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.

Rural Mexico…a new frontier for wine country?

“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.

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  1. Thank you again Tom for your wonderful writing and delightful discoveries…I truly enjoy each and every one of them…
    Best regards! Alissa

    1. You are so welcome Alissa! You should let me know if there is any wine or subject you want me to focus on here – I would be happy to. Hope all is well in your sunny part of the world…keep in touch. 🙂 Tom

  2. Very cool! Learn something new everyday. I love margaritas and after my extended stay in Bordeaux am a big fan of blends. Would love to try some of these seasoned wines. Are they only available from the winery or is there another way to get my hands on some in NY?

  3. Hello Tom – this is very timely as I am off to a Mexican themed party in a couple of days. I will be scrutinising my hosts Margarita making skills!

    1. And your host will no doubt be scrutinizing whether your costume is appropriately ‘calypso’ or ‘rumba.’ Will you do as usual and bicycle to the party? Glad this information is timely and that you enjoyed the video Kate. Enjoy yourself…!

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