Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Mexican wine situation

Mexican wine is fast becoming another success in the international drinks market, following the remarkable popularity attained by Mexican beer. A combination of modern technology and wine-making expertise has resulted in the production of high class wines in Mexico that are rapidly breaking into international markets.

- Look here for a recent US study about Mexican wines (See section II) - Source USDA Foreign Agricultural Service

It isn't wine that comes to mind when one thinks of Mexico. There's brandy -- one of the country's most popular liquors --, tequila and beer. But wine? Traditionally, most grapes grown in Mexico have been used to produce brandy and altar wine for the Catholic church.

Mexicans still produce wine and export far more of the ever-popular tequila and beer. But wine consumption is indeed increasing, buoyed by a taste for fine wine among Mexican professionals

They nowadays consume less than half a bottle of wine per person per year, a figure that's a fraction of what consumers drink in countries that have a love affair with the grape. In the United States, for example, the per-capita annual consumption is about 10 bottles, in France and Italy, more than 60 bottles. Argentineans even consume around 67 bottles per person annually.

After years of obscurity and a less-than-excellent reputation, Mexican wines are overcoming history to rise to world-class levels. The question plagued Mexican vintners for years: with some of the oldest vines in the New World and a coastal region with warm days, cool nights and an early-morning blanket of Pacific fog -- just like California's Napa and Sonoma counties in the U.S.-- why were Mexican wines of such poor quality? Today, after centuries of producing insipid wines with poor character, the country is finally winning respect for making wine worthy of the name.

Vineyards throughout Mexico total approximately 111,000 acres and are expanding at a rate of about 6 percent per year, according to the National Association of Grape Growers and Wine Makers. Although that figure includes acreage for table grapes and grapes for jams, juices and raisins, the wine grape sector is the fastest growing.

In addition, more wineries are entering the business, particularly in Baja California, which accounts for 80% to 85% of all Mexican wine production. Most Mexican wineries want to increase their exports as well as carve out a domestic niche with quality wines. Tariffs are low on Mexican wine imports to the United States and if Mexican vintners export their wine, they get a substantial tax break at home.

By racking up medals at major international competitions, Mexican wines are opening up new markets. Coverage in publications such as Wine & Spirits, Wine Spectator, Underground Wine, and major Southern California newspapers also indicates a growing respect for Mexican wines.

Originally, the problem for vineyards in Mexico was that they were underfunded. But they are certainly not pinching any pennies now. They have the finest equipment and barrels, and they have spent a lot of money on trellising and irrigation. With the climate, they have the potential for some really nice wines.

Mexican vintners acknowledged that they have a long way to go, and U.S. winegrowers need not lose sleep over a potential invasion of Mexican "vino". Although reliable statistics are scarce, the Guadalupe Valley has less than a dozen wine companies, producing perhaps 24 million bottles of wine from about 6,000 acres of grapes. That's less than 2 percent of the grape acreage and wine production of California, or roughly the size of the small Carneros wine district in the southern Napa and Sonoma valleys.

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