Friday, October 13, 2006

A revolution ferments in Mexico: Winemaking

You can count on south-of-the-border spirits to be flowing this Friday, Cinco de Mayo. Mexican beer. Tequila. How about wine? Mexico? Wine? It's no joke.

Last fall, accompanied by Maria Romero of the Baja California Tourist Bureau, I toured the area's principal vineyards. About 90 percent of all Mexican wine, I learned, is grown about 30 miles inland from Ensenada, on the Pacific Ocean Baja coast. There, serious winemakers have been zeroing in on one particular stretch, the dry, rocky Guadalupe Valley, which benefits from the temperate climate generated by ocean breezes gliding over the hills.

Nobody is confusing the Guadalupe Valley with Bordeaux or Napa, at least not yet. But entrepreneurs are investing millions of dollars to put the region on the world wine map."It's the Napa Valley 100 years ago," enthuses Steve Dryden, a wine and travel writer who lives there. The growing wine industry, he says, is "Mexico's secret revolution."

The Spanish conquistadores brought winemaking to Mexico, planting vineyards as soon as they got a foothold. (Cort├ęs and his men drank their supply of Spanish wine celebrating the defeat of the Aztecs.) But in 1699, Spain, fearful of New World competition, put an end to commercial Mexican wineries.

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