Traditionally, Mexico is not a wine-drinking country. Beer, tequila and mezcal are the preferred alcoholic beverages of the Mexican people. Today, with the increase in North American tourists requesting wine at resorts and hotels, the popularity of wine in Mexico is slowly rising. But the average wine consumption per capita, among local residents, sits at only two glasses per year (with the exception of communal wine).
When the Spanish landed in what is now Mexico, they brought with them their own grape vines with the purpose of planting them. And although they found grapes already indigenous to the area, they preferred their own varieties. As soon as Spanish colonialists were able to grow, crush and ferment their own supply of wine, imports from Spain fell dramatically. Thus in 1699, King Charles II of Spain imposed a ban on wine production in New Spain, except for the purpose of communion. For over 110 years, wine was only produced on a small scale in Mexico, that is until the War of Independence ended in 1821. Production rose dramatically as Catholic friars began to grow grapes and produce large barrels of wine. Some of the valleys used for grapes at this time are still known to produce premium wine grapes today.
When Mexico’s Reform War began during the 1850′s, the lands of the churches were handed over to the state, which meant the vineyards were largely destroyed or abandoned. When the war was over, the most important vineyards that produced the best grapes were sold to a private group. Despite the use of premium wine grapes, the wine was overly sweet and of low quality. The next 60 years were a growth period for the Mexican wine industry. President Jose de la Cruz Porfirio Diaz Mori was a fan of Mexican wine and encouraged its production. The industry flourished until the violence of the Mexican Revolution destroyed most of the country’s vineyards.
It was not until the 1980′s that wine production began to climb once again in Mexico, perhaps because of the surge in popularity taking place in California. As Mexican vintners become more experienced, they quality of the wine increases. In fact, some wineries in Mexico have already been won international awards. As wine still struggles to gain popularity as a common beverage among locals, brandy has already found its place. Especially brandy of the sherry variety, it is the most widespread distilled liquor consumed by Mexicans in Mexico.
Wine grapes are grown in three main areas in Mexico: the Baja peninsula, the central provinces and the province of La Laguna. Over the 6200 acres in these regions, the white grapes grown include chenin blanc, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and viognier. The red wine grapes grown in Mexico are tempranillo, dolcetto, sirah and all five bordeaux grape varieties.
There is a growing trend towards wine tourism in Mexico, especially focused around the many wine festivals throughout the country. Every August in the Valley Guadalupe the Fiesta de la Vendimia takes place. Wine tasting is always part of the festival, as well as various contests, tours, cook-offs, concerts and fishing tournaments. Another such event is the annual Malagon Family Celebration held on the family’s 500 acre property. There is a horse show, live music, food and of course, wine.
Most of the wine consumed in Mexico today is still imported, but more and more restaurants and resorts are adding local vintages to their wine list. If you are planning to visit Mexico, make a point of learning about the wine industry there, and perhaps plan a tour of a local winery. Aside from the majestic beaches and luxurious resorts, Mexico has a rich history of wine to offer as well.
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