Chihuahua is a Mexican state in which viticulture has not yet developed to its full potential, although there is a lot of potential in the area. As of yet, there are only a handful of established vineyards and producers, although state initiatives are changing this, and the region has much hope for the future to strengthen its economy through wine production. The estimated production of the state in 2013 was approximately 75,000 crates, putting it in fourth place out of Mexican states behind Baja California, Coahuila, and Querétaro, while ahead of Aguascalientes by some 10,000 crates (Consejo Mexicano Vitivinícola). Despite constrained water resources in certain areas, the state has a reputation for fruit production, although production is progressively looking toward grapes, as they require significantly less water than is required for other fruits. That fact plus the higher market price of gapes have been significant factors in driving the wine industry in the state.
While the state does not have the same history of viticulture as do other states in central Mexico, that does not mean that it does not have potential. Modern-day viticulture in Chihuahua started in the 1940s with vineyards that were mostly directed at the production of brandy. In the 1960s, artisan wine production began to develop, although it wasn’t until the 1990s that this became more entrenched, and in reality, it wasn’t until just recently that people began to institutionally recognize the potential of the area for making wine.
When talking about Chihuahua, it is important to mention the efforts of the Clúster de Vino and later the Sistema Producto Vid, initiatives in conjunction between the government and producers, which have helped to establish the currently growing industry in the state today. These were established in 2010, so they are still more or less recent initiatives. The Clúster led to the importation of more than 50,000 vitis vinifera plants into the state from Chile and Argentina, as well as an educational program in which Mexicans involved in production were sent to those countries for education.
Today, the Sistema Producto Vid encompasses 32 producers and 3 bodegas, and it is indisputable that this development has had a positive effect on the industry of the state.
Climate and Geography
Chihuahua is the largest state in Mexico, and therefore is home to a variety of climates due to its vast size and its diversity, ranging from sand dune deserts to conifer forests, including a range of climates between subtropical and hot desert. It is a continental region located on the Mexican central plateau, in which the most humid parts of the state are located on its western side where the Sierra Madre Occidental catches humidity from the Sea of Cortes in its rain shadow, while the most desertic parts are located to the east, getting drier the father east of the mountains you go. Both of the wine producing regions of the state, Delicias and the Valle de Encinillas, are located in the semi-arid middle portion. The region has more than enough sunshine, but sufficient water resources can be a challenge in certain areas.
Another noteworthy aspect of viticulture in Chihuahua is its altitude. Both of its important wine producing regions are at around 1,500 m altitude, which is significant for wine production. However, in many ways this constitutes the reason behind why viticulture is possible in the area, considering that without this high altitude, temperatures would quite possibly be too high for grape production, and in particular in Delicias, which is slightly farther south than Encinillas, at a latitude of 28 degrees north, outside of the typical range of 30 to 50 degrees ideal for grape production.
Currently, the two main regions of wine production in Chihuahua are Delicias and the Valle de Encinillas, although other regions are emerging. In fact, geological and meteorological surveys of the state indicate that there are at least 15 regions appropriate for viticulture, including regions ranging from I to V on the Winkler scale, which is indicative of the diversity of regions within the single state. Nonetheless, the state’s wine producing regions are in the semi-arid portion of the state, which is also characterized by rains during the summer season, which may constitute a challenge for wine production.
Delicias is the oldest grape growing region in Chihuahua, with production dating back to the 1940s. The climate in Delicias is semi-arid continental, and is characterized by its hot days and cool nights. It receives 334 mm of annual rainfall, mainly from June to September. The average altitude across the municipality is 1415 m. Today, production in the area is currently being revived, in particular by Bodegas Pinesque, which has had a pivotal role in initiatives to develop the industry in the state, as well as luxury producer Cavall 7, which is distinguished for its attempt to solely focus on extremely expensive premium wine, which despite being a very recent endeavor, has helped to provide the state with the image of premium wine producer that it is starting to benefit from today.
Valle de Encinillas
This is another important wine producing region in the state. It also has a semi-arid climate and is located at a high altitude of approximately 1,500 m above sea level. This production area is monopolized by Bodegas Encinillas, another premium wine producer from the region, and which has won multiple awards for its wines. Once a gigantic hacienda of colonial proportions established in the 1700s, the property was repurchased in the 1970s, but it wasn’t until 2004 that the first vineyards were planted on the property. Encinillas is somewhat further north than Delicias, and its latitude is similar to that of the main Mexican wine growing region near Ensenada, Baja California.
Sierra de Tarahumara
Not known as a wine production region, this mountainous region along the Barrancas del Cobre route is home to a small, botique hotel with vineyards, called the Hotel Misión Cerocahui. As the site of a former misión, this hacienda-hotel was planted with vineyards by the Jesuits on their travels up towards the United States, and these vines were recently restored by the ownership to reestablish production in the area, making it a unique location.
Another minor wine-producing region in the state is the area around the population of Cuauhtemoc, about 50 km to the west of the state capital, home to the vineyards of Hacienda Bustillos, one of the highest-altitude producers in the country.
For the future, the Sistema Producto Vid and other initiatives aim to increase wine production in the area. However, it remains to be seen what the effects of this will be, considering that these initiatives are only six years old whereas it takes several years to properly establish a vineyard and successfully complete the vinification process. For the time being, the state remains an area with much positive potential that cannot be underestimated in its contribution to Mexican wine in general.
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