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It is confirmed that the first conclusive data on the existence of a wine making industry within the current borders of Madrid date back to the XIII century, but it would not be an exaggeration to speculate the existence of vineyards and wine in the region many centuries further back
After the retreat of the Iberians, the region was crossed by Carthaginians and Romans, two races that had included wine as one of their more important dietary elements. Either of these races could have introduced vine cultivation, assuming that it did not exist before that time. However, it seems more probable that the Romans are to be attributed with that responsibility.
Madrid was crossed by many important transportation networks of the roman Hispania. Military posts were set up along these roads, some of which developed into prosperous cities: Complutum (Alcalá de Henares) together with Titulcia, an important hub of communication, and Carabaña, Arganda, Cadalso de los Vidrios, Buitrago y Torrelaguna, among others.
Taking this theory as a starting point, it is certain that the Arab invasion that followed did not threaten the vines the Arabs found upon their arrival, as vine cultivation continued to have an important presence in Muslim Spain, despite the koranic prohibition.
Even so, we would have to wait until the XIII and XIVcenturies in order to verify the existence of vines as a specialized agricultural activity in the outskirts of towns and villages. Cities were affected by the impulse of the exchange economy, thus turning wine into an important commercial object, along with cereal and other basic products.
It is then, in the XIII century, that the first documented evidence of vines in Madrid are dated. It is detailed in an argument regarding the possession of a vineyard between some monks and a feudal lord, that was finally resolved by the king´s arbitration.
The wines of Madrid reached the XV century carrying a prestigious aura, already shaped through literary quotes, like the ones by the Archipriest of Hita. There are numerous testimonies of appreciation for wines produced in this very town, which were being “exported” to other places. In 1481 Madrid´s Town Council felt confident enough to impose its own sale conditions, and even to send a letter to the dignitaries of the town of Burgos where it was established that “ those who come from there to get wine, should come loaded with fish, and if they don´t, they shall not any carry wine back”
Nevertheless, in that second half of the XV century, the municipal authorities had to announce protective measures, not only due to the city’s abundant production, but also due to the illegal selling of wines of other origins, or the competition of nearby vineyards, such as the ones in Getafe, Pinto, Parla and Fuencarral, where the most sought-after wines were produced. In 1495 Madrid’s Town Council agreed that “some people of this town and its land are under the penalty of these orders (…) including those who can drink it…” It is said that “a lot of wine is introduced by outsiders, at a time when the city has got full provisions”.
The Golden century has been an important period for the region and its wines. Choosing Madrid as the kingdom´s capital implied a noticeable increase of demand and, at the same time, of the production.
Apart from the many splendoured “San Martín” wines, the capital stocks up on the production of Arganda, Alcalá de Henares, Fuencarral, Alcobendas, Torrelaguna, etc…
In 1665, 63 winegrowers had perdured in the city of Madrid, subjected to rigorous controls and obliged to declare to the treasurer the quantity of grapes or grape juice they produced.
The wines consumed during the reign of Felipe IV mostly came from the outskirts of Madrid. Valdemoro´s wine was famous, but the most prestigious ones were San Martin´s “precious wines”, which Caldaso and Pelayos wines had also joined. An important production was still being made in the city of Madrid itself; there were famous vineyards among various streets of the capital that endured well into the XX century. In the Navalcarnero region there was definite wine-growing activity, located in the south at the vineyards of El Alamo and Navalcarnero.
Madrid came into the XX century with more than 60,000 hectares of vineyards, but in 1914 the first phylloxera was detected in San Martín de Valdeglesias. The plague spread out fast, ruining Madrid´s vineyard and provoking a substantial change in its wines. The recovery was slow and required the use of foreign varieties, especially Garnacha. But full recovery was not to be achieved until the fifties, after the war, by the massive introduction of varieties chosen for their agricultural yield and alcoholic degree, Garnacha being the variety most used in the Navalcarnero and San Martin regions, while Airen was introduced in Arganda. This was the period when most of the cooperatives were founded. At the same time, the city’s growth “swallowed up” what used to be the city´s most cherished wines. The second half of the century saw wines like the muscatels of Carabanchel, Villaverde, Hortaleza and Fuencarral fade into history.
Madrid´s wines started supplying the big packing industries, thus heading towards absolute anonymity than to their preservation.
The late seventies were struck by the financial crisis. Wine consumption plummeted, especially affecting production sold in bulk, which had been a major means of distribution.
Renovating the wine-making industry and proceeding to costly inversions was absolutely necessary in order to rejuvenate the vineyards, recoup grape varieties and update production criteria.
The eighties were marked by a spectacular change in the wine making scene, the wines of Madrid being no exception. The history of what could be called “Madrid´s new wine” begins in 1984, with the recognition of the Wines of Madrid Specific Appellation. The Wine Standards Board of this appellation had to face a complicated task in a paralyzed industry, with few resources to invest. Barely two or three wineries were selling their bottled production.
However, a powerful impulse for the bottled –in- origin wine was due to arrive, and along with it, the consequent improvements in the quality of wines. Some wine brands started gaining the critic’s recognition and were to be considered some of the best Spanish wines.
In March 1986 the Ministry of Agriculture passed the Wines of Madrid Specific Appellation. Finally, in November 1990, Vinos de Madrid Appellation of Origin was officially recognised. The following year, bottles carrying the Wines of Madrid back label were already launched in the market and in 1992 the first Crianza wines were commercialised.
After three decades of great changes, the Wines of Madrid market is facing the new century with a highly competitive winemaking scene throughout the country. Madrid’s wines are not known, even to a big part of the city’s inhabitants. The effort of winning their deserved place in history is, once more, being backed up by a long -awaited and recovered tradition. The wineries are aware of the need to offer wines with good value for money. An immediate consequence of this fact, is the increasingly outstanding presence of Madrid’s wines in the local markets and in other Spanish regions as well, not to mention the international exports that are also becoming more and more successful.
The last decade has been crucial for establishing this tendency, as, since the beginning of the XXI century, Madrid’s wines have been competing in the best restaurants´ wine lists. This is an important fact, but not just due to the increase of consumption of these quality wines. The sales forecasts predict an increasing home consumption, along European lines. For that reason, Madrid’s wine should occupy a vantage point in order to reclaim its position among the country’s best wines and regain the prestige it used to have a long time ago.