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Viva El Vino!

The Mexican Wine Revolution


18Whenever Mexico is mentioned, most people don’t immediately think of wine. Tequila, tacos, sombreros, moustaches, colourful blankets and donkeys, maybe, but wine? Well it’s time to forget all the old Mexican clichés, and think again.

      One hundred years ago, señors Madero, Villa and Zapata led the Mexican Revolution. Today, Mexico is going through a different sort of upheaval, a wine revolution. Small producers, mainly concentrated in Baja California’s Guadalupe Valley, are charging ahead with the declaration, “Viva El Vino!” The major force in this movement, the most significant evolution in Mexican wine since Spaniards first planted vineyards at the Santo Tomás Mission in 1791, has been Hugo D’Acosta. An internationally renowned winemaker who came to Baja from mainland Mexico in the late 1980s to work at the large Santo Tomás winery, D’Acosta soon began to explore side projects in the Guadalupe Valley, including his family’s winery, Casa de Piedra.

      The dry and barren landscape of this Mexican state peninsula, commonly (but slightly confusingly) known as Baja California, does not necessarily lend itself to the notion of fertility. It’s a land where only rocky interludes, or a solitary cactus interrupt the wide-open views. Nevertheless, this dusty yet rich terroir is also home to one of Mexico’s home-grown successes. The region has a temperate climate, with warm days and mild evenings, making for the perfect environment for wine production. But despite the favourable conditions, the Mexican wine industry is still relatively young. Many vineyards have been in operation only since the 1980s (or later) and are only just beginning to find their feet.

      The sales of Mexican wines began slowly, but in the past few years the industry has experienced something of a boom. Of the wine purchased within Mexico, three out of ten bottles are made domestically. And efforts have been made to break down the hitherto negative connotations regarding wine, making it more attractive to a wider market. Though there is still a lot of work to be done in order to nurture a stronger culture of wine drinking nationwide. As a result, the number of wine drinkers has doubled in the past five years, an upsurge largely stimulated by a free-thinking new generation, wanting to break out of the tequila drinking Mexican stereotype often portrayed in popular media.

      In almost every way, Baja California is a textbook American west coast wine valley, with coastal influences that ensure those vital cool nights, even during the growing season’s hottest months. The vineyards belong to top Baja producers, including Casa de Piedra, Viñas de Garza, Vinisterra, Rincón de Guadalupe, Hacienda La Lomita, Monte Xanic and Viñas Pijoan. And there is a mixed bag of grape varieties that can handle the warm conditions. The region produces mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo, Syrah, Zinfandel, Grenache, Cabernet Franc and Nebbiolo among the red wines. And Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Viognier among the white wines. Alcohol levels can run high, due to Baja’s balmy environment. And occasionally, the wines can display hints of saline, because of the ocean-influenced ground water used for irrigation.

       Overall, the general consensus is that Baja is on the right track, and ranks as a North American wine region worthy of being discovered. Mexican vineyards, which often concentrate on producing more boutique wines at the upper end of the price range, find themselves competing against more affordable foreign imports. Consequently, those buying wine ask themselves, why buy a Mexican brand for US$20 per bottle, when they can find a foreign brand for nearly half that price? So in order to make Mexican wines more accessible, there is no other option than to offer them at a competitive price. And indeed, most major wine manufacturers are putting a lot of emphasis on building a portfolio of younger, fresher wines in order to attract a broader consumer base, and finally move away from the notion of wine consumption as an elitist pursuit.

      Vineyards are continually looking for creative ways to make their wines appeal to younger generation, and gain an advantage over less expensive foreign imports. Monte Xanic, a medium-sized vineyard producing about 500,000 bottles of wine annually, has recognized this need. The vineyard will begin to include on their wine bottles QR codes, a relatively new technology that can be scanned by the consumers’ cell phones, to guide them to a website informing them on such things as the aroma, bouquet and compatibility of a particular wine. Wine manufacturers are also branching out to social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook, a move they hope will give them greater contact with younger wine drinkers. This type of marketing has a very good chance of succeeding with the tech-obsessed young. And it will come as no surprise to learn that the more commercially astute wine companies worldwide are now adopting this high-tech promotional formula.

       Mexico is a great example of how the new generations, in countries that do not have a tradition of wine consumption, are finally embracing it in the 21st Century. There can’t have been a better time in history to be involved in the wine industry. Combine the population explosion in the developing world, with ever-growing demand for wine from these nations’ young people (whose disposable income is continually rising) and you can see the potential for exponential growth. And it’s only human nature to want to drink one’s local wines. Most people want to feel proud of their nation’s achievements. There is a certain security in the knowledge that you can produce something as good, if not better, than everyone else. And making comparable wine to one’s illustrious neighbour, California, in Mexico’s case, is particularly attractive to the current highly ambitious young generation of Mexicans. Peter James


Peter James


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