Mexico might not be the first place that comes to mind when thinking about wine, but the country has centuries of wine-producing traditions. Mexico is the 35th largest wine-producing country, but has one of the fastest-growing wine industries worldwide.
Mexican wine is wonderful as well. Robust reds and elegant whites made with a wide variety of grapes mean there’s a bottle of Mexican wine for every palate, budget, and occasion — and the wine keeps getting better every year! Here’s what you need to know about the history of Mexican wine.
The History of Mexican Wine
The first grape vines arrived in Mexico in 1521. Spanish conquerors found the perfect place to grow grapes and make wine in a varied country. In 1531, King Charles V of Spain ordered every ship traveling to the new continent to send grapevines, guaranteeing Mexico’s wine production during the colonial era.
The wine coming out of Mexico was so good that soon the colonists didn’t have to rely on Spain’s wine imports. This caused Spanish winemakers in Europe to complain to King Philip II, who eventually banned the production of wine in Mexico in 1595. The wineries closed their doors, and the vineyards were burned. Only a few estates survived by producing wine for the church.
Did you know? The oldest still-working winery in America, Casa Madero, was founded in 1597!
Back From the Ashes
Wine production in Mexico didn’t come back to life until around 1701 when Catholic missionary priest, Juan Ugarte started planting vineyards in Baja California (today, the source of 80% of Mexico’s wine). Encouraged by the success of the vines, the church continued planting vines in the area, including into the present-day American West Coast, extending the cultivated area as far north as Sonoma. Mexico’s wine production remained church exclusive until the mid-19th century.
Mexico’s civil war between 1858 and 1860 stripped the church of its privileges, and many wine estates were either abandoned or retaken by civilian entrepreneurs. French grapevine varieties arrived in Mexico in the early 1900s, replacing Spanish grape varieties still dominating the vineyards. The Mexican wine scene thrived until it was (again) obliterated during the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920).
The Modern Mexican Wine
After decades of poor winemaking choices and prioritizing the production of low-quality brandy over wine, Mexican wine was reborn in the 1980s with a young generation of ambitious winemakers. The wines started earning medals in international competitions and a thriving wine scene, supported by a booming wine tourism sector, propelled Mexico’s wine industry to the 21st century.
Today, there are over 120 wineries in Mexico, and the country’s wine is enjoyed in over 30 countries worldwide.
Have You Tried Mexican Wine? Don’t Wait!
Mexican wine is better than ever, and it’s also varied! From red wines made with Tempranillo and Nebbiolo to the more traditional Cabernet and Merlot, this is heaven for red wine lovers. White wines are also well represented in Mexico, with refreshing white wines for summer and robust oak-aged Chardonnays brimming with tropical fruit scents.
Is Mexican wine good? It is, but you’ll have to try it to believe it. No other country in the New World has such a lengthy history, as Mexican wine predates wine from the USA, South America, South Africa, and Australia! How’s that for having deep roots?