Thursday, December 21, 2006

History of Bodegas de Santo Tomas

Nowadays both large and small wineries are experimenting with newer styles of higher quality wines, many using new varietals and combinations to determine those appropriate to the terroirs and audience. But have a look back into the past of some wineries ...Bodegas de Santo Tomas.

In 1791, Jesuit priests established the "Mision de Santo Tomas" in Baja California, about 90 miles south of present day San Diego. They brought and planted vines of grapes named "uva mision" (mission grape), and produced the first wines in the Californias.

In 1834, Dominican priests founded the "Mision de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe del Norte," about 70 miles south of San Diego. This was the last mission established in the Californias and the one that functioned the least time. But the valley retains the abbreviated name "Valle de Guadalupe." Today the valley produces about 75 percent of Mexico's wines, many winning international recognition. The valley was blessed as one of the rare places in the world where premium wine grapes can be grown.

The road to the present wasn't easy for the valley and its wines. In 1857, after Mexico's War of Reform, the Catholic Church was stripped of its land holdings, which included the missions in Lower California that was left to Mexico after the U.S.-Mexico war. All church property became the property of the state. The government sold the former lands of the Mision de Santo Tomas to a private group, which established the Bodegas de Santo Tomas in 1888.

Nothing notable happened in the Valle de Guadalupe until 1904, when a group of 100 Russian families settled the area. The group belonged to a pacifist religious group which abandoned Russia to avoid its men being conscripted into the Czarist army.

The Russians bought several hundred acres, dedicating a good portion to planting vines producing grapes for wine, raisins and for sale as fruit. Others who came later followed their example, and more and more grapevines were planted.

The wines from Santo Tomas had by then acquired a good reputation, but sales of Mexican wines were dormant, as wine drinkers preferred French, German, Italian and Spanish wines, although they were exorbitantly priced.

The large Santo Tomás, Baja California's oldest winery established in 1888, has formed an alliance with California's Wente Brothers, and the two are producing a wine together: Duetto.

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