Hans Backoff is credited with making the first premium wines in Mexico, with his state-of-the-art winery Monte Xanic. He has been making wine in Mexico for over 30 years and seen many of the great changes in the industry, starting when there were only a couple large wine producers and continuing to today’s premium-focused production with over 100 boutique producers. Amanda Barnes interviews him on the history and future of Mexican wine, and why he set out to prove Hugh Johnson wrong!
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Clip excerpt for the hearing impaired:
Amanda: And you lived in England for a period when you were doing your PHD, making fruit wines. And you said that you read something that Hugh Johnson had written and you wanted to prove him wrong! What did it say in the World Atlas of wine at the time, and what did you want to change?
Hans Backoff: Well it said that Mexico was too hot, to make good wines.
Amanda: And so how have you set out to kind of make, prove him wrong and prove the world of wine wrong, that actually Mexico can make good wines. What changes did you implement?
Hans Backoff: I think Mr Johnson was right in guessing that the area was difficult. Because Mexico, if you think about the stereotype of Mexico, Mexico is a hot country, everybody thinks it is a very hot country. But Mexico has mountains that you have snow, all year long. And this area is not an exception. This is an area that is ideal, weather wise is ideal, for good quality wines.
Amanda: Excellent. And what is unique about making wine here? What is the character of the wines you make here in your winery? If you were to blind taste it against wines from elsewhere in the world, how would you identify wines from Guadalupe?
Hans Backoff: It would be very interesting to make. Actually, it already happened that. People doesn’t believe that wine comes from Mexico, first. You have some varietals, I was telling you some time ago, that like Sauvignon Blanc that can produce fantastic wines. And also that the grape likes the area. Because it is not just quality but it is also durability, you know the plants how long they can live in an area. Because the area if they are able to survive. Then I like very much in whites the characteristic of Sauvignon Blanc. It has the characteristics of a very fruity wine, with tropical fruits, you are going to come with fruits that.. this is quite funny you know, but if you see a French book about wines you never read some of the characteristics that you can encounter here. For instance, experts in wine they will talk about tropical fruit you know. But over here you can say it tastes like guanába. Or like guanábana. Because it is very characteristic the flavour of these fruits, and they are there. But in a text book, you are never going to hear that.
Amanda: They are essentially Mexican!
Hans Backoff: No, they are there too. But they will… How many people do you know have tried a guanábana?
Amanda: Not many, I just tried my first guanábana now, about 3 hours ago!
Hans Backoff: Alright, then that’s what I mean. Do you understand what I mean? There is a lot of those fruits that they are there, but people doesn’t know them. And then they centralise that and they saw, oh it’s tropical fruits. But…
Amanda: But it is much more detailed than that.
Hans Backoff: It is much more detailed than that!