A recent article in the New York Times tells of Mexican winemakers getting established in northern California. No surprise. Their families have picked grapes, worked cellars, and grown accustomed to the entire wine production cycle over decades. Wine has also been made in Mexico since Cortés the conquistador planted grapevines throughout the land he and his men plundered in the early 1500s.
Over a year ago my friend Les Kellen, who runs Villa St. Simon and gives wine tours in the Bordeaux region of France, put me in contact with recent guests who stayed with him. The couple, Hans and his wife Itzia operate Cantina Hussongs in Ensenada, Mexico, which has been open for over 120 years. They now also produce wine. Eight years ago I visited Hussongs in Ensenada for drinks and so – intrigued – I contacted Hans about his winemaking. He wrote back the following.
“Hi Tom – Glad to hear that you have visited us! And you are right, Les is a fantastic host. We had a really good time in Bordeaux and made a really good friend.
“The winery is called Bodegas San Rafael in honor of the valley where we are. This used to be called San Rafael valley and is now called Ojos Negros (Black Eyes) – hence the name of our premium line of wines. We started back in 2000. When we first started growing grapes, we used to have cattle, and planted whatever was in demand. One day my dad decided he wanted to make wine and planted 15 hectares of grapes, which proved to be a marvelous bet. We now have 25 hectares and are the only winery in that valley – which proved to be perfect for wine growing.
“Regarding celebrities that have visited us [Hussongs] – these include John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, Bing Crosby, U2 and Margarita Henckel, among the most famous. Margarita Henckel was the daughter of the German ambassador in the 1940s, and the ‘Margarita’ drink was named after her, invented right here in our bar by one of our bartenders in 1941.”
The winery operated by Hans and Itzia now produces wines from ten varieties of grapes. These wines made under the label Ojos Negros include single varietals with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Syrah.
The list below shows that the winemaker is also not afraid to be bold with blending: how often do winemakers in Mexico produce 100% Cabernet Franc?
Delirio – blend of Riesling, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc
Desseo Rose – 70% Syrah and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon
Euphoria – 100% Cabernet Franc
Alegria – 70% Tempranillo, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon
I have not yet tasted the wines. Someday. But Mexican wines look like fresh territory to explore.
And if you have no interest in the wines, here’s how to make a Margarita.