MEXICO: Striving To Make A Better Wine

Legend has it that Hernan Cortez and his men exhausted their wine supply when celebrating the conquest of the Aztecs in the 1500s, so the Spaniards decreed that every recipient of a land grant must plant grape vines so that sacramental wine would be plentiful.

While Mexico is one of Latin America's oldest wine-producing countries, it is not well known for it. There is a legacy of protectionist laws that came out of Spain in 1699 that prohibited wine production in its colonies, particularly Mexico.

The Mexican War of Independence lasted from 1810-1821 and its earliest winery is still in operation today: Bodegas de Santo Tomas, opened in 1888 near Ensenada on the Baja California Peninsula. However, early wine made there tended to be sweet and of low quality.

In 1987 a small group of investors came together with the sole purpose of creating quality wine in Mexico. They founded the vineyard Monte Xanic on the Baja peninsula and achieved their goals.

Their wines have become well known in Mexico City, and according to Carlos de la Mora, who came from Baja to New York City to promote Mexican wine, they soon were served by former Mexican President Carlos Salinas at formal dinners held at Los Pinos, or the Mexican equivalent of the White House.

With the bar raised, Bodegas de Santo Tomas hired Hugo d'Acosta. This Mexico City native received his doctorate in enology in Montpelier, France, and then worked in wineries in Italy and California's Napa Valley.

He turned the winery around and then founded his own, Casa de Piedra, in 1997. He is now working with partners to open more boutique wineries. The first, Paralelo, has recently opened. He also started a winemaking school, Estacion de Oficios del Porvenir, to train a new generation of Baja residents in winemaking traditions.

According to Rodrigo Ofner, the head of the food and beverage at the Maroma Resort and Spa, viticulture in Mexico has persisted, and today there is a renewed interest in Mexico's wine industry.

"You're seeing many more Mexican wines being served to tourists in the luxury resorts of the Yucatan," he said. "But much of the upswing in popularity is due to an increase in interest by middle-class Mexican families, especially in Mexico City."

De la Mora explained that right now is a very exciting time for Mexican wine. More and more vintners are being drawn to the winemaking regions of Mexico and better wines are being produced.

"This is still a work in progress," he said. "Most of the wineries are very young, under 20 years old. There's a lot of potential here. Mexico is working to find it's own style in the world of wine."

For more information about wines in Baja California, visit: www.enswine.com

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