Mexican wine and winemaking began with the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century, when they brought vines from Europe to modern day 'New Spain' (Mexico), the oldest wine-growing region in the Americas. Spaniard ‘Hernan Cortes’ and his fellow conquistadors exhausted their supply of wine while overthrowing the Aztecs. So he ordered the colonists to plant 1000 grapevines for every 100 native workers. The first Mexican wine estate, Casa Madero was founded in 1597 by Lorenzo Garcia in Santa Maria de los Parras in Coahuila and still exists.
Although there were indigenous grapes, they found that Spanish vines did very well in Mexico and by the 17th century wine exports from Spain to the New World virtually stopped. In fact the popularity of Mexican wine back in Spain started to effect domestic sales.
So in 1699, Charles II of Spain prohibited winemaking in Mexico, with the exception of wine for Church purposes. After Mexico’s War of Independence in 1857, all of the Catholic land holdings and the vineyards, were seized by the government and became property of the state. These were then sold to a private group of investors who to this day operate as the Bodegas Santo Tomas.
After Independence, winemaking was no longer prohibited and production increased, especially in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Despite Mexico’s Spanish heritage, it is not a wine-drinking country, but rather a beer and tequila. Wine production in Mexico has been rising in both quantity and quality since the 1980s, although competition from foreign wines and a 40% Tax per bottle on local wine production makes competing difficult within Mexico. Therefore Mexico exports approximately 80% of its wine, mostly to Europe and the USA.
Today the average wine consumption per capita is just under 1 bottle per year. However, consumption of wine in Mexico is growing, with most wine being consumed in Mexico City, Monterrey, Guadalajara and Puebla, and is also commonly found in the tourist areas, such as Cancún and Cabo San Lucas. Currently only about 45% of wine consumption in Mexico comes from domestic wineries. The consumption of locally crafted wines continues to grow with one key factor, being increased interest in it by the middle classes, especially in Mexico City. This will only continue to grow across the entire country as the reputation of Mexican wines increases.
While wine drinking is not widespread in Mexico, the consumption of Brandy, or distilled wine is. Brandy and Sherry is the most widespread distilled liquor in Mexico, both are more popular than Rum or Tequila. Mexico is the fourth largest consumer of brandy in the world behind the Philippines, Germany and Equatorial Guinea.
The three areas in Mexico where wine grapes are grown include. The north area of Baja California - (producing 90% of Mexico’s wine) and Sonora. This area is promoted heavily for ecotourism with the ‘Ruta del Vino’ - Wine Route, which connects over fifty wineries with the port of Ensenada and the border and the annual Vendimia harvest festival. The La Laguna area is in Coahuila and Durango and the central area consists of Zacatecas, Aguascalientes and Querétaro. Most of these areas have a fairly warm climate, which tend to make Mexican wines spicy, full-bodied and ripe; however, Northern Baja California's humid winters, dry warm summers and sea breezes allow for most of the same varietals produced in California. The La Laguna region is the oldest winemaking area of Mexico, and straddles the states of Coahuila and Durango, with grapes thriving in the Parras Valley. This valley is a microclimate in the desert area of these states at an altitude of 1500 meters. The valley has warm days, cool nights and low humidity which reduce insect and fungus damage to the vines. The valley primarily produces reds wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot and Tempranillo, with a few whites wines also made.
The central region consists of areas in Querétaro, Zacatecas and Aguascalientes. Most vineyards are at an altitude of 2000m, and most of the wine produced here is sparkling. The best-known wine producer in the region is the Mexican operation of Spain’s Freixenet winery. Most vineyards in Zacatecas are in the municipalities of Ojocaliente and Valle de la Macarena. This area has mild summers and cool winters, which combined with its moisture-holding clay soils is suited to fast-maturing varietals, some white varietals also do well.
Premium quality wine production in Mexico, supported by the National Viticulture Association, began in earnest in the 1980s with the promotion of modern techniques. Approximately 29,000ha are planted with grape vines in Mexico - (used for wine, fresh and dried grapes). Many of the grapes grown are French & Spanish in origin. The main red varietals are; Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc, Carignan, Grenache, Merlot, Malbec, Syrah, Petit Verdot and Tempranillo. Whites varietals include; Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Macabeo, Moscatel, Palomino, Riesling, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Many of these wine regions have successful wineries now exporting to Europe, the United States, Canada and even further across the globe; and with several wineries offering tours, wine tastings, picnic and dining areas and even accommodation.