Brief History of Wine in Mexico

Mexicans love beer, tequila, mezcal, and believe it or not, their number one drink is brandy. They are the fourth largest population of brandy drinkers on the planet. In almost every home you will see a bottle of El Presidente brandy with a bottle of Coke not too far away. Most grapes in La Republica, for years, were produced to produce brandy.

So how did wine get overlooked? The nation of Mexico has virtually every climate type found in the winemaking world – from stable Mediterranean warmth; to all-four-seasons Continental weather; to balmy, moist Maritime – meaning almost every varietal can be viticultured here. Twenty years ago, had you asked about the lack of winemaking, you would get vague answers of “We were a colony, it was a Spanish thing,” etc. And there is truth in that elliptical response.

When the Spaniard conquistadores arrived in the 1500s, they were aghast at (what they thought were) Godless heathens running around half naked, drinking liquor from scary cactuses, honoring false idols, etc. Most amazing, there was no wine here! And when they discovered amazing amounts of silver, well it became no question, Cortez thought: “We have to save their souls … and grow wine grapes.”

Importation of inexpensive Mexican wine into Spain got so out of hand, by 1699, it was depressing the Spanish wine market. So King Carlos II outlawed winemaking in Mexico (New Spain), except for church use. This ban remained in effect until the Mexican Revolution, 1910! The only folks producing wine were clergy. Consequently, the populace never really embraced wine.

In the 1850s the Church and the State were not getting along, and the government seized a ton of mission land, especially lands that contained lucrative wineries. They sold these to laymen investors. But, many of these missions were abandoned.

The last sip in the early taste of wine in Mexico comes with the Molokans – Russian Christian pacifists who came to Baja to escape persecution from the Czar. These Molokans brought modern cultivating and viniculture techniques to Mexico.Hello?  Escape bleak Russia and its harsh treatment to chill on the beach and make wine? God does work in mysterious ways.

By the end of the Twentieth Century, vintners had started to appear in fits and starts. Almost every state in Mexico produces grapes. And several areas have so-called microclimates – these are tiny areas of a unique weather type. These produce great vines. The main regions producing new wines were Baja California, Northern Mexico, and the area just surrounding us here in Queretaro and Aguascalientes.

Today, Mexican wine is the oenological world’s biggest secret. Wine is produced across La Republica. In the area around San Miguel de Allende, known as El Bajio, the Northern California climate and hardworking locals have created an entirely new and exciting industry. Further as the state of Guanajuato is replete with creative artistic minds, each winery is a distinct, fascinating, sometimes life-changing experience.

There has been no formal public way to get out to these surrounding gems, until now. Vino por Vino has a mission to enrich visitors’ experience here. We want to share the best of San Miguel de Allende downtown and out in the grapes. Raise your glass! Salut!

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