by Fred McMillin
for December 2, 1998
Died December Second, 1547
What was the Cortes connection with wine?
He, not Columbus, brought the first wine-making
vines to the New World. Why?
The Rest of the Story
"Cortes in particular was a man of fanatical
piety who had to be restrained by his own chaplains
from destruction of idols in Mexico City at
dangerous moments" (Hyams). For such a person
wine for mass was a necessity. There were native
grapes in this exciting new land. Frey Motolina
wrote that "In many places in the mountains there
are big wild grapevines. They grow out very long
shoots and bear many clusters. The grapes are
eaten green." The Spaniards tried to make wine
from them, but it was terrible. Consequently,
Cortes asked his father, Martin, to send cuttings
from Spain. They arrived about 1522. Two years
later a Mexico City ordinance specified that
all new Spanish settlers had to plant "1,000 vines
of the best quality available" (Unwin).
Those "best vines" were what we call today
in North America the Mission grape. It took 250
years for the missionaries to bring it to
California, where it dominated winemaking for
another century. The Story Winery in Amador
County, Sierra Foothills, still makes several
versions. It's turned out to be very popular
with wine enthusiasts...the winery even sells
Mission futures the last time we checked. To find
out what's available, phone co-proprietor Jan
Tichenor at (800) 713-6390.
While it was a big deal to have those first vines
arrive in Mexico City, the New World was responding
Almost the same year that the Mission grape arrived
in "New Spain," a new confection was sent back to
Europe...providing their first taste of Chocolate!
||About the Writer
Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history
for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine
courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College.
In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred
with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded
to American wine writers.
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