Description 1 of 2
Wine production in Mexico began with the conquistadors in the 1500s when vines were brought over for planting from Spain, and grew with colonization and exportation to the Old World. But the success of this business, in light of the dwindling Spanish wine industry to the rise of the French, intimidated the Spanish King Philip II and he ordered all production in “New Spain” ceased.
However, religious sects rebelled against this ban, and continued to plant in small quantities. In the early 1700s, the Jesuits moved production from Coahuila (home to the oldest existing winery Casa Madero) and moved to Baja where priest Juan de Jugarte is credited for founding the Mision de Santo Tomas. The grape planted was Criolla (the Mission grape, same as Pais in Chile). Later, the Dominicans set up in Guadalupe to form La Mision de Nuestra Seniora de Guadalupe de Norte, now known by simply the Valle de Guadalupe, the heart of modern Mexican wine production.
In 1857 after the War of Reform, the Catholics were stripped of their land and all holdings became property of the state. The Jesuit land was sold to a private investor, who founded the Bodegas Santo Tomas, Mexico’s first large scale winery.
In 1904, an influx of Russian Christian emigres, the Molokans (a.k.a. “Jumpers”) fled to Guadalupe to escape brutal persecution from the czar’s army. Because many of them had a farming background, they purchased land and dedicated a good portion of it to quality wine production. This inspired their neighbors and the area became known as a center of reputable viticulture.
The town of Ensenada, about 70 miles south of San Diego, is the focal point of Baja, which is divided into three regions:
*San Antonio de las Minas (which includes Guadalupe and Calafia)
*San Vincente Valley
*Santo Tomas Valley
The main grapes grown for reds in Baja are Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Grenache and Mission. White grapes are Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Palomino, Rieslin and Semillon.
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