Organic Food in Mexico

By Lisa Sheppard Photos by Ian Gordon Sheppard
French Breakfast Radishes and Giant Red Mustard Greens Ian Gordon Sheppard
Organic food is not for the rich or ultra hip foodie.
It has broken out from its place among mung beans, goat milk yogurt, and ultra bran granola on the shelves of left-wing alternative markets. Some organic buyers wear Manolos while they drink lattes in trendy coffee bars or gaze at artfully arranged salads in posh restaurants. But mostly organic food is available at non-designer prices to all of us and plays a significant part in our daily pleasures, health, the environment, and our economic and social futures.

Why buy organic when it has a reputation for costing more, doesn’t look as shiny or evenly colored, and is generally smaller? First, because organically grown produce has more flavor, more vitamins and minerals, is generally in season, promotes heirloom varieties capable of reproducing without the aid of science, (remember the large white turkeys they breed for immense breast meat that can no longer walk or reproduce and develop large sores on their skin?) helps prevent the patenting and control of our food sources by huge conglomerates, and in the case of Fair Trade organizations directly benefit the grower and their community.

Why should you care about these things? We will assume that you would like to buy the best tasting, ripe, nutritional food with your hard-earned money. After all, based on the U.S. minimum wage an apple costs you 14 minutes of your working day. If you, like most North Americans, take a vitamin supplement you do so because you are afraid of not consuming them in your food. Eating healthier food means you don’t have to pay for dietary supplements. Personally I do not like eating a green hard peach or a plastic bag of two week-old preserved lettuce. Vitamins are like sand in an hour glass, the top half full of sand is lettuce freshly picked. As time ticks on the grains of sand leave the upper half of the glass much the same way vitamins diminish with time in your food, until there is very little left. I like my produce ripe especially fruit, as smell makes up half of your sense of taste. When was the last time you actually ate a ripe sweet tomato that smelled tomato-ey? I despair at commercial strawberries sold in plastic punnets. They are large, huge in fact, hollow, bright red, and have little flavor. I found this out when I tasted my first organic strawberry; it was almost purple in color, small firmly fleshed but tender, intensely flavored with the sweetest juice balanced by a slight acidity. I couldn’t believe how I had been duped into believing that big red balloon of a fruit had any resemblance to a real berry! We now grow beds of our own and if it is possible they are even sweeter than my first taste.

Chemical fertilizers and insecticides cost big money, the kind of money a small farmer doesn’t have. The state of Michoacan has its own fair trade organization, Fair Trade South America, based in Uruapan. FTSA ships organic, blackberries, mangos, coconuts, avocados, papayas, grapefruits, limes and more all over the world for Michoacan’s organic farmers. A percentage of the profits are given back to the grower’s pueblos helping fund socially valuable projects, creating a direct impact. The potential money involved in organic food has recently made the biggest chain store in the United States come searching here in Mexico for sources of organic produce. They know that when the general public wakes up there is gold in going organic. You want to buy organic produce? Look for the organic label now appearing more frequently in supermarkets. Visit local farmers and ask them what they grow and if they would like to sell some. Stop at small roadside stands or at the wheelbarrows under umbrellas on the side of the road and buy fresh, organic, mature produce directly from the people who grow it. Here in Mexico organic food is easier to find than you think: it is in your neighbor’s back yard.

Lisa Mower Sheppard was born and raised in Berkeley, California with its multi-cultural food community and “Gourmet Ghetto.”  Lisa and Ian, a photographer from London, own a small, organic, bio-diverse farm near Lake Zirahuen, Michoacan that produces a wide variety of heirloom vegetables, herbs, and fruit.


Parras de la Fuente: The Mexican Wine Oasis

By Matthieu Pichenot Translated by Sierra May Bishop
Photos courtesy of Casa Madero
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It is not a mirage!

After having crossed a long desert there appears a miraculous oasis. In this valley of fertile land crystalline springs abound. The Parras valley is a verdant space in which one forgets that they are surrounded by the semi-desert region of Coahuila.

In addition to its water reserve, the Parras valley’s proximity to the Sierra Madre Oriental mountains puts it at an altitude of 1500 meters (4921 feet). The combination of a semi-desert climate paired with the influences of the altitude and mountains of the area provides a microclimate ideal for the culture of the vineyard. The peculiarity of a union of feature such as these has caused some to christen this valley Valle de los Pirineos (Valley of the Pyrenees), after its resemblance to the mountains of the same name that form the border between France and Spain.

Both the environmental and climactic aspects of the valley make it a particularly good place to grow wine grapes. Winter temperatures range from -2°C (28°F) at night to 15°C (59°F) during the day. During the summer the sun is generous to the vine-covered land and delivers temperatures ranging from 25°C (77°F) to 30°C (86°F) during the day and from 18°C (64°F) to 20°C (68°F) at night. The coolness of the winter allows for the vine to thoroughly rest while the consistency and sweetness of summer permits a progressive and complete maturation of the grapes. Also, the intimate mixture of calcium carbonate and clay that makes up the soil and subsoil of the valley benefits the cultivation of the grapevines. The clay’s richness helps with vegetation development, allows for the retention of the water until it filters through the calcareous gravel.

Its source of appeal recognized in 1986, the Valle de Parras became the first Mexican winery recognized by the Organización Internacional de la Viña y el Vino (International Organization of Vine and Wine).
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The ink of a long story fills your glass

The French word terroir cannot be translated into English or Spanish. To explain its significance we must enter into a discussion of climatology, pedology (the study of soil), sociology, and history. The terroir is, in summary, the joint action of weather, earth, and man. In this way, the vines in the Valle de Parras are a reflection of the skills possessed by the agronomists who cultivated them. But to understand the soul of the vines’ nectar one must understand the history of the people of the valley.

Thirsty for gold the conquistadores crossed the Mexican dessert. In place of precious metal, however, they found instead the Parras oasis and its abundant wildlife. The Santa Maria Mission of Parras decided to establish itself in the area and produce some of the first wines on the American continent—using native vines. The interaction was not peaceful and the native people of the area soon forced the mission to abandon the site. However, Don Lorenzo García, the mission’s resident, did not want to desert the agricultural benefits of the valley. In 1597 King Felipe II of Spain did Don García the favor of allocating the valley’s land for the purpose of planting vineyards. Apparently, the indigenous people accepted this and left the land and its new occupants in peace.

In 1893 the vineyard was purchased by Don Evaristo Madero—the grandfather of President Francisco I Madero—a key player in Mexico’s 1910 Revolution. The present owner, José Milmo, is a direct descendent of the Madero family. The illustrious family name is now that of the vineyard too: Casa Madero. The family home has been converted into a divine colonial inn which had been christened San Lorenzo in honor of the creator of the first vine.

Having endured various crises such as New Spain’s prohibition of the production of wine in 1699 and the devastation of Phylloxera (a plant louse which pesters vines), Casa Madero has never stopped production and today has the honor of being the oldest vineyard on the continent.
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Casa Madero Today

Today Casa Madero is a vineyard of 450 watered hectares planted with European varieties. The red-wine grapes represent 85 percent of the planted estate including Merlot Shiraz, and Cabernet Sauvignon fruit. The white wines represented are Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and Semillón.

The final installment missing for the vines at Casa Madero to climb to the top was that of science. Today agricultural engineers and winemakers from the best schools in France form the Casa Madero scientific team. Using updated technological procedures, the winery is keeping up with the times.

All of this has lead to the production of award-winning wines winning a cascade of medals in several major international competitions. Casa Madero exports its product to more than 27 countries.
Buen Provecho…

We await your visit to VINOTECA so that we can guide you in your maridaje choices.
Pichenot Casa Madero Shiraz
Matthieu Pichenot is a wine maker and French Sommelier. He spends half the year making wine. With diplomas from schools in Toulouse, Beaune, and Cognac he spends the last six months of the year in the vineyards of Parras Coahuila Mexico, Chablism, Borgoña, Jura, Mairan, Côtes du Rhône, Córcega, and others. The other half of the year he awaits your visit to VINOTECA (Av. Vicente Guerrero #22–next to Mario’s Leather Shop–in Zihuatanejo Centro where he can recommend your wine selections. VINOTECA is open year-round and has an ample selection of national and international wines of all prices and for all tastes.

VINOTECA organizes regular events (tastings, dinners, pairing, etc.) to help develop the wine culture in Zihuatanejo. To be informed of upcoming events, email or call (755) 120 5942.


Organic and local products

By Melissa Mayes 

With concerns for the state of the environment growing worldwide, people often wonder what they can do as individuals to help lessen their own ecological impact. Simple actions like driving less, using energy-saving appliances or recycling are obvious things people can do to be more environmentally friendly, but something as basic as different eating habits can also benefit an ailing environment. Buying organic food and therefore supporting organic farmers is an easy and wonderful way to become more of an environmentally conscious citizen.

In today’s world, the voice of the consumer often speaks louder than that of the voter, so it is important to be mindful of where our money is spent. Industrial, non-organic agriculture provides for 98% of food sales worldwide and utilizes over 400 different pesticides and fertilizers. Agricultural chemicals are used to fight off insects and plant diseases and are also used to speed up the growing process. Non-organic produce often looks more appealing with bigger and better-looking products, but beyond aesthetics lie unattractive side effects.

Studies have shown that the use of chemicals to speed up the growth of plants often depletes the soil of important nutrients lowering nutritional values of the produce. Chemicals used in the soil and sprayed directly on the plants have also been shown to contaminate water systems as rains wash them away or they are absorbed into the ground. It is also believes that human exposure to pesticides and fertilizers, either during farming or by eating chemically grown food can cause illness and even cancer… Visit