Coahuila

A state with a unique wine history in Mexico and the world…

Above all else, Coahuila is important in terms of viticulture in Mexico because it is home to the oldest vineyard in the country as well as in all of the Americas. While it wasn’t the first place where the Spanish planted grapes in the country after arriving, it is the oldest region in which viticulture has been continuously practiced at a single establishment, from the founding of Casa Madero in 1597 (Vinícola San Lorenzo at the time) up until today. Today, the state produces a variety of different wines, including sweet wines, fortified wines and high-quality dry wines, as well as other distilled beverages made from grapes, giving it an industry that is very hard to generalize.

History

Church at Casa Madero
The historic original church of Santa Maria de las Parras, at the side of modern-day Casa Madero, decked out for the vendimia celebration.

Viticulture in Coahuila started upon the arrival of European explorers in the region in the mid-1500s, who stumbled upon the Parras region while searching for gold and precious metals. The town of Parras de la Fuente, at the time an indigenous population, was surrounded by multiple oases, which was a very important aspect for the development of agriculture in the desert region of northern Mexico. In addition, the region was home to a species of grapevine native to the Americas, which from the beginning signaled that it would be an excellent place for viticulture in particular.

In 1597, Casa Madero was founded following a donation of land from King Philip II of Spain for the purpose of the production of grapes for wine and brandy in the New World. The following year, the Misión Santa María de Parras was re-founded (the first mission had to be abandoned due to resistance from the indigenous population) to evangelize the area as well as to expand Christianity in the colony. This establishment was later an essential factor in the continued history of wine production of the establishment, as in 1699, Charles II of Spain prohibited the production of wine in New World colonies for fear of it competing with Spanish wines, with the sole exception of wine produced for religious purposes. For this sole reason, the Parras Valley was able to maintain its winemaking tradition, albeit on a much smaller scale, up until the lifting of this prohibition at the time of Mexican independence.

It is also important to note that the state has a long history of preparing other beverages made from grapes, including fortified wines, brandy, and aguardiente, which still continue today alongside the production of dry wines.

Bodegas del Perote, Parras, Coahuila
Bodegas del Perote, a historic producer of aguardientes and wines in Parras, Coahuila.

Regions

Valle de Parras

The state of Coahuila has multiple winemaking regions. Considering its history and volume, the most well-known region of the state is the Valle de Parras. As mentioned above, Parras is a veritable oasis in the middle of the desert, which is moreover at an average of approximately 1,500 m altitude. The region of the surrounding municipality is subject to multiple microclimates, and in particular around the town of Parras de la Fuente, the climate is temperate and semi-arid. It is characterized by some rain during the summer months and drought during the winter months, which is compensated for by the abundance of spring water in the area. The region is located at a latitude of 25°, which if it weren’t for its high-altitude microclimate, would likely result in temperatures too hot for the production of quality wine.

The Valle de Parras is the home to multiple vineyards, and Casa Madero is without a doubt the most famous of these. It is the state’s largest wine producer with a variety of white, rosé and red wines, as well as a late harvest dessert wine. while it has too many products to list here, it is worth mentioning its V, 2V and 3V product line, the latter of which is the most sold red wine in Mexico. In terms of particular quality, its Casa Grande Chardonnay is a great example of the varietal in MLF style. It also has a selection of premium red wines, the majority of which have spent 24 months in oak, of which it is worth noting its Casa Grande Shiraz. However, despite the winery’s volume, Casa Madero carries out the entire vinification process as well as bottling on-site at its winery in Parras, which is a very rare occurrence among the largest wine producers in Mexico, and which shows that it is focused on quality.

Patron Saint of Parras
At Casa Madero, the patron saint of Parras, holding a grape vine under a decorative roof of native American vines.

Shadowed by the specter of its historical neighbor, Rivero Gonzalez is a boutique winery also located in the town of Parras. It has two product lines, one of which is sold under the brand Scielo (its lower-range offering), as well as its premium line sold under the name Rivero Gonzalez, with a blanc de noirs made from Cabernet Sauvignon, a rosé made from Merlot as well as its flagship wine, the Rivero Gonzalez Tinto, a Bordeaux blend and one of our favorite Mexican red wines.

Also in Parras is Bodegas de Perote, which has been dedicated to producing fortified wines, brandy and other distilled beverages for more than 400 years. This production of fortified and sweet beverages has been historically important and continues today in the area, such as in the case of Segovia Fuantos, which since 1922 has been producing artisan sweet and fortified wines. Another producer of fortified wines in the town is El Vesubio.

Valle del Tunal

Also located in the municipality of Parras but not in the Valle de Parras itself are the vineyards of Don Leo, located in the Valle del Tunal some 35 km to the southeast of Parras de la Fuente. This is the one of highest altitude producers in the state, at an exceptional altitude of 2,100 m above sea level, towering a full 600 meters above nearby Parras. Don Leo is wedged between mountains, and this high altitude combined with the surrounding mountains provides cool climate conditions, allowing it to produce an excellent-quality Pinot Noir with potent acidity, which is a rarity in Mexico. In addition, it also produces a noteworthy Sauvignon Blanc as well as multiple other red varieties, including Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Coahuila desert scenes on the way to Don Leo
Typical desert scene between Parras de la Fuente and the Valle de Tunal, with bare, arid mountains.

Sierra de Arteaga

The region of the Sierra de Arteaga, located in the mountains about half an hour from the city of Saltillo, is home to the highest altitude vineyards in the country (that are currently producing wine), and is a very cool region (for Mexico) characterized by the presence of the pine forests in the area. The two producers here are Bodegas del Viento and Bodegas Los Cedros, both of which share the same enologist, José Trillo. Both of them are producing very interesting examples of Pinot Noir with excellent acidity in a country where this grape very rarely provides good results.

Bodegas Los Cedros also produces a very interesting Malbec, along with a white wine made from Chardonnay and a rosé from Shiraz and Malbec. It has been around since 2012, although its wines are just starting to pop up in other parts of Mexico.

Bodegas del Viento was founded in 1998, and like its neighbor Los Cedros, focuses on the production of cool-climate premium wines. It has a rosé made from a blend of red grapes, as well as a Merlot that is worth mentioning obviously in addition to the above-mentioned excellent Pinot Noir!

Overall, the Sierra de Arteaga is certainly a region to keep in mind in the future, as the acidity of the wines being produced here is unparalleled in the rest of Mexico.

Bodegas del Viento, Coahuila
A selection of elegant wines from producer Bodegas del Viento, in the cool-climate region of the Sierra de Arteaga, Coahuila.

Cuatro Ciénagas

Another important wine producing region in the state of Coahuila is Cuatro Ciénagas. This region is located some 200 km to the north of the Valle de Parras, in the municipality of the same name. It is located at a significantly lower altitude of approximately 750 m on average. It is also home to oases in the desert, which feed the characteristic swamps for which the area was named. The area receives rain during the summer months and is dry during the winter, with hot summers that can easily reach an average high of over 30°.

This region is home to the second largest producer of wine in the state, Bodegas Ferriño, founded in 1860 by Italian immigrants. It initially focused on the production of brandy but nowadays is best known for its production of the jug wine Sangre de Cristo, as well as a selection of other fortified wines. Another producer in the region is Bodegas Vitali, which also produces fortified wines.

Other Regions

To the southwest of the city of Saltillo is the Valle del Derramadero in the region of San Juan de la Vaquería, where the vineyard of the same name has been producing wine since 2008 in close collaboration with Casa Madero. The grapes are grown in this region while winemaking takes place in the cellars of Casa Madero. The ranch’s first harvest took place in 2010 with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes. This producer remains very small scale today, although knowledgeable people in the industry in Mexico speak much praise of its monovarietal Cabernet Sauvignon.

To the north of Saltillo, in an area not far from the town of Paredón, at Hacienda San Juan de Amargos, is another important wine producer, Bogedas Capellanía, which was founded in 1946 and a few years later became the first vineyards of the very well-known and mass-scale Mexican wine producer Pedro Domecq.

Much farther to the north in the state is the Valle de Fortín, where Vinos el Fortín, founded in 2008, is currently producing wine in a valley region bordered by two mountain ranges. Their goal is to produce a high-quality wine from typical Bordeaux varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec.

Conclusion

As a state, it is important to note that Coahuila has a varied style of wine production. While on one hand multiple producers are dedicated to producing mass-production or sweet wines that are directed at a lower price point and in many cases a Mexican clientele less accustomed to the “intensity” of dry wines, there are other producers who focus on producing excellent-quality dry red and white wines. The production of fortified wines and other beverages distilled from grapes is also significant in the state both currently and historically. An important aspect of the geography of this state – even more so than in other parts of Central Mexico – is often its altitude, making it one of the few places in Mexico where quality Pinot Noir is being produced.  Because of this unique location combined with the potential international prestige of its unparalleled winemaking history, Coahuila’s wine industry is certainly worth keeping an eye on.

Iglesia del Santo Madero
A landmark church in Parras, the Iglesia del Santo Madero, with a more interesting terroir, with a limestone outcropping on top of slate…

Sources:

Bodegas del Viento. http://www.bodegasdelviento.com

Bodegas Los Cedros. https://anagrama.com/project/bodega-los-cedros

Corona Páez, Sergio Antonio. “La vitivinicultura en el pueblo de Santa María de las Parras. Producción de vinos, vinagres y aguardientes bajo el paradigma andaluz (siglos XVII y XVIII)”. Ayuntamiento de Torreón 2003-2005, Instituto Municipal de Documentación y Archivo Histórico Eduardo Guerra, Torreón, Coahuila, México, 2004, 357 http://sitio.lag.uia.mx/publico/seccionesuialaguna/vidauniversitaria/investigacioneshistoricas/ArcHistorico/loborampante/2.pdf [Recuperado 2 Feb 2017]

Estreicher, Stefan K. “A Brief History of Wine in Spain”. European Review, Vol. 21, No. 2, 209–239. Online: Accessed Feb 8, 2017.

Guzmán Peredo, Miguel. “Breve historia del vino en México.” Afuegolento. Aug 2, 2012. http://www.afuegolento.com/articulos/868/breve-historia-del-vino-en-mexico [Recuperado 2 Feb 2017]

“La ruta del vino”. SEDETUR Coahuila. N/F. http://sedeturcoahuila.gob.mx/mun/Ruta%20del%20Vino.pdf

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