mexican wine improved so much that wine exports from Spain to their new colony dropped dramatically. In 1699 the Spanish king Charles II in desperate need of cash prohibited wine making in Mexico, with the exception of wine for Church purposes. From then until Mexico’s Independence, wine was produced in Mexico only on a small scale

Spanish authorities continued to eliminate the fledgling wine industry. It became one of many contentious issues between the Crown and colony. In the early 19th century, Spanish soldiers were sent to Dolores (later Dolores Hidalgo), with orders to destroy all vineyards. Miguel Hidalgo, the local parish priest, maintained a wine cellar and vineyards. The destruction of his vineyards may have been “the last straw” and the revolution was on.

President Porfirio Diaz and the Russians. Part of a campaign of modernization and industrialization was to reinvigorate viticulture in the country. Diaz invited successful California wine makers to stimulate the wine industry. At about the same time, the area now known as the Valle de Guadalupe in Baja California, received an influx of Russian pacifists opposed to the Czarist wars. These Russian colonists discovered that Baja California had the perfect climate for grapes and immediately began planting grapevines.

The Valle de Guadalupe is the “Napa Valley” of the Mexican wine industry. It is located in northern Baja California, near Ensenada about 90 miles south of San Diego. It is home to about 50 wineries and produces 90% of all Mexican wines. L.A. Cetto winery in Mexico has a 50% market share. Its climate is Mediterranean with proximity to the Pacific Ocean breezes, making for cool mornings and evenings, only about 7-9 inches of rain per year, and warm to hot days. Red wine dominates the production, but some producers, with careful handling, make exceptional whites.

Casa Madero, founded in 1597, is the oldest winery in the Americas which continues to this day. Their award-winning wines include Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and Syrah. The Parras (grapevines) Valley in Coahuila has very special climatic conditions. Being almost a mile in elevation, it’s semi-arid. Grapevines love it, and the low humidity and cool nights means fewer grape-loving bugs and fungus. President Madero of Mexico (1910) studied agronomy at UC Berkeley to help his family’s winery. Ninety percent of Casa Madero wines are exported to the fine restaurants of Europe. A few bottles are available locally.

There are three areas in Mexico where wine grapes are grown. The North area includes Baja California (Valle de Guadalupe), the La Laguna area in Coahuila and Durango and the Central area which includes Zacatecas, Aguascalientes and Querétaro. Many of the grapes produced in the central valley are used to make Brandy.

Quality Mexican Wines—

Monte XanicCalixa Cabernet/Syrah $17.12 USD

Santo Tomas Tempranillo/Cabernet $11.85 USD

Casa Madero – Cabernet/Merlot/Tempranillo $19.15 USD

Casa Madero – Chardonnay/ Chenin Blanc $11.35 USD

Monte Xanic – Chenin Blanc (Silver Medal) $15.50 USD

Wine lovers are very familiar with wines from Monte Xanic and Madero wines even though most of their wines are sold to fine restaurants in the United States and Europe. Santo Tomas has been known for jug wines of questionable quality. Times have changed. Santo Tomas has great land and has been producing wine for at least 200 years.

The Santo Tomas Tempranillo/ Cabernet listed above has been described as “an elegant red wine, with intense ripe red fruit aromas and spicy notes, velvety on mouth with a long finish. It is great for Mediterranean food.”

Noemí Paz

Robert Kleffel


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