The Wines of Baja Renewing the History of Mexico's Wines
IN BAJA CALIFORNIA
largest wineries can be found
in three regions conveniently located near the
town of Ensenada, 70 miles south of the U.S.
border: San Antonio de las Minas, the San Vicente Valley
and the Santo Tomas Valley. Guadalupe
Valley is located in San Antonio de las Minas.
A country already world-famous for its tequila, Mexico is also trying
its hand at winemaking, with successful results.
past few years, the country's leading wineries have collected
an impressive array of accolades, gaining a following among
wine lovers excited by the prospect of finding excellent vintages
in unexpected places. Discover
the varieties of wine from Mexico and learn about award-winning
vintages, as well as the myriad of local festivals celebrating
the wine-making tradition.
wine industry has boomed rather recently, winemaking dates all
the way back to the Spanish conquest, with the Spaniards surprised
to find how well the vines they brought from the homeland adapted
to the New World climate. In 1597, the Spaniard Don Lorenzo
Garcia made the town of Santa Maria de las Parras in the northern
Mexican state of Coahuila home to his Casa Madero, the oldest
winery of the Americas.
By the mid-17th
century, however, the Spanish crown determined that the vineyards
were doing too well for its taste: fearing future competition
from New World wineries, it banned all vine planting and brought
wine production in Mexico to a halt. Many Spanish missionaries
refused to abide by the new rules, though, continuing to plant
vines and produce wine on a small scale.
The Saint Thomas Mission (Mision de Santo Tomas),
founded in the northern area of Baja California Norte State
by Jesuit priests in 1791, reactivated the production of wine
in Mexico. The mission grape brought over and planted by the
Jesuits found its perfect home in an area that compares in climate
to California's Napa Valley and France's Rhone Valley. In 1834,
Dominican priests began growing grapes at the nearby Northern
Mission of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Mision de Nuestra Señora
de Guadalupe del Norte), now known by the abbreviated name of
the Guadalupe Valley (Valle de Guadalupe). The Guadalupe Valley
is one of the few places in the world where premium wine grapes
can be grown.
In 1857, after Mexico's War of Reform, the Catholic
Church was stripped of its holdings and all church property
became part of the state. The small wineries formerly tended
to by missionaries were eventually abandoned. In 1888 the government
sold the former lands of the Santo Tomas Mission to a private
group, which established the Bodegas Santo Tomas, the first
large-scale winery in Mexico.
In 1904, the region received an influx of immigrants
known as the molokans, a pacifist religious group which opposed
war and fled Russia so its men would not be drafted by the Czarist
army. The Russian families purchased about 100 acres of land
and dedicated a considerable portion of it to harvesting grapes
for wine. They encouraged others to do the same, helping the
area acquire a reputation for making good wine.
Valley is located in San Antonio de las Minas, one of Mexico's largest
wine growing regions -- located near Ensenada, 70 miles south of the US border.
Today, Mexico's largest wineries can be found
in three regions conveniently located near the town of Ensenada,
70 miles south of the U.S. border: San Antonio de las Minas,
the San Vicente Valley and the Santo Tomas Valley. Guadalupe
Valley is located in San Antonio de las Minas. Others states
such as Zacatecas, Sonora and Coahuila also boast boutique wineries
producing high-quality wines: Coahuila is home to the aforementioned
Casa Madero, and grapes produced near Sonora's capital city
of Hermosillo are often used in the production of wines from
The varieties of red wine produced in the Baja
California region are Cabernet Sauvignon, Ruby Cabernet, Zinfandel
Grenache and Mission. The white wines are Chenin Blanc, Palomino,
Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Saint Emilion and Malaga.
The following is a partial list of Mexico's
wineries, many of which conduct tours:
Xanic : Located near the town of Zarco, 25 miles northeast
of Ensenada, this winery is less than two decades old, but has
quickly gained a reputation as one of Mexico's finest and is
credited with putting the country's wine on the map. The winery
produces three lines: Monte Xanic, Calixa and the Gran Ricardo,
which has a limited production of 1,500 bottles and is only
bottled in Magnums. The winery has received many awards, among
them a bronze medal at the 2000 Challenge International du Vin
in Blaye-Bourg, France for the 1998 Monte Xanic Chardonnay.
The 1995 Monte Xanic Cabernet Sauvignon received a Gold Medal
and the Civart Prix d'Excellence in the 1998 challenge. For
more information, call (011-52-555) 545-1111 or visit www.montexanic.com.mx
Camou: Inspired by what he saw in the Monte Xanic winery,
Ernesto Alvarez-Murphy Camou took his mother's maiden name,
bought 1000 acres in 1995 and created Chateau Camou. Like Monte
Xanic, Chateau Camou aims at creating top-quality wines and
is considered one of Mexico's most modern and sophisticated
wineries. It is best known for El Gran Vino Tinto, a blend of
Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. The 1995 vintage
won a silver medal in the 1998 Challenge International du Vin
in Bordeax, France and the 1997 vintage picked up a silver medal
at the 2000 Concours Mondial de Bruxelles in Belgium and a gold
medal at the 2000 Wines of the Americas fair in Los Angeles.
Chateau Camou offers tours Monday through Friday from 10 a.m.
to 2 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. until noon for US$3. For
more information, call (011-52-646) 177-3303 or visit www.chateau-camou.com.mx
de Piedra : This discreet vineyard, located at Km 93.5
in the valley of San Antonio de Las Minas, is considered by
some as Mexico's most innovative and ground-breaking winery.
Its red Vino de Piedra and white Piedra de Sol are considered
among the best wines in Mexico. They are exclusive, expensive
and hard to find, but many who have tried them say it's worth
it. For more information, call (011-52-646) 155-3097 or visit
Santo Tomas: Open since 1888, this winery has been
producing wine longer than any other winery in Mexico. It is
best known for having joined California's Wente Vineyard to
produce Duetto, a 50-50 Santo Tomas/Wente blend. It is also
known for its Santo Tomás Reserva Unico. The winery is
open daily from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, call
way to get to know these wineries and others is to attend the
Vintage Festival (Fiesta de la Vendimia) in Ensenada,
Baja California Norte, which takes places in August every year.
The festival's wide variety of attractions-including wine tastings
and contests, winery tours, fishing tournaments, cook-offs,
gourmet food and concerts-are sponsored, organized or subsidized
by area wineries. For further information about the events,
contact the Winemakers Association (Asociacion de Vinicultores)
at (646) 178-3038/3136 or 175-7233, e-mail [email protected]