A Revelation in Mexican Wine: An Interview with Daniel Milmo of Casa Madero

Greg M: Welcome everybody. This is Greg Martellotto with Big Hammer Wines Films. I'm so pleased to be here today with Daniel Milmo of Casa Madero in Coahuila, Mexico. Thank you so much. It's a great pleasure for me to sell these wines and to learn more about your winery, which has a unique history as the oldest winery in the Americas, dating from 1597. Tell me about the history of this winery.

Daniel Milmo: Thank you, Greg. Well, Casa Madero was established as you mentioned, in 1597, from the Spaniards or conquistadors coming into the area. They were actually looking for gold, that was more or less kind of like the gold rush, what happened here in California. They had found gold in the mountains behind where the valley's now located and those mines are actually still going in the state of Zacatecas. So they came across the Southern side of the mountains and unfortunately did not find any gold, but they did find an abundance of water springs flowing naturally on the foothills of the Sierra Madres and on the streams flowing from this water springs, there were native vines already growing in this area.

Daniel Milmo: So they learned that nature was telling them that vines could grow in the region and because of that abundance of water, they became a few others, a few years later, that was probably in 1568 when they first came to the area and looked around, saw there was water. And in 1574 it was when they finally came back and established a settlement and settled there and stayed there for more permanently. And a few years later, back in 1578 it was when the Jesuits, la compagnia de Jesus.

Greg M: Missionaries.

Daniel Milmo: They were missionaries that came to the area and they established the first mission and the first mission was called, Santa Maria de las Parras,   Parras means vine in Spanish. So they establish and they were the ones that brought the wine making and the grape growing techniques and they began making all these vineyards in the area.

Greg M: You mentioned they brought the mission grape.

Daniel Milmo: Yes.

Greg M: There's actually been a revival of the mission grape in Chile.

Daniel Milmo: Yes.

Greg M:Are you also working with the mission grape?

Daniel Milmo: No, we're not working on the mission grape. So, and there was this man that saw another water spring, which was eight kilometers north of the first settlement and he requested the King of Spain, expressively in the purpose of growing grapes in that area, and he requested permission to be settling there. And he received this land grant from the King Felipe the second, dated 19th of August in 1597 and that is the original document that gives us the first establishment date of the property, which is actually part of all of our labels. It's a handwriting that has been put onto our labels in a way to tell the history of our wine or winery and on that book is written in all the owners of the winery until it reached the Madero family 1893. So there were eight families previous to my family, that were owning the property and making wines in the property and the commercial name started in 1893, when Mr. Evaristo Madero, the first Madero owner changed commercially to Casa Madero.

Greg M:Fascinating and so 423 years, what do you do to celebrate every year? Do you have a harvest festival?

Daniel Milmo: We do have a big harvest festival and it's actually a facility that involves the whole town and people feel part of it, because of being involved in wine and growing grapes for so long. And so we have this day of San Lorenzo, which the first owner, his name was Lorenzo. So we have the celebration always on the 9th of August, which is the day of San Lorenzo and that coincides with the harvest as well. So it's a whole anniversary harvest festival that happens every year.

Greg M:Oh wow. I hope I can join you some time for that.

Daniel Milmo:Definitely.

Greg M: I mean, the history doesn't stop there. So to fast forward a few hundred years and the Madero family, the founding first president of Mexico after the 1910 revolution, was your progenitor, your family member?

Daniel Milmo:Yes, that's right.

Greg M:Tell us about that.

Daniel Milmo: Well, the Madero family purchased in 1893, that's where I descend from and the owner was my great, great, great-grandfather called Evaristo Madero. He was a very intelligent entrepreneur for the times, he was mostly into cotton, in the cotton industry, he had a textile factory near the winery and he purchased this estate as part of his business intentions and it was bought in 1893. And since that date he changed the name commercially to become Casa Madero and as you mentioned, his oldest grandson was Francisco I Madero, that became president in 1910, with the revolution exactly and he was the guy that actually started democracy in Mexico.

Greg M: Fascinating family history there. I just can't imagine, you said you have four children, right? 

Daniel Milmo: Yes.

Greg M: So how do you explain this to, and your kids are young, but I mean, how did your dad explain it to you? This incredible history and the land and everything. I mean, it feels like a big responsibility?

Daniel Milmo: Yes, it is. Well, we have a big family home that we still go there every summer and very often, and we still have family reunions and we always talk about our history there. We kind of go through and when my mother or grandmother was alive, she talked to us about how she lived when she was young and what things happened when she was in that time. And then whenever we receive clients and when we have this harvest festival, which we receive our important clients, we always talk about the history and which is such a rich part of our company. And in that respect, our kids are always around and involved in this kind of reunions and that's how the history is being passed along in the generations. And they're obviously very interested in how this all happened and proud of our heritage, to be still producing wines since such long time.

Daniel Milmo: And well my dad, how he passed this along to me, I had to in the summers when I was young, me and my brother would be spending at least six weeks of the summer doing one job, a different job every year. So in that respect, we got to learn from cleaning the irrigation system, from pruning the vines, harvest, bottling or the crushing or barrel washing. So we got involved in everything in that respect and got to learn a lot about the process for that.

Greg M: That's brilliant. Do you think you'd do the same with your children?

Daniel Milmo: Yes. I think next summer, my oldest is now 13, I think whenever I talk to her and we're going to start-

Greg M: Time to go to work.

Daniel Milmo: Since I'm working in the winery.

Greg M: That's awesome, that's so neat. Well, let's talk about the wines. So there's some amazing designation that I want to talk about. First of all, I think you're one of only two wineries in Mexico that have USDA organic certification for a portion of your vineyards. You've got two major lines, one is what you call the V's, the varieties or the variedades and this is your largest production line. You mentioned 100,000 cases, so 50% of your total production is this particular wine, which I love. We've offered this at bighammerwines.com and we've had good success with it. People really appreciate it and then of course there's the Gran Reserva line, which are wines that see more oak. Are they also specific barrel selections and vineyard selections?

Daniel Milmo: Yes, vineyard selection, definitely. We have worked the vineyard to have different qualities and we treat different lots differently, to provide, to look for quality on the Gran Reserva's and the reserves. Lower yields, pruning on the sites that are not well positioned,and berries and we try to keep a low yield for the higher quality wines. Not that we don't take care of the other ones, but we do have a lot more focus and detail going into the management of the vineyards that are producing the Gran Reserva's.

Greg M: And how has the reception been on the organic wines? Are people interested in that?

Daniel Milmo: Yes, I think it's a definitely a trend coming. We certified our first lot in 2012, that was to begin with, it was only a 20 acre section of it. It was two varieties, we had Cabernet and a Chardonnay and it was like our trial to begin with and then we grew that. We currently have 68 hectares of certified organic, in which we have different varieties now from Shiraz, Chenin blanc, obviously Cab and the Chardonnay and it's kind of a trend that's been taking on.

Daniel Milmo: They're not overly demanded, but they are definitely coming more and more in demand. I think there's that consumer that wants to have something that is more cared of and free of any kind of products that could be added onto it, that will not probably be synthetic. But given that we are in a desert, we are quite far away from any other agricultural areas, we're quite free of most pests. We normally have a lot less times that we go through the vineyard to control something, because we go so far away, it's so dry, so harsh, that there is a lot less pests that attack our vineyard, that we have to control in our vineyard. So in that way it was a little bit easier than maybe other parts of the world, to become organic in that respect, because we don't have to spray much at all.

Greg M: So tell me about this wine. This is equal parts Cab, Tempranillo and Merlot?

Daniel Milmo: Yes, that's right.

Greg M: And how's it made?

Daniel Milmo: Well, this wine we harvest obviously each varietal separately. We ferment every varietal Tempranillo, Merlot and Cabernet separately, and then it goes as a single variety into barrels. We normally have this wine in second used barrels. So we like to have the profile of the wine show the fruits and obviously some of the wood as well, but predominantly show what it's made of, the fruit. So six months in the barrel and then we come up and have a blend made and then once the blend is done, we put them back into the barrels for then another six months. So in total would be a period of 12 months in barrel and then it's bottled, probably remains in the bottle for six months and then it's released in the market.

Daniel Milmo: This one was thought actually to begin with, was made for an airline, Mexicana de Aviación.

Greg M: Really?

Daniel Milmo: And this could be in first class of that airline and then that airline went broke and the wine caught on and was made to be a wine that was easy to drink. That would be good for somebody that is beginning to drink wine, somebody that is probably already a connoisseur of wine, in between kind of wine, that will be of the tastes of more bigger profile people.

Greg M: I love this wine. I mean, in terms of exactly what you said, accessibility for people who just want a great easy drinking wine that is A, economical, B, it's not harsh, there's not heavy tannin. So some people don't like the kind of oaky, those higher alcohol, higher octane wines. This is so agreeable, accessible, a perfect food wine and it's easy on its own. I love that there's that great chocolate kind of raspberry quality to it and I really feel like I can taste some of the blend, some of the parts too, because the fermentation distinct. I get kind of some of that earthiness and red raspberry from the Tempranillo, I get kind of that plum from the Merlot and then of course there's, grape cassis and darker black fruits from that Cabernet. I think it's a masterful wine, if that's going to be your calling card. I mean, it's no wonder that it's 50% of your production, because it's just delicious.

Daniel Milmo: Thank you Greg, I appreciate it.

Greg M: So one of the things I really love about the wine is it's really accessible. I mean for the value here, we sell this wine for $24.99 and I think the wine over delivers, but even your Gran Reserva wines I think are also typically under around $40, right?

Daniel Milmo: Yes.

Greg M: Which is amazing. We were talking about that just vis-à-vis your pricing in Mexico, because you said the taxes in Mexico are 50% plus.

Daniel Milmo: Exactly.

Greg M: And so I know your wines, particularly the Gran Reserva wine, sell for well over a hundred dollars, particularly in restaurants.

Daniel Milmo: Exactly.

Greg M: And that's something else I wanted to ask you about. I mean, Casa Madero is playing a huge role just in terms of educating and bringing up the wine public in Mexico in particular. So let's remind people kind of where your winery is located vis-à-vis Monterrey and some of the other nearby cities.

Daniel Milmo: Sure. We're located closer to the Northern side of Mexico, if you would see the US, below the state of Texas, but well into, it's called the state of Coahuila, as you come into Mexico. From the border we're probably about 400 miles. There is no straight road that goes from the border to the winery, but there is actually a longer road that you need to take, but if you take a straight line, it will be around 400 miles. And as far as within Mexico, where the closest city would be Saltillo, which is the capital of Coahuila and that's about a million or so size of city. And another city that's close towards the West would be Torreón, which is also in the state of Coahuila. Those were the closest largest cities. And then you have Monterrey, which is a two hour drive, which is the second largest city of Mexico. So that's an even larger city and that will be two hour drive from Monterrey to the winery. 

Greg M: So we're in San Diego today. How did you get here?

Daniel Milmo: I flew. Well you can go to DeQuan and there's a direct flight from Tijuana to Monterrey. Straight flight, three hour flight and then a two and a half hour drive from the airport to the winery. But I flew from LA, there's Monterrey, Los Angeles and I had some things to do.

Greg M: So it's a pretty good trip? I mean, two and a half hours there, before it. Then you go to LA and then you connect back to San Diego. 

Daniel Milmo: Yes. It's at least a half a day trip. It's not easy, not close.

Greg M: But in spite of your somewhat remote location in the high desert, right? Because your elevation at the winery is?

Daniel Milmo: 5,000 feet.

Greg M: 5,000 feet. You're still receiving 100,000 visitors a year.

Daniel Milmo: Yes, that's right.

Greg M: So you must have a lot of tours and a lot of education going on?

Daniel Milmo: Definitely, yes. There's a lot of interests, everybody that comes to Parras, the town of Parras, it's mandatory they visit Casa Madero. It's a well known place and they like to come and visit. We have a tour of the process, we have tastings of course, we can arrange private tours, private tastings, lunches, dinners in which we even have a hacienda that is becoming a hotel in the near future. So that's another tourists service that we will be providing, a hotel, in probably the next two years. That was our family home and it's being converted to use as a hotel. It has 27 rooms and then we're going to have rearranged to be able to provide a five star service.

Greg M: Wow, I can't wait for that. So the next two years, huh?

Daniel Milmo: Yeah, maybe two, three years down the line.

Greg M: What do you see five to ten years from now, for the winery and the business?

Daniel Milmo: Casa Madero, we'd like to precisely accommodate more services and be more available for tourism because we honestly, we never thought we'd have half a tourist and we don't advertise nothing, to have them visit our winery. So given that, we would like to take more advantage of that and have better facilities to receive tourism. We'll have probably two restaurants and a fine destination restaurant as well at the hacienda. So we're planning on having a more tourist oriented area and in that way be able to better receive our clients for tourism and also, we're planning an expansion of Casa Madero to accommodate the growth that we've had in the production from the last 10 to 15 years, at which we've grown our production.

Daniel Milmo: And we need to accommodate in a proper manner, because we have now two or three center rooms, which is not the best for handling and managing. So we are going to just make that better first world facility, that we want to have our winery up to date and I think Casa Madero will still continue to grow vineyards. Probably not in that same location, but probably in the same state of Coahuila, but in another land close by to where we are. We are already looking into that and probably we will have another wine facility over there, because it's-

Greg M: You mentioned that's even higher altitude?

Daniel Milmo: It is, yes. 7,000 feet above sea level and it's in a valley in the mountains, which we're looking into beginning, probably next year to plant there.

Greg M: Okay. So you're thinking more cool climate grapes, like a Pinot Noir maybe?

Daniel Milmo: Yes, probably Pinot Noir and all the whites and Merlot, that are starting to have a difficult time down in the Valley where we are. Because we have seen, well weather change in Mexico, in our area and the harvest, you can see that when it begins, the first day of harvest and it's been coming earlier and earlier. So we're trying to move forward on that and have those things considered for the new locations.

Greg M: I remember reading about this Pago designation that the Spanish government bestowed upon your winery, and this is the only winery outside of Spain to have received this recognition.

Daniel Milmo: Pago de America, yes.

Greg M: There's 17 wineries in Spain that have received a Pago designation and this is a unique designation. It sits at the top of the pyramid of the denomination system and how did that come to be? How did you receive that?

Daniel Milmo: Well, I became friends with some winery owners in Spain, Valle de Garcia, Abadia Retuerta, Alto, Marqués de Griñón, these four wineries. I somehow in the wine industry I became to know one of the owners and they introduced me to the other owners and I visited them at some point. They came several times and they stayed at the hacienda. They visited us and they suggested that if we would be willing to accept such a denomination or being a Primer Pago de America. We were thrilled and really happy to hear that they were considering so and we had an event, this was I think four or five years ago, more or less and it was given to us by el Marques de Griñón, is a noble title of a person that has a winery.

Greg M: That right. What is a marquesa called in English, it's a?

Daniel Milmo: Duchess?

Greg M: A duke, yeah.

Daniel Milmo: I think so. So this man was actually the president of the Pagos de España and he was the one who came to the events ceremony and handed over our prize or our denomination, which we keep in the winery.

Greg M: That's awesome, that's so cool. That is so cool.

Daniel Milmo:We are thrilled to have that.

Greg M: And then one of the other things that I learned about, is you operate an orphanage, there's a social charitable project?

Daniel Milmo: Yes. This orphanage was started by my great, great-grandfather's wife in 1912. So it's an orphanage that has been run by an order of nuns, that help us do the day-to-day operations. We supply all the needs for them and the basic focus is to help the poorest people in there and so we have girls, it's only for girls that have no family or come from a very dysfunctional family. They are invited to be part of our orphanage and they're cared for by this order of nuns and we also have a school, which is from kindergarten till secondary education, which is part of the orphanage as well. In which we provide a day school for people that are obviously in most need and we do have some research obviously, to have people that are most in need and we only charge a dollar a month, symbolically and provide education for them.

Greg M: So there's 400?

Daniel Milmo: That's the 400, yes.

Greg M: Girls in the school?

Daniel Milmo: The school is co-ed. So we have boys and girls and that's 400 kids in the school system.

Greg M: From what age?

Daniel Milmo: From I think, 5 to 15, that's when they finish high school, secondary school, sorry. And then the girls that are there, there are 23 girls that permanently live on the premises and they are young girls also from 6 till 15 as well. 18 I think is the oldest one, but we try to accommodate them after, they're in school or at boarding school, after 18.

Greg M: Well, cheers to that. That's another reason to support this winery, is a fantastic social works and obviously supporting girls is really important in Mexico and in general.

Daniel Milmo: Yes. I feel really happy to be up to help all those people in need and we need more people in that area.

Greg M: Talk to me about what you have learned in all your travels about the other wines in Mexico. Obviously we hear quite a bit about Baja, because it's right here on the border and it's relatively accessible, only about an hour and a half away from San Diego and that region has exploded. I've watched it grow from what was fewer than 10 wineries, probably 15, 20 years ago, to I think there's, I don't even know how many. Do you know how many are there now?

Daniel Milmo: Plus hundred.

Greg M: Yeah, there's a lot and the tourism has exploded and there's hotels and restaurants and it's exciting to watch. I still think there's some structural issues as you're probably aware. I think, one of the big challenges with the wines of Baja, is the lack of high quality water, which you have.

Daniel Milmo: Yes.

Greg M: You have quality water and the population pressures from Ensenada and Tijuana, are causing the water table to go so low and then ongoing drought and rain issues, which affect all of us, have really contributed a salty component to a lot of the wines that they can't escape, because they just don't have water. But what's your impression of kind of the wines of Baja and then maybe that other little region that a lot of people probably don't know, but there's a lot of wine production happening in Queretaro and Guanajuato too.

Daniel Milmo: Yes. Well, Baja has been more a dynamic wine region since the late 70s or beginning of the 80s, and for some reason there were several bigger wineries. There was Domeq, Cetto, and there was Santo Tomas and I believe it was through them that they sparked this intentions for this interests in producing wine in that region, from smaller producers. And the wine consumption also in Mexico, that has been developing favorably in drinking more wine per capita, but still very low and I think that consumption per capita is, they began to see the growth of that category in wine.

Daniel Milmo: There were investors interested in that and Baja was the first region, because there were more vineyards in that area and as you also mentioned, the tourism helps being so close to San Diego and having that city so close, to can provide for tourism and make it a more interesting investment in the winery and it has exploded, I believe. As you mentioned, there's probably plus hundred vineyard, wineries that are making wine and in the restaurant scene as well. I think, that is the region of Mexico, there's more prepared and developed for wine tourism, as far as also having a lot of hotels and fine restaurants. Which they have a great quality of food and local products from the ocean and from the area of vegetable growers and that has helped the region become very popular and have all these wineries in the area.

Daniel Milmo: Well in this other side of Mexico, central Mexico where we talk about Parras, Coahuila, where we're located, we had been producing wine there maybe 200 years before Baja, but there was only Casa Madero, it was the only winery. And it was changing from producing wine, it always produced wine, but at some point most of the wine was being distilled and sold as brandy and that percentage has changed through time. And so towards the recent years, I'm talking about 1970 till today, there was a trend towards making more or selling as a wine more, than distilling the wine for the brandy.

Daniel Milmo: So that caught on and as I think the success, so the recent years in Casa Madero has sparked interest in people that are in the area. That are now beginning or have the vineyards and we are actually a promoter of that, because we have helped several people, close friends of ours to settle their first lines of vines so they can taste, try their land and see how well that quality is made or not. And they also brought their grapes so we would make the wine, without them having to invest in the whole equipment to make the wine and get a feel of how their wine would be if they had the vineyard.

Daniel Milmo: So that sparked a lot of different projects and now there's probably in Parras, around 10 other wineries and probably six of them have labels and there'll be more, I can see that there is an interest and there's other people talking about it and wanting to have a vineyard and now in the whole state of Coahuila, because in Coahuila there's other areas, higher elevation mountains, there's probably around 19 wine projects, wineries and vineyards. And then as we move down South to Querétaro, that has been also an area that has been producing wine for a long time in the state. One of the larger company based, there is Freixenet, producing more sparkling wines than-

Greg M: They produce a lot of that sparkling wine.

Daniel Milmo: Yeah, they produce I think 300,000 cases, somewhere around there. They have a little bit of wine, a couple of labels of wine, but as I've mentioned earlier, on my personal thought is that for that region, the more likely varietals to do well are the shorter maturing varietals and hence, probably the white varietals will do better in my point of view. But there has been probably, I don't know, about 20 wineries in Querétaro and another 20 in Guanajuato, that are now having their wines have labels and there's reds, whites and rosé's and sparkling wines, and it's also becoming quite a dynamic area for new vineyards and new wineries.

Greg M: Right and with the proximity to 20 million people in Mexico City, it could be quite an interesting development. Right?

Daniel Milmo: Yeah, definitely. There's a huge potential for tourism and there's a couple of them that are really focused on tourism. I think Freixenet is the winery that receives more tourists a year, in the whole world.

Greg M: Really?

Daniel Milmo: I think they receive around 300,000 people per year.

Greg M: Really?

Daniel Milmo: I heard that recently, I'm not so sure.

Greg M: How far are they from San Miguel de Allende, do you know?

Daniel Milmo: They're probably about an hour from San Miguel. Not too far, about two hours from Mexico City or a little bit less than the two hours. But it's becoming a popular area as well for growing wine and the wine itself is also becoming more popular in Mexico, as the wine culture increases and there's also an interest in Mexican wines specifically, from Mexican people. There was in the past, more of a tendency to be able to prefer imported wine, now that's kind of changing, people are looking more favorably towards Mexican wine.

Greg M: Yeah, we're seeing that 30% of domestic consumption is now Mexican production, which 10 or 20 years ago, it must have been single digits?

Daniel Milmo: Totally, yes.

Greg M: So that's significant growth and obviously Casa Madero is going to play an important role in that.

Daniel Milmo: Yes, we're a part of that market and focusing on trade mostly and we're starting to look at export markets as well.

Greg M: So you're telling me this is one of the most successful wines on-premise in Mexico?

Daniel Milmo: Yes, it is on the on-premise market.

Greg M: I believe it and I hope you have a chance to taste these wines as well. Daniel, thank you so much for your time and I'm looking forward to keeping in touch and watching your progress, because these wines deserve and merit wider attention, and what an incredible story you shared with us.

Daniel Milmo: Thank you so much.

Greg M: Thank you y mucha suerte.

Daniel Milmo: Muchas gracias Greg.

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