Mexico produces more than just great Tequila!
When you think of adult beverages in Mexico, it’s more likely that tequila and beer come to mind rather than wine. Since tequila is a spirit made from the agave plant, which is indigenous to Mexico and makes a delicious Margarita, it’s probably the first drink you reach for before ever pouring yourself a glass of Mexican wine. In fact, we’re willing to bet that many people aren’t even aware that there’s wine made in Mexico.
JustWine Fun Fact
Mexico was the first New World Wine Region
A Brief History of the Wines of Mexico
Mexico has grape varieties that are indigenous to the area, but most are used for eating and not considered the best grapes for making wine. Most of Mexico’s wine production is made from the European varieties. In the late 1520s, vitis vinifera were brought to Mexico by the Spanish. At the time, the supply of Spanish wine brought Mexico had been depleted while celebrating the defeat of the Aztecs. Not long after, Mexico began producing wine and became the first New World wine region.
There are three main wine growing areas in Mexico:
1. Wine Regions in the North
Heat is a major risk factor for vineyards in Mexico. If the grapes ripen too quickly because of the heat, flavours and aromas won’t develop and you’re left with lots of sugar ripeness, but not much flavour. The wine regions in the north are closer to the Pacific Ocean which moderates the temperature. This means they can grow better quality grapes that make wines with full body and flavour.
Most of the wineries in Mexico are located along the Baja Peninsula, south of Tijuana, Mexico. There are over 2 million cases of wine produced in the region annually which accounts for about 90% of the wine production in Mexico. Sub-regions of this wine area include:
- Valle de Guadalupe (the “Napa Valley of Mexico”)
- Valle de Calafia
- San Vicente,
- La Grulla
- Las Palmas y San Valentin
- Valle de Santo Tomás
Across from the Baja Peninsula is the Sonora wine region. Although there are a few quality wineries in the area, most of the wine produced here is made into brandy.
JustWine Fun Fact
Mexico is the world’s 3rd largest producer of Brandy
2. La Laguna Wine Region
Although much of the wine produced in La Laguna is made into brandy, there are vineyards at higher altitudes that produce grapes of remarkable quality. The wine region Valle de Parras is the perfect region for growing grapes and making excellent wines. Valle de Parras also boasts the oldest continuously working winery in North America, Casa Madero, which was established in 1597.
3. Central Mexico Wine Regions
The wine country here is extremely arid. The advantage is that grapes hate high humidity, but the region inevitably must be irrigated. Fortunately, the soil type here retains water well and the elevation is quite high which moderates the temperature.
A Glimpse into the Past: Casa Madero, Mexico’s Oldest Winery
In 1597, the first Mexican winery Casa Madero aka: Hacienda San Lorenzo in Santa Maria de la Parras (Holy Mary of the Grapevines) in the state of Coahuila was established. The town Santa Maria de la Parras was actually established the following year around the vineyard and winery. As more Jesuit priests came to the area they brought with them more vines and planted vineyards. The wines created were used both for sacrament and for dining pleasure, but as the amount of vineyards and wineries grew the demand for wine from the “Mother Country” declined significantly. Despite their efforts, the art of winemaking and drinking never became as popular as tequila, beer or mezcal. The Mexican government contributed to this by placing a 40% tax on local wines making it difficult to compete with the other national drinks. Wine became a luxury item most of the population could not — or would not — purchase.
The Modern Wine Industry in Mexico
Until the 1980s, most Mexican wine consisted of sweet, low quality table wine, but in recent years many more premium wineries are opening and learning the power of exporting their wines abroad. Casa Madero and Bodegas de Santo Tomas are among the oldest wineries in the country and have improved their wines tremendously with the times. Casa Madero’s Chardonnay won an award at the Vinitaly International Wine Competition in 2016 and Bodegas de Santo Tomas has won medals at the San Francisco International Wine Competition.
Other notable wineries in Mexico include:
L.A. Cetto, Bodegas Y Vinedos San Rafael, Vena Cava and Lechuza Winery. The former two you can read about in this Daily Beast article by Kayleigh Kulp “Forget Margarita’s; It’s Time For Mexican Wine” and the latter two you can check out in this video.
Video — Valle de Guadalupe: Mexico’s Wine Country
Due to the increasing wine quality, the increase in average and expendable income and despite the incredibly high tax many fine restaurants in the big cities like Mexico City, Monterrey, Guadalajara and Puebla as well as tourist hubs like Cancun, Cabo and Puerto Vallarta are putting Mexican wines on their wine lists. This has also led to an effort towards enotourism in the country. 90% of Mexican wine comes from Baja California which has created the “Ruta del Vino” – a wine route connecting 50 wineries with the port city of Ensenada and the American border. American tourists have been afraid to drive down through this area because of the drug war and the violence that has surrounded it, but it has calmed over the last few years, making way for this area hopefully to become one of the up and coming, if not already there, wine regions.
Wine Tourism in Mexico
Wineries are seeing the benefits of hosting wine festivals in Mexico. Here are a few of the great wine festivals you can enjoy on your next visit to Mexico.