Of course, it’s entirely coincidental that the Latin American section of our journey should start by uncorking a few bottles in Argentina’s Mendoza desert wine-lands, and go on to terminate in Mexico’s Baja California, amongst the vineyards of the Valley of Guadalupe, a similar environment. After 3 years and 70,000 kilometres ( 44,000 miles) we have arrived at the northern frontier of Latin America – San Diego lies 50 kilometres across the Tecate border … the USA beckons. Having got this far we feel a small celebration is in order. And so before we leave Mexico, it’s only correct to bring this leg of our journey to a close with a few glasses of the local wine. Perhaps we’ll start with L A Cetto’s very drinkable Sauvignon Blanc, followed by a glass or two of the extremely good Monte Xanic merlot … and … uhm … what about finishing with that dessert wine from Chateau Camou?
When Hernan Cortés set sail on his conquest of Mexico in 1518, it didn’t take long to deplete their stock of wine; for Cortés, living up to the Indians’ prophecy concerning the arrival of a bearded white god was thirsty work. And whilst the locals already cultivated a variety of grape for eating, as a source of tolerable intoxication the Spaniards considered it no match against the vines of Rioja. Soon enough boat-loads of vines arrived from the “old country”, along with those hardy missionaries sent to tame the savages. And who could match the dedication of the clergy when it came to the production of wine – after all, if a priest was good for anything it was a hearty confession and a goblet of plonk. Before long the conquistadores flagons were once again overflowing. In fact, production in the vineyards of New Spain as a whole was so successful that by the 17th century competition from the colonies caused a plummet in Spanish wine exports to America. In 1699, Charles II, the ineffectual king of Spain, banned further wine production in the Spanish colonies, though beyond the borders of Spain no one was listening to the edicts of “El Hechizado” (the bewitched), least of all the Jesuit priest Juan Ugarte, who is said to have planted the first vines in Baja California back in 1771. And he was right to have done so, for by the close of 1770 Charles was already dead, dismissed as a man possessed of ‘ … a peppercorn-sized heart, corroded lungs and a head full of water.’ By 1791 the vineyard of Santo Tomas mission, founded in Baja California by the Jesuits, was in full production. Today, Baja California produces 90% of Mexico’s wine. According to our guidebook there are 89 vineyards around the coastal town of Ensenada and in recent years they have won more than 400 awards at various international fairs.