The influx of tourists raises fears for Mexico’s wine heart

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Guadalupe Valley (Mexico) (AFP) – When Pau Pijoan began making wine in Mexico’s Guadalupe Valley, it was home to more than a dozen producers. Two decades later, he fears she will become a victim of her own success.

The growing popularity of Mexico’s wine hub in Baja California has led to an influx of tourists – and with them the proliferation of hotels, restaurants, and other developments.

“When I bought land, there were 15 to 18 wine producers. Today, there are over 200,” said Bijuan, a vet by trade.

“We are responsible for this brutal and uncontrolled growth typical of Mexico,” he said.

Mexico, famous for its tequila and mezcal spirits, ranks 35th among the world’s wine producers, according to the International Organization for Vine and Wine (OIV).

The Guadalupe Valley produces about three-quarters of the country’s wine, but the wineries fear for the future of their scenic corner of northwest Mexico due to tourism and climate change.

They have launched a campaign called “Let’s Save the Valley,” warning that discos, concerts and other fun activities threaten grape-bearing vines including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay.

The Guadalupe Valley produces 75 percent of Mexican wine, but vintners fear for the future of their scenic corner in northwest Mexico.
The Guadalupe Valley produces 75 percent of Mexican wine, but vintners fear for the future of their scenic corner in northwest Mexico. Guillermo Arias, AFP

“Between 2014 and 2019, we lost 18 percent of agricultural land. If we continue this trend, there will be no more arable land in 2037,” they said.

They added that the Guadalupe Valley should not become a new Tulum, referring to a once sleepy fishing village on the Yucatan Peninsula that has become a tourist attraction.

“Something intriguing is happening in the valley: agricultural activity combines with tourism activity, which is not always the case,” said Kiko Nishikawa, a spokeswoman for the Santo Tomas vineyard.

“How can we balance this? It is clear that we wineries are jointly responsible for what is happening,” she added.

Some restaurants and nightlife spots in the area “serve everything but local wine,” Nishikawa said.

Industry Challenges

The warnings come as Mexico prepares to host the 43rd World Conference on Vine and Wine, as well as the OIV General Assembly, starting Monday.

Before the week-long meeting in Baja California, the organizers symbolically announced that Ukraine would become the 49th member country.

Mexican winemaker Pau Pijoan has undergone major changes in the two decades he has lived in the Guadalupe Valley
Mexican winemaker Pau Pijoan has undergone major changes in the two decades he has lived in the Guadalupe Valley Guillermo Arias, AFP

The fallout from the Russian invasion affected the global wine market, after the pandemic saw a boom in online sales.

“Supplies – such as bottle caps – arrive later and are more expensive,” said Pau Roca, general manager of OIV.

However, he feels “some optimism” about the future of the industry.

“We are emerging from crises very quickly, much more so than the 2008 economic crisis that was long,” Roca said.

OIV hopes that new technologies will enable producers to meet economic and climate challenges.

Wine growers have a large amount of data “produced by sensors in the vineyards,” Rocca said.

People attend a food and wine festival on a vineyard in Mexico's Guadalupe Valley
People attend a food and wine festival on a vineyard in Mexico’s Guadalupe Valley Guillermo Arias, AFP

“We are not able to integrate them into our decision-making process,” he added. “Artificial intelligence can help us.”

In Argentina, Cuyo National University is working on a program to “improve crop diagnostics” using machine learning, a type of artificial intelligence.

In the Guadalupe Valley, the prospect of worsening water scarcity is of interest to locals and winemakers.

“It’s good that everyone wants to build their own house, but they should also take care of the water because we are almost out,” said Luisa Guerrero, 38, a resident of the area.

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