Food producers in Querétaro plant seeds to develop industry
The state of Querétaro, in north-central Mexico, is finally starting to receive well-deserved attention for its wines.
The state’s vineyards have generally been eclipsed by Baja California, which currently accounts for around 90% of Mexico’s wine production, but they are booming and more Mexicans are learning to appreciate the alcoholic beverage. It also doesn’t hurt that its cottage cheese industry is growing as well.
It’s actually a bit of a surprise that Mexico doesn’t have a significant wine industry, given that it is the oldest wine region in the Americas. It dates back to 1524, when conquistador Hernán Cortés ordered the planting of vines.
One story – possibly apocryphal – claims that Cortés wanted them because in celebrating their victory over the Aztecs, he and his soldiers had drunk all the wine they had brought from Spain. Whatever the reason, the Spaniards obeyed his orders, and the resulting vineyards did so well that imports of wine from Spain fell sharply.
This angered the King of Spain, Charles II, and in 1699 he banned wine making in Mexico, exempting only sacramental wine from the Catholic Church. Although the ban was lifted after the Mexican War of Independence in 1821, Mexico’s wine industry continued to lag far behind its beer, tequila, and mezcal industries.
But the number of vineyards that are growing in Querétaro these days is a testament to an increased interest in Mexican wines.
The state’s first modern wineries were founded in the 1970s when Redonda and Freixenet wineries – two of the state’s largest – planted their vines. They did so despite the challenges they encountered in trying to establish wineries here.
On the one hand, there is the rain that arrives during the harvest season, which allows mildew to develop on the grapes.
“The mildew will pierce the grapes and ruin them,” said Tom Pence. He and his wife Tiffany have a total of 37 years of experience in the wine industry.
They moved to Querétaro just over three years ago and have spent much of that time learning about the state’s wineries. Tiffany has her own blog where she shares inside information about the vineyards, creameries and what else Querétaro has to offer.
In some years up to 30% of the crop can be lost due to late blight. Hail, which also occurs during the harvest season, can destroy the grapes.
To avoid such losses, Pence said: “The focus is on [growing] thick-skinned varieties – early maturing ones too.
Another problem is the presence of large volcanic rocks, which are widespread throughout the region.
“The vines will have a hard time growing and the grapes will be smaller,” Pence said. However, he added that smaller grapes will lead to wines which are more what he calls “classically European” wines which are “more elegant, have better acidity”.
Despite the challenges, Querétaro now has over 40 wineries.
Andrea Morena Durán worked in the wine industry for seven years and was manager of the Vinaltura winery for just over a year.
The first vines of Vinaltura were planted in 2014. Its first production was in 2017, and they now produce around 40,000 bottles of wine per year.
“We have a number of whites,” said Durán, “including sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc and riesling. White wines and sparkling wines do better because of the rain and the acidity. of the ground.
“We do small fermentations for better quality. We have three or four white harvests; we ferment them separately and then combine them.
This allows Vinaltura to produce the best possible white wines despite the challenges. “We have extreme weather conditions and high acidity [in the soil]”, she said,” and this is what gives the wines of Querétaro their particularity. “
Vinaltura also sells two rosés and six red wines but, like other wineries, in a more limited supply. Richard Hernández Jiménez, the Puerta del Lobo cellar sommelier for three years, explained why this is probably the case.
For reds like Cabernet, he said: “… the growing season is so long and the risk of hail is great. He has thick skin, so that’s good. But it takes too long to grow taller.
Hernández considers that part of his job is to educate Mexicans about wine. “It is very difficult to change the minds of Mexicans,” he said. “The wines are dry and the Mexican palate is used to sweet things, soda or strong things like tequila.”
He slowly brings in the new arrivals. “We start with the whites, the sweetest like Sauvignon Blanc, quite floral. Then we will move on to rosés made from Malbec or Syrah.
Finally, he might even be able to give them a taste of a red like Cabernet Sauvignon.
The artisanal cheese producers of Querétaro complement the state’s vineyards well and they also introduce Mexicans to something new. Cava de Quesos Bocanegro opened its doors eight years ago and initially only sold fresh cheeses.
“Basic Mexican cheeses like quesillo, manchego, queso frescoSaid Yakoe Nicol Tablado, son of the founder and director of the company. Then, six years ago, they built a It’s okay (cave) and started selling mature cheeses.
“It is difficult in Mexico to sell [them], “he said.” We are trying to introduce Mexicans … the flavors that Europeans really love. I think we are successful. “
Bocanegro offers a tasting that includes many of their cheeses, ranging from mild to strong flavors, and includes vegetables and bread. Local wines and beer are also available.
Isabel Esteve Denaives is a veterinarian who has a thing for certain animals. “I like goats,” she admitted. She owes it because she now has a herd of 75.
She had been selling goat milk for years, but struggled to earn enough money to keep going. So she decided to start making and selling cheese. Of Franco-Mexican origin, she spent a year in France learning how to make goat cheese.
Three years ago, she opened Queso La Biquette (goat is French for “little goat”), introducing Mexicans to something new.
“It’s not typical in Mexico to have this type of cheese,” Esteve said. “Cow cheese is part of Mexican cuisine; people cook with these cheeses. This cheese is more for the table. We are trying to educate Mexicans on how to eat this cheese and how to enjoy it.
Although she is not certified organic, Esteve said she does not use antibiotics or preservatives. “Our production is completely manual,” she said. “No machines.”
La Biquette also offers tastings with six types of goat cheese. The sweetest, and what most people think of when they think of goat cheese, is queso fresco and the strongest is the one called tomme, which has a strong, earthy flavor.
As wineries have grown, so have their offerings.
“Wine bars, restaurants, and wine and creamery tours started about four years ago,” Tiffany Pence said. They also have tastings.
• Querétaro has its official Art, Wine and Cheese Route which you can follow on your own, but there are also a number of companies that offer tours. You can find more information about its wineries at www.avq.com.mx.
Joseph Sorrentino, writer, photographer and author of the book San Gregorio Atlapulco: Cosmvisiones and Stinky Island Tales: Some Stories from an Italian-American Childhood, is a regular contributor to Mexico Daily News. You can find more examples of his photographs and links to other articles on www.sorrentinophotography.com He currently lives in Chipilo, Puebla.