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Friday, December 5, 2014

L.A. Cetto - A Brief History of the Mexican winery

December is L.A. Cetto Month thanks to International Spirits and Wine!

Don Angelo Cetto
Don Angelo Cetto (Chet-toe) was born near Trento, the capital city of Trentino, Italy. He survived the first World War and immigrated to Mexico in 1924. Four years later he was using the skills he had learned in the old country to plant vines in Baja California, the Mexican state south of the USA's California. 

Mexico couldn't be any different from his homeland, however. Trentino is cold as ice with infamously fast and chilly winds while Mexico is, well, hot as hell. Although Angelo's mission was to make warmer climate Mediterranean style wines instead of Trentino style wines, there were growing pains.

Poor grape quality was one obstacle he had to overcome, and he found himself releasing his first wines as fortified ones in 1930. He offered quality sherry and port style wines from those low quality grapes, becoming a hit with locals and Prohibition America. The money made from those early fortified wines allowed him to branch out and make the wines he intended to make in Valle de Guadalupe.

Guadalupe Valley is in the Ensenada region of Baja California. The area is cooled by the Pacific and the foggy mornings also cool the grapes to keep them balanced, while the hot days bring plenty of structure to the wine that will be produced. It's so dry that pests are rarely a problem, and the lack of water also forces the roots to dig deep to survive. The soil is mostly sand, a favorite of Cabernet Sauvignon. You can read more about Guadalupe Valley and the history of Mexican wine in "Mexico makes wine too, muchacho".

L.A. Cetto vineyard sign
Don Luis Augustin Cetto followed in his father's footsteps by taking over the winery when Don Angelo retired, and in 1963 he decided to get modern. He used new techniques in the vineyard and in winemaking, as well as new equipment. He experimented with different varietals in different locations, trying to understand the land and find what could possibly work best in Guadalupe Valley.

In 1965 the young Italian winemaker Camillo Magoni was invited to the winery. Magoni was born and raised in Piedmont so it's no surprise that his specialty and obsession was Nebbiolo (the grape used for Barolo and Barbaresco). It had been established that Nebbiolo was a homebody and never made worthwhile wine anwhere besides Piedmont, where it arguably creates the best wine in the world, and a few places in Lombardy. But Magoni saw something special in Mexico and he believed it could break that rule. He was hired by the Cetto family as winemaker.

When things were all sorted out to Luis Augustin's liking he established the L.A. Cetto brand in 1975, naming it after his father, and built the winery building that stands today. In the 1980's he started buying up land and other wineries to expand operations, swiftly becoming the leader in Mexican wine.

Luis Alberto Cetto is the third generation of the Cetto family winery. He took his first steps as a baby in the vineyards and now he runs the operation, keeping with the traditions of his grandfather while also staying up to speed with modern winemaking and viticulture like his father. It has become very important to him that wine culture spreads in Mexico. He travels across the country mentoring smaller wineries, trying to improve vineyard and winemaking practices in other places, and bringing vineyards and wineries to new ones. His father, Luis Augustin, still owns the company and Camillo Magoni is still the winemaker.

L.A. Cetto Winemaker Camillo Magoni
It turns out Magoni was totally right when it came to his vision of Mexican Nebbiolo. L.A. Cetto's Private Reserve Nebbiolo is world renowned. Paul Hobbs claimed it to be one of the top 25 Nebbiolo's in the world, with the other 24 coming from Piedmont.

Today L.A. Cetto is the largest wine producer and vineyard owner in Mexico, owning 1600 hectares of land. They produce five different labels, including a line titled Casa Magoni, and 60% of their wines are exported to 27 different international markets. They've won awards in 25 of those countries and a total 132 international prizes.

The trip to the winery is almost like a tour of their original vineyards. It's a long drive down a dirt road, grapevines on either side, until you reach your destination. The winery is very modern with plenty of food and tastings, patios for relaxing in the shade, and a bilingual staff. I've got to get there some day.

- Joey Casco, CSW

Feel free to follow the links below to learn more about the wines of Mexico and read my reviews of L.A. Cetto's wines.

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