Friday, October 10, 2008

The Grand Old Man of Mexican Wines -- Casa Madero

In 1575, the Spanish Crown appointed governor of then-to-be state of Coahuila, and the founder of San Luis Potosi, his Excellency, the estimable Francisco de Urdinola. The good governor founded the first winery in the Parras (“grapevines”) Valley, and produced the first commercial wine in the Western Hemisphere. Although not Mr. Popular among the local indigenous population, we can raise a glass to ol’ Francisco for getting the ball rolling in Mexico.


Shortly thereafter, in 1597, Felipe II of Spain deeded a land grant to Don Lorenzo Garcia who founded the Hacienda de San Lorenzo. In the late 19th century, Don Evaristo Madero Elizondo bought the wine production of the Hacienda from its then French owners, and Casa Madero, the oldest surviving winery in the New World, was born. Today, Jose Milmo, the great, great grandson of Don Evaristo, continues the tradition. Happily, the hacienda and wine cellar structure have been preserved in their original beautiful condition.


The Parras Valley, (reputed to be one of the hideouts of Poncho Villa) sits at an elevation of about 5000 ft., and has the ideal climate for grape cultivation. Quite arid, with cool nights, and warm days, its mountain spring water creates an oasis for man and vine. Primarily red wine country, with low rainfall (only about 11in.annually, and only in the harvest months of June, July, and August), superb Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and Merlot are produced, and in the right hands, and with careful handling, delicate, delicious whites such as Chenin blanc, Chardonnay, and Semillon can wet your whistle nicely.


In the 70s the Milmo family, who had been producing grapes normally used in brandy, (and still do a brisk brandy business selling primarily to markets in northern Europe), began to replant some of the vineyards with popular varietals such as Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Most of the production each year still goes overseas, but Jose is anxious to shed the “Mexican Wine” label and actively markets more and more to restaurants. Currently, the product split is 60% brandies, 40% wine (thanks in no small part to Jose’s passion for wine!). 


The mid 70s however, were not kind to Jose and Casa Madero. The dreaded phylloxera insect, whose favorite breakfast, luncheon and dinner entrĂ©e are the roots of grapevines, virtually wiped out the vineyards over a period of time. So each year, about 100 acres were replanted with vines shoots grafted from European varieties which were free from infection. It wasn’t ‘til 2003 that all the vineyards were replanted, this time with more careful selection of varieties best adapted to the climate. Today, over 1000 acres, with highly sophisticated irrigation systems, organically produce over 350000 cases annually.   already making wine from indigenous vines at the Mission of Santa Maria

Since most Mexican wine drinkers favor European style wines, most Mexican wineries, including Casa Madero, tend to look to Bordeaux for stylistic inspiration. The Casa’s reds reflect that emphasis, with somewhat restrained and complex personalities of fruit and mineral tones. But I found the whites leaning Californian, with the fruit forward, fat, chewy flavors for which Napa, Sonoma, and the Russian River areas are known.


Today, Jose continues to push the envelope on quality. Each year, he invites winemakers from all over the world to spend a sabbatical summer at the winery to exchange ideas on ways to make the best wines possible. He is determined to improve his wines, increase his presence in the national market, and show Mexican consumers what Casa Madero is made of. Having met him, and sensing his commitment, I have no doubt he’ll do it.


“Summertime with wine and the living is easy”.


Dick Avery is the head sipper at VinoClubSMA, a wine club devoted to the enjoyment of “boutique” Mexican wines through free tastings. He can be reached at Visit the website


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