by Fred McMillin
for December 2, 1998


Hernan Cortes,
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).

Story Vineyard 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 quite well. 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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