Only true wine connoisseurs know this: Mexico is the cradle of American wine culture
Seven wine-growing regions, a Mediterranean climate and a future that will be shaped by wine tourism.
The Spanish conquistadors arrived in the New World with more than just a thirst for gold. They were also used to carrying large quantities of wine from home, which they enjoyed drinking. However, the wine soon ran out and because people had come to stay, the first vineyards were planted with European and native vines at the beginning of the 16th century on the orders of Governor Hernán Cortés.
So it was the Spanish conquistadors and the missionaries who accompanied them who brought European vines with them. They began planting around 1520 and subsequently started producing wines for the holy mass and the tables of the Spanish knights of fortune. Mexico's first wines were produced in the Parras region, a plateau at 1500 meters above sea level. Significant vineyards were established here, which greatly reduced the import of wines from Spain. It has been calculated that an area of 70,000 hectares was planted with vines in the 16th century.
Too much wine
A royal command to uproot the vines again met with little response in faraway Mexico and the mass wine for the Catholic colonists was exempt anyway. And so the wine culture began its triumphal march south to Chile, Uruguay and Argentina. The Jesuit monks brought the juice of the vine along with their faith to northern California in the USA.
The Jesuit Eusebio Francisco Kino was the first to arrive in the Baja California region in 1683. The monks first started the vineyards with the mission grape, which is still cultivated today in Chile under the name "Criolla" or "País". This is an ancient Spanish vine called "Listán Prieto". The first real grape harvest was celebrated by the monks in Baja California around 1707. And in 1843, under President Antonio López de Santa Anna, the first agricultural college was opened, where the cultivation of vineyards was also taught.
Although the country was the first in North America to produce table wines, it took until 1948 to establish the first national winegrowers' association to promote wine culture. In 1970 Mexico joined the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV). In 2018 the first Mexican wine seal for certified quality from Mexico was finally presented. Since then quality production has begun to develop in the country's various wine-growing regions, with a strong focus on wine tourism.
Although the large country has numerous areas that are suitable for winegrowing due to a perfect combination of hot days and cool nights, wine culture still leads a wallflower existence today. And this is due to the social structure of the country and the associated drinking habits.
Of course, it is not that Mexicans are averse to drinking alcoholic beverages, but the indigenous population, most of whom are relatively poor, simply cannot afford wine. Mexico is the land of beer, mezcal and tequila. The wine consumption of a Mexican is statistically well below one litre, while the inhabitants of the Vatican consume - by comparison - a hundred times as much. Although domestic consumption per capita is growing slowly but steadily, 70 percent of wine is imported. In 2018, the area under vines for wine production stood at 6,474 hectares; a national master plan envisaged an increase to around 20,000 hectares by 2025. Ultimately this would cover 50 percent of Mexico's wine consumption from national grapes. The majority of the vineyards are still used to produce table grapes and raisins.
The wine-growing regions
Today, Mexico has seven wine-growing regions, of which Baja California, the largest and most important appellation, accounts for around 57 percent of total wine production and, together with Sonora, forms the northern region. Other designated origins are Chihuahua, Coahuila and Durango, which form the La Laguna growing region. Aguascalientes, Guanajuato, Querétaro, San Luis Potosí and Zacateca make up the Altiplano region.
In addition to some long-established wineries, numerous new wineries have been founded by well-known international wineries from Spain, South America and North America. It all began in the interwar period of the last century with immigrants from Italy. In 1928 Angelo Cetto founded L.A. Cetto, the longest established winery in Baja California. And so it is not surprising that it is the wines of this house that can be found most frequently in Europe. The full-bodied, spicy Nebbiolo lives up to the family's history and cuts a fine figure in the context of spicy Mexican cuisine.
Wine tourism as a driving force
More than a hundred wineries are spread across the wine-growing regions. In addition, there is a growing number of smaller boutique wineries with pretty taverns, restaurants and hotels that encourage wine-loving visitors to linger. Wine-growing centres such as Parras or Ensenada in Baja California are easily accessible from both Mexico City and San Diego in California. In Coahuila you can also visit Casa Madero, the oldest winery in America, which was founded in 1597. Here you can taste certified organic wines from a wide range of white and red wines, from Chardonnay to Shiraz.
Wine tourism is most developed on the northern border in the Valle de Guadalupe region, the "Napa Valley" of Mexico, which mainly attracts wine lovers from the USA. Varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay therefore dominate the winegrowers' offerings along the wine route.