Good Old Fashioned Mexican Common Sense

Janice Fuhrman reports via Decanter that a proposal to create an appellation system for Mexico’s major wine production regions has not been embraced by the very folks the system would effect: the winemakers.

What’s interesting about the story is that it suggests the proposal would  actually create regulations for HOW wine can be made under the appellation system, an approach that takes its cues from European appellation system, rather than from the nearby American appellation system that merely attempts to identify the unique characteristics of a defined area.

I’ve had a variety of Mexican wines over the years and have been very pleasantly surprised nearly every time. My surprise at the quality is probably an indication of my own prejudice than anything else. However, I do know this:

If the Mexicans want to severely hinder the development of their wine industry then they should definitely adopt a European approach to Appellations.

Unlike the American system, the European approach to appellation maintenance stresses regulating which grapes may be used if the bottling is allowed to carry the name of the appellation. In addition, appellation rules often determine exactly how the wine can be made. This is an incredibly conservative approach meant to protect very old  observations and experiences with grapegrowing in a region. Does anyone really believe that only Chardonnay and Pinot noir can produce great wine in Burgundy? Is it really possible that great tasting wine from Bordeaux can only be produced by using Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Merlot?

On the other hand, were the Mexicans to adopt a form of the American AVA system where a region is simply recognized for it’s unique climatic, geographic and (perhaps) soil properties and where wines made from grapes grown entirely within the boundaries of the appellation can carry the name of the appellation, then the Mexican wineries would have something else and something to interesting to hang their hat upon.

However, would recommend that if the American approach is considered that some special care be taken:

–Keep the size of the appellations as small as possible to preserve the integrity of the idea that specific climate and soil characteristics make a difference in a wine

–Avoid the temptation to create larger appellations that encompass smaller appellations and thereby strip both the large and small appellations of any meaning.

–Create rules that demand 100% of the grapes in a wine come from a specific appellation in order to use the appellation on their label.

–Hire Wark Communications to spread the word of the uniqueness and potential of these new Mexican appellations (this part is not absolutely necessary to be part of the rules and regulations of a Mexican appellation system.)

I’m not too worried that the Mexicans will jump in feet first to a European model for appellations. Their winemakers appear to understand its liabilities:

"We are still in the first steps of our wine industry,’ said Hugo
D’Acosta, leader of the Guadalupe Valley Vintners Association and
winemaker for top labels including Casa de Piedra and Paralelo. ‘You
should not say how wine should be made when we are still exploring. If
DOs were instituted, we would lose freedoms at this most important time
of our wine industry."


8 Responses

  1. dfredman - August 14, 2008

    Hugo D’Acosta is the Andre Tchelistcheff of Baja wine and I’d be inclined to follow his lead. Of equal importance to defining the DOs would be to work out the kinks in their export regulations. We don’t see a lot of Mexican wine here (with a tip o’ the hat to Fountain of Wayne) because the tariffs are so prohibitive that there’s little incentive to the wineries to invest the time and effort (not to mention the dinero) necessary to get the wines into the USA. It’s a lot easier for the wineries to sell via their cellar door or to local restaurants and retailers.

  2. The Wine Commonsewer - August 14, 2008

    Great post and some excellent advice, Tom.
    Had the good fortune to attend a conference with Mrs TWC in Cabo two years ago. The whole thing was luxury on toast, but the Mexican wine that was served was stunning.
    Best of all, there were three waiters personally assigned to me who knew just enough English to say “Oh, Senor, you look like you need another glass of wine”. I love to be pampered.
    I didn’t even know there was Mexican wine. To-Kill-Ya? Yes. Cerveza? Yes. Coke made with real sugar in returnable glass bottles? Yes. Cabernet? No.
    Then it turns out that the very first vineyard in North America was planted in Mexico. Makes sense when you think about it.

  3. Thomas Pellechia - August 15, 2008

    Not that I don’t agree with the sentiment you express, but I take issue with the possibility of importance to the USA AVA system that recognizes for “unique climatic, geographic and (perhaps) soil properties.”
    Yes, the system recognizes, but the consumer is told nothing about AVA recognition as it relates to its effects on the wine. The result being, AVA on the label is a marketing device–not that it shouldn’t be, only that, beyond where the grapes were grown, it really doesn’t say anything else about the wine in the bottle.

  4. Fredric Koeppel - August 15, 2008

    and here’s a question that’s a little off topic but has something to do with appellations. I was in Indiana a couple of weeks ago (the Hoosiers have grocery store wine sales) and was looking through a selection of products from the state’s wineries and every label I looked at said “For sale only in Indiana.” what’s up with that?

  5. Thomas Pellechia - August 15, 2008

    If producers sell the wine only within their state they don’t have to identify the wine’s appellation. What that usually means is that the appellation is not within their state.
    It’s just another reason not to trust the system as any sort of guarantee.

  6. David Harden - August 15, 2008

    Thomas, I’m not quite clear… Does that imply they are sourcing grapes from outside the state?

  7. Thomas Pellechia - August 15, 2008


  8. Gretchen Roberts - August 20, 2008

    Tom, one good thing that can be said for the European system is that it sets up expectations. In U.S. appellations, who knows what you’ll get–and more importantly, if it should be grown there.
    Still, I agree that Mexico is too fledgling an industry to set rigid rules for itself right now.

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