These ancient grapes may be the future of wine – National Geographic

January 6, 2023 by No Comments

VALLE DE GUADALUPE, BAJA CALIFORNIA, MEXICOAt first glance, the neat rows of wiry grapevines planted in a pinwheel at the Viñas del Tigre vineyard in Baja California don’t seem remarkable. But to Aldo Quesada, the grower and winemaker, the rows are a map to the future.

On one side of the pinwheel, tempranillo, merlot, granache, and other classic wine grapes look withered and anemic. Over the past few years they have been baked by unprecedented heat waves and parched by record-breaking drought—the brutal new normal climate conditions here at the southernmost tip of North America’s wine-growing range.

But one row looks different. Quesada’s misión grapes, descendants of the first grape varietal carried to North America by Spanish missionaries 500 years ago (and called “mission” in English), are not just surviving but thriving. Lush, palm-sized leaves flutter in the salty sea breeze. Grapes left on the vine after the recent harvest are still plump and sweet. 

“This is an absolutely amazing grape, really really strong,” says Quesada. And because of that vigor, they’re a key part of his and other local winemakers’ plans to make wine in an even more climate-changed future.

The mission of misión

Quesada is young—in his early 30s, and relatively green in the wine world—but the vines he’s working with are very, very old.

Mission grapes evolved in the high, dry steppes of central Spain’s Castilla la Mancha region and were grown in Spanish missions. Hardy, drought tolerant, and vigorous growers, they were a natural choice to load onto Spanish explorers’ ships headed to the New World in the early 1500s.

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Left: Quesada is one of several young winemakers in Baja who is experimenting with misión grapes. A deepening drought and water crisis prompted him and others to find grapes that could survive hotter, drier conditions.

Right: Misión grapes ready for harvest at Viñas del Tigre. Quesada aims for a circular form of agriculture where nearly everything is integrated back into the vineyard. Pressed grapes and other organic waste is composted; sheep are fed with grape stems; and the vineyard is cultivated with agave, fruit trees, herbs, and more.

The explorers were not about to leave beloved wine and wine grapes behind. Wine played a critical part in …….



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