Does Mexico have wine? Yes! Mexico, the lover of tequila, mescal, and beer, welcomes Mexican wines to the tables of the local middle class and the thousands of tourists who visit each year.
If you’ve taken a trip to Baja California or even Cancun, you may have come across some Mexican wines.
Wine bars are popping up in larger cities around the country. The airport in Mexico City had a wine bar featuring Mexican wines at one time.
Wine has a long history in Mexico, longer than in the U.S.
Mexico’s Surprising Relationship with Wine
Northern Baja California is the largest region for wine in Mexico, producing most of the country’s fine wine.
The oldest winery there, Bodegas de Santo Tomás, was founded in 1791 as a Catholic mission. Commercial production started in 1888. Today, the Ensenada-based winery has a female winemaker, which is rare in Mexico.
The Spanish brought the first vitis vinifera (fine wine) grape to the New World around 1540. This grape, called Listan Prieto, was named the “Mission” grape in Mexico because it was planted by missionaries to make wine for the Church.
Building missions in Baja by 1620 and modern-day California from 1769, the missionaries continued to plant grapevines.
The phylloxera epidemic in Europe wiped out the Mission grape in Spain. It now exists in:
- Mexico and the U.S.
- Chile - called Pais and making a comeback
- Argentina - called Criolla Chica
- The Canary Islands
While not typically used for making fine wine, the Mission grape is vigorous and drought tolerant, a significant benefit in dry climates. Most producers use it to make rosé or fortified wines, such as brandy.
Over the years, the Mexican wine industry rose and fell. Modern commercial production began in the 1970s and quality winemaking in the 1980s.
Large, well-known producers, Casa Pedro Domecq and Vinos L.A. Cetto, opened in 1972 and 1974, respectively. These wineries started by producing brandy and low-quality wines.
Monte Xanic Winery in the Valle de Guadalupe began the push for quality wine in the 1980s.
Where is Wine Country in Mexico?
Most fine wine grapes grow between the 30 to 50-degree latitude range around the world, but most of Mexico lies below the 30-degree line.
So how can fine wine grapes grow here? Because of vineyards located at higher altitudes and a dry climate.
The Valle de Guadalupe in northern Baja and a small part of the Sonora region are just above the 30th parallel. The climate here is Mediterranean, hot and dry. Grapes are more prone to disease in damper climates.
Nearby ocean breezes keep grapes fresher in the Valle de Guadalupe, while Sonora benefits from the high desert. At higher elevations, the diurnal (daily) temperature variation is wide, which helps retain acidity in the grapes.
Vines must be irrigated due to a lack of water from drought conditions and water demands from a growing population.
The Sonora region, across the Gulf of California, grows grapes primarily for brandy and food (raisins.)
Ground Zero for Mexican Wine
The vast majority of wines produced in Mexico come from northern Baja, with upwards of 200 wineries, mostly small producers. The area around the city of Ensenada is home to many boutique producers.
The hot climate creates high alcohol and deeply colored wines. With granite-based alluvial (sandy) soils, the wines tend to have a mineral character. Some people taste a salinity associated with being close to the ocean.
The Valle de San Vicente is another region about an hour south of the Valle de Guadalupe. The amount of wine produced here approaches that of their northern neighbor.
A few northern Baja producers to look for:
- Adobe Guadalupe - includes a wine school
- Bodegas Henri Lurton - from the French Lurton family
- Casa de Piedra - boutique
- Bodega El Cielo
- Vena Cava - natural wines
Good Mexican Wines?
Casa Madero is the oldest winery in the Americas and is in a category of its own. It is located in the Valle de Parras, a subset of Coahuila state of north-central Mexico. Wild vines thrived here due to good water supplies.
It was founded in 1597 in the town of Santa Maria de las Parras (Holy Mary of the Grapevines) via a land grant from the King of Spain. The focus was on brandy and wine for the Church.
Hacienda de San Lorenza (the original name of the property) has been operating continuously ever since, though under different owners.
The last name change due to ownership was in 1893 to the trade name Casa Madero.
Warm climate grape varieties do well here, like Shiraz, Tempranillo, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Located at the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountains, the elevation is roughly 5,000 feet. Due to the altitude, grapes get long sun exposure for ripening during the day. Then cold nights help maintain acidity.
Casa Madero, modernized over the years since 1980, has won many wine awards and is internationally recognized as a producer of high-quality fine wines.
Other Mexican Wine Regions
- Queretaro - closest to Mexico City, a significant producer of sparkling wines (“Vinos Espumosos”) including Spanish company Freixenet, small premium wine production, wine tourism route
- Aguascalientes & Zacatecas - high-elevation vineyards in central Mexico, mostly producing grapes for brandy but some producers of table and premium wines
- San Luis Potosi - borders Zacatecas and Durango, a few small-scale producers producing excellent-quality wine
- Durango - north-central Mexico, grapes used mostly for brandy production, La Laguna wine region straddles Durango and Coahuila states
- Guanajuato - central Mexico, minimal productions of premium wines, focused on tourism and real estate development
- Chihuahua - the largest state in Mexico, central north, still very new with only a few recently planted vineyards
Grapevines and a winery exist today in the town of Cerocahui, near the Copper Canyon in Chihuahua. The vines here came from a vineyard planted in 1680. Propagated by a local family, the family gardener planted the vines near the existing Misión Hotel.
What’s Next for Mexican Wine
Peering into the future of the wine industry in Mexico, it’s clear that opportunities will grow. There will be more wineries, higher-quality wines, better pairings of wine with food, and a focus on drawing in the local population.
Local wine consumption is slowly growing, with tourists and a rising middle class in major cities drinking more wine. But average per capita wine consumption remains low, partly due to a government tax of 40% on local wine.
Exports of Mexican wine reach more than 35 countries today. More wines are winning international competitions.
Eno-tourism is now a lucrative industry. The Wine Route (Ruta del Vino) in Guadalupe brings thousands of tourists. It connects over 50 wineries, plus restaurants and hotels.
The Parras Valley in Coahuila has a wine festival, running since 1945. Other regions are developing wine-related routes and festivals as the industry grows.
Anything goes in Mexican winemaking. With no traditions, no governmental or industry regulations, it remains to be seen if one variety or style will ultimately emerge.
There are more than 100 varieties of grapes planted around the country. Unusual blends of grapes are common.
Red grapes include: Cabernet Sauvignon, Carginan, Merlot, Tempranillo, Nebbiolo, Grenache, Syrah, Petit Sirah, and others.
White grapes include: Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Muscat Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and others.
Mexico’s exciting young winemakers bring fresh energy and creativity to the industry. The best wines are being served at high-end restaurants around the world.
These winemakers understand the importance of wine with food - a trend we can all appreciate.
BHW Supports Mexican Wine
A long-time supporter of Mexico’s wines, BHW owner, Greg Martellotto, made wine in Baja California and continues to follow the industry throughout the country.
Don’t wait until prices rise. Take part in this unique opportunity to taste the value and quality of Mexican wines now. You’ll be glad you did.