Saturday, June 23, 2007

History of Mexican wines (part 3/3)

Chapter 3: From the 19th century onwards

At the end of the XIX th century, the Concannon family, pioneer in the Californian state (Livermore Valley, US) convinced the Mexican government to take advantage of the viticultural potential of the country and introduced a dozen French vine types and varietals in Mexico.

In 1885, the Mexican government was worried about the extension of the vine plantation but could not develop it due to the social troubles (Revolution) in the country.

In the XXth century, the wine production suffered from two headaches in Mexico: one was the phyloxera epidemy and the revolution of 1910. The first one destroyed around 1900 a large amount of the Mexican vineyards.

The second one pushed the Concannon family to leave the country but later another Californian Wine maker, Pirelli Minetti, planted another range of vine on hundred acres near to the city of Torreon.

In the 1930's the industrial growing and production of grapes is related to the numerous arrival of the miners from European origin in the Valley of Santo Tomas. They discovered abandoned plants and equipment, they restored them and founded so in 1938 the first winery of the country called "Bodegas de Santo Tomas".
Only in the period of stability post-1940 did a modern winemaking industry emerge, helped by rigorous protectionism. There was revived interest in table wines in the twentieth century.

After World War II the government quadrupled tariffs on imported wines, and when the 1970's brought a fad for sweet, light, often sparkling bulk wines, the domestic market grew to about two million cases per year. But there were further setbacks though when the deregulation of imports in 1982 brought competition from cheap, junk quality foreign wines which forced many estates out of business.

Thanks to large investments and the work of capable foreign technicians, including many Italians, the few surviving wine estates turn out products today which compare extremely well to those from other countries with more illustrious reputations. This has led to the increased reputation of Mexican wines, undoubtedly helped by the popularity of Mexican cuisine all over the world but due also to the pleasure given to connoisseurs by the discovery of good quality wines with lots of personality.

But in 1989 free trade arrangements with the European Union caused the bottom to fall out of the domestic market. Prices and production fell by nearly ninety percent under competition from inexpensive, particularly German and Chilean, imports.

Mexico's economic crisis and devaluation of the peso in 1994 caused unemployment and other economic hardships from which the country has yet recovered. Competition from low-priced imports however is still a serious factor for developing wineries.

Nowadays the growing of grapes has three purposes: eating and wine making, production of raisins and industrial use (e.g. distilling). The end of the XX th. century has seen major changes resulting in greatly improved wines.

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