The history of Mexican wine production starts in the early 1500’s when Hernan Cortѐs and his Spanish conquistadors drank their own supply of wine dry while battling with the local Aztecs in Mexico. He ordered that 1000 grape vines be planted for every 100 native “employees”. These vines were introduced for religious mass, or more likely to wash down meals with.
First Wineries in Mexico
The more tropical regions of Mexico foiled the first attempts at grape-growing, but some grape vines did take. Criolla, otherwise known as the mission grape of California and the Pais grape of Chile, were successfully planted in the Parras Valley of Coahuila. Soon grapes were being grown in Puebla and Zacatecas, and the first Mexican wine estate, Casa Madero, was founded in Santa Maria los Parras in 1597. This wine estate, first set up by Lorenzo Garcia, still exists today.
Market Forces Bring a Halt to Mexican Wine Production
The Spaniards did so well with their Mexican wine, in fact, that Charles I ordered that all ships which travelled to “New Spain” were to bring over grape and olive vines so that production could be increased. This went very well until the late 1500’s when the demand for Spanish wine fell in tandem with the rise in popularity and prestige of French wines. To make matters worse this Mexican wine was faring better than Spanish wine, and so Philip II put an end to all productions in order to promote only Spanish local products.
Ban on Mexican Wine Production
This ban on Mexican wine production didn’t stop certain religious sects, like the Jesuits, from continuing to make wine for the sake of religious authenticity. Jesuit priest Juan Jugarte is credited for leading this revolution by establishing the Santo Tomas Mission with its vineyards in Baja California. The Dominicans soon followed suit, setting up in the Guadalupe valley. After the War of Reform in 1857 all of these Catholic landholdings and vineyards were seized by the government and later sold to a private group of investors who operate to this day as the Bodegas Santo Tomas.
Modern wine production in Mexico, supported by the National Viticulture Association, really began in the 1980’s when modern techniques were put in place. Many of the grapes used are of either French or Spanish origin.