Visiting the Queretaro Wine and Cheese Route in Mexico
And now for something completely different
Thomas Patrick Gibson Castañeda
Photo: Peña de Bernal © Vinaltura
Wednesday 02 February 2022
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The vendimia wine harvest festivals I went to in my childhood were so much fun. I remember a big tent, stands around it, and a lush vineyard surrounding everything. On the stage, dancers and musicians performed, and brave visitors had the chance to sing. Stand-up comedians made their appearances later on. The abundance of food, live music, and the affluence of people made the events joyous celebrations. When thousands of bottles had been opened, I remember collecting as many corks as I could with my friend Manuel. It was not only fun, but adults told us we were good children by doing so, and we would not get those sorts of comments very often.
At the time, I didn’t have a real interest in wine, just the curiosity to know what grape treading feels like (which I’ve never stopped feeling curious about). I didn’t know that wine tourism would become a major trend in our region of Mexico. Without doubt, the vendimia was a catalyst for the growth of the wine industry in Queretaro.
Freixenet, the winery where the first events occurred, was not the first to produce wine in the region, but it was the first to promote wine tourism in Queretaro.
“They had a good element with them, María Baró, who was a visionary of enotourism in Queretaro,” says Valentina Garza, director and associate of the school of wine EVA. “They were the first to have a vendimia party, and we all followed.”
The EVA school of wine is located in what once was the largest textile factory in Queretaro, Hércules, now housing various enterprises, including a brewery. The building dates back to the first half of the nineteenth century, and although it has been restored, it feels historic. Time has surely made it more beautiful.
When I was making my way to the site, a bus suddenly came towards me. Was I on the wrong side of the road?
“It’s part of the charm,” says Valentina with a lovely chuckle when I explained my dangerous journey to her. The old textile factory’s surrounding neighbourhood, named Hércules after the factory, remains a town of its own, partly secluded from the city, inside a canyon. With its history, tradition, and bright flourishes of urban art, it’s charming.
“Wine is a very complex drink,” she tells me. “So many things can be read through a cup of wine that it deserves special attention. The climate, the soil, the variety. And then all of the magic that is made in a bodega. Even a single wine can be perceived differently depending on the maridaje.”
Maridaje means “pairing”. It is the proper correspondence of two or more things, and it is what Valentina considers a key aspect of wine in general.
“Wine is a drink to be shared. With another person or with a good book, a movie, the beach, or whatever you want. I feel it is a drink of maridajes, and definitely my favourite pairing is with the people I love.”
In Queretaro, the regional wine finds an ideal pair in locally made cheese. The municipalities that comprise the wine region of Queretaro are also home to the sheep, goats and cows from which very good, hugely varied cheeses are produced.
The occurrence of these two industries in the region has led to the creation of the Wine & Cheese Route of Queretaro and the yearly National Wine & Cheese Festival.
The festival, which takes place in Tequisquiapan, also features concerts by some of the top groups and artists in Mexico. Understandably – cheese, wine, great music – the event has become incredibly popular.
At different points along the route, various events occur throughout the year where a wide variety of unique wines are poured for tasting, showing off their individual characters.
“Conditions in Queretaro are very different from any other place I know, making the wines very particular,” says Valentina.
“They have demonstrated to be of spectacular quality. Some have been awarded at international competitions such as the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles, Sélections Mondiales des Vins Canadá and others.”
I tell Valentina about those events I went to when I was a child; how I remember that people treading the grapes said their feet remained purple for days regardless of washing. I ask whether grape treading at the events is merely symbolic of how things were once done.
“It is how it used to be done traditionally, but it is still applied,” she explains. “Wine is modernity and tradition.”
“The truth is that grape treading works for certain types and quantities of wine, so why not keep the tradition alive? We do not want to lose the human and romantic aspect of wine making.”
While conserving traditions is important, in Queretaro there has not been a continuous or strict preservation. This allows for the creation of new traditions and the revival of antique traditions for years to come.
Valentina recognizes the need to enrich and diversify the growing wine culture of Queretaro. She explains that wine, having a foreign origin, is often exclusively associated with food from other countries while she is convinced that wine can pair deliciously with Mexico’s traditional cuisine.
As Queretaro’s wine culture keeps growing, it is essential to keep the spirit of thankfulness that wine harvest festivals represent and pair the right elements to enjoy a most delicious combination – of joy and pleasure with the people you love.
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