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MAIN Arrow to Wine Wines Arrow to Wines North America North America Arrow to Mexican Wines Mexico Arrow to Baja Baja

The Wines of Baja
Renewing the History of Mexico's Wines

Baja Grapes - PHOTO BY: PABLO DE AGUINACO
VINEYARD IN BAJA CALIFORNIA

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.

 

A country already world-famous for its tequila, Mexico is also trying its hand at winemaking, with successful results.

In the 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.

While Mexico's 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.

guadalupe valley vineyard
Guadalupe 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 Baja wineries.

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:

Monte 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

Chateau 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

Casa 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 www.vinoscasadepiedra.com

Bodegas 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 (011-52-646) 178-3333.

A great 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] or www.ensenadawines.com.

 

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