We were having an incredible meal at Maria Bonita, my favorite restaurant in Cancun. I had ordered a house wine and it was so delicious I asked the mesero to tell me about it. He told me it was from Mexico. I had never thought about wine in connection with Mexico so I was a little surprised!! I asked him "where do they produce wine in Mexico"? He said primarily in Baja. When you think about it this makes total sense. Located in the northern part of the state of Baja
Valle de Guadalupe Map
California Mexico, where they enjoy a mediterranean climate, the conditions are perfect for growing wine. There are very few micoclimates in Mexico that combine the very unique characteristics of elevation soil, season and temperature. Little do most "wine enthusiasts" realize that just a few hours south of the San Diego/Tijuana border near the port city of Ensenada lies the Mexican vast and bountiful counterpart to Napa.
El Valle de Guadalupe is 13 miles from the coast at an elevation of about 1000ft. The valley benefits from an oceanic condition called "upwelling". Temperatures may reach up to 100º in the day but every evening moist marine air comes flooding in to cool things off.
Grapes thrive here and both white and red wines are produced.
Mexico has a long and interesting history of making wines. So great was the quality of the wine produced here that in the 17th century the intrusive Spanish government felt very threatened by the competition and success of the New World winemakers. They banned all vine planting and brought wine production in Mexico to an abrupt halt. The independent monks of the Church refused to abide by the new rules and produced wine on a small scale. If it wasn't for the monks, Mexico's wine industry might have ended forever. However by the 1900's wine production began to resume on a large and even commercial scale.
So back to my story..... Much to our surprise The Valle de Guadalupe is only a 3 to 4 hours drive
Drive to Valle de Guadalupe
from our home.
Here is the best way to get to Wine Country. From Tijuana follow the signs to Ensenada/Rosarito. Take the Ensenada pay road The drive is beautiful with breath taking and panoramic views of the Pacific coast line. There are three tolls at a cost of $2.35 dls. each. About a mile after the third toll booth you'll exit to the right at the Tecate 3/Ruta del Vino sign. Follow that sign up to the small town of San Antonio de las Minas . Actually it's even easier from the Tecate border crossing. When you cross the border follow the signs for Ensenada, Mexico 3.
Dirt Road La Villa del Valle Sign
We did a lot of research before we left because we had never been to this area and wanted to have some idea of where the wineries were. Where would be the best place to stay? Those sort of questions.
We had decided to stay at a very highly rated B&B called La Villa del Valle.
To reach La Villa del Valle you turn off the highway and drive about 3 miles on an unpaved, dirt road. Be prepared for a bumpy ride. Just follow the hand painted signs and you'll be fine. Actually I was starting to wonder what I had got us into. Leslie in the car behind ours was laughing all the way. She likes an adventure!!! Just as I was about to apologize profusely to everyone... perched at the top of the next hill sat a beautiful Tuscan style Villa.
Villa del Valle
La Villa del Valle has 6 beautiful and romantic bedrooms. 3 of the rooms have balconies with Mexican "chimeneas". Each room has a bathroom which they supply with their own bath products, made of pure, organic, essential oils. I can't recommend this B&B enough. We were totally blown away, and it was more then we had ever bargained for. We had a really magical experience here. Since this is a very small Mexican community I was skeptical of the five star rating. In fact there were two very highly rated B&Bs. The other was the Adobe Guadalupe.
Both the Adobe Guadalupe and La Villa del Valle are working wineries. The Adobe Guadalupe is also a B&B with 6 beautiful guest rooms and like the wine, each has the name of an archangel. They also breed horses and have immaculately kept stables. They are currently breeding Aztec horses, a selective mix between pure blood Andalusion and Quarter horses. The Adobe was designed by Nassir Haghigat, a Persian architect who was influenced by the
Wine tasting with Agnes
architecture in Iran's desert. This is a really special and beautiful place.
There is one more place I would like to mention called Vinedos Malagon.When I was doing research I thought it looked interesting also. We did not get an opportunity to visit due to lack of time. However, it does have a large television with Direct TV in their lounge area, which the others don't have.
Eileen & Phil
So finally we reached our destination. Eileen and Phil Gregory, a lovely English couple, are the owners who built and designed the Villa. We all fell in love with Agnes, a young French woman from Bordeaux who
Villa del Valle bedroom
made us feel so comfortable from the moment we arrived. She acted as our hostess and showed us to our respective rooms. Mine was named Camila and Leslie had Lulu. All the rooms have names and their own unique style, panoramic views, a Gourmet Chef, an amazing breakfast (included) and the canine welcoming committee who ran with us in the morning and made sure we knew where we were going.... We knew we had picked the right place! The next day we wanted to get an early start and begin a day of wine tasting. It's a rough job but someone has to do it!!!! Some of the wineries you can just show up at but others you will need to make an appointment. Eileen handled all that for us. I tried to pick 4 different types of wineries from the large like L.A. Cetto to the very small, like Mogor-Badan.
Farmer's Market at Mogor Badan Winery
We started our day at Mogor-Badan. Phil told us they had a small local farmer's market there and as luck would have it, on Wednesday's. Phil personally guided us to this winery and sure enough they had some tables laid out with interesting jars of homemade salsas, chili oils, seasonings, arros con leche (rice pudding), tortas and fresh fruits and vegetables from their garden. An array of gastrinomical enticements. When we arrived the people that were there asked us how we found them as we were
Wine tasting with Chente
obviously not local. Also as luck would have it, the winemaker was there and personally gave us a wine tasting. Doesn't get much better than that. Well actually it did. Vicente, the winemaker was about to bottle his wine and we held our glasses under the spigot and sampled the Cabernet right before bottling. Later Chente opened a bottle of Cabernet and a bottle of Savignon Blanc for us to taste. They were both amazing!! Dr. Antonio Badan was a Swiss ex-pat Oceanographer and the founder and owner as well as wine-maker of the Mogor-Badan wineries. He passed away in 2008. His sister, Natalia is an organic farmer and has taken over the winery. This
Mogor Badan Cellar
is how an actual wine taster from cellartracker.com describes the wine "Dark berries, sweet earth, rainwater, cocoa powder, flowers, cedar, a pleasant dried herb tinge, an ever so slight saline note. Tannin remains on the palate (not wood tannin) that is a touch coarse but far from problematic. Good length with plums and dusty earth again. This has several years left at least. Good stuff, great wine for the price and still by far the best wine coming out of the Guadalupe Valley of what I've tasted. I think this easily holds it's own with the best right bank wines in it's price range ($25)... actually I can't think of a right bank wine I like as well at the price point! The saline note and the earthy character are readily identifiable to me and recall the Guadalupe Valley readily. A really minimally made wine with a lot of character
and a lot to say, perhaps why I prefer it so strongly to right bank wines in it's price range".
This winery also makes a Chasselas but they are perpetually sold out as the
production is tiny.
After a really good start with all our salsas, tortas and fresh fruits in hand, we moved on to our second tasting at the Adobe Guadalupe.
The Adobe is a working winery as well as a first class B&B, owned by Don and Tru Miller. Adobe Guadalupe is surrounded by 63 acres of vineyards
Wine making tour
and produces 5000 cases of wine per year. All the wines are named after archangels, such as Gabriel, Serafiel, Kerubiel, Miguel and Uriel. They even have a Mescal called Lucifer and just let me say that I would have never thought I would like Mescal but it was "muy bueno"!!
Wine tasting with Karla
The first wine harvest was in 2000 and the winemaker is Hugo D'Acosta who is producing premium Rhone style wines. Karla Marquez was our most gracious and knowledgeable hostess. The wine tasting is conducted in the "Cave" under the cupola of blue Talavera tile.
Adobe Guadalupe Cellar
Here is an evaluation from an actual wine taster cellartracker.com
on a 2006 Kerubiel "This wine comes across as Old World. A lot of of these Rhone ranger wines from the Guadalpue Valley do. There is a nice minerality and dried red fruits sprinkled with a dose of desert bush. In the mouth it is medium bodied and showing nice acidity. It is a very nice wine, but I would have liked to experience more densitity and flavor. It seems that the winemaker is finally able to tame the salinity without ruining the wine with excessive tartaric acidity, like in previous vintages". The Adobe Guadalupe was a very modern and beautiful winery. This is their philosophy
"The philosophy of Adobe Guadalupe is to create an ambiance of harmony with nature where people can have a unique experience with wine, haute cuisine, horseback riding, swimming and Jacuzzi. Where they can enjoy spectacular sunsets while being looked after by the cordial and warm people of the Valley of Guadalupe"
L.A. Cetto Vineyards
Sounds good to me!!!
Our third winery is L.A. Cetto http://www.cettowine.com/
Angelo Cetto an Italian, and his winemaker Camillo Magoni started the wine business in 1930 introducing the Nebbiolo grape to Mexico. L.A. Cetto family winery is a hybrid of Italian and Mexican cultures. It is responsible for more than 1/2 of the country's wine. Cetto cultivates 2,500 acres of vineyards but they also produce tequila and olive oil. While Cetto is the largest, and most commercial vineyard in the valley, it is still an
Wine Tasting with Lyssette at L.A. Cetto
intimate vineyard experience and well worth the stop for a tour and tasting. Most all the wineries we've been to, so far have been a bumpy ride through a maze of dirt roads. L.A. Cetto is off Highway 3. Yeah!!! You still have to go a few kilometers on a very well maintained dirt road but our vehicle said "thank you". Although there is a nice outdoor tasting area with gardens, we had a wonderful fun experience with Lyssette in the wine tasting room. Lyssette gave us a recipe for "Arroz Nebbiolo". It's very
easy and of course as soon as we got back to Los Angeles we had to try it (we roasted the pinenuts in the oven for about 5 to 10 minutes which was not part her recipe). L.A. Cetto is one of the oldest wineries in Mexico. I couldn't find a review from cellartracker.com but I found a Canadian wine taster at gismondionwine.com This is a chardonnay review, Tasting Notes from August 2000 L.A. Cetto Guadalupe Valley, L.A. Cetto 1997 Chardonnay Reserva Privada Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, Mexico "Open oaky buttery nose. Light melon pear fruit with low extract but the balance is there. Soft smooth finish". from bajaswines.blogspot.com L.A. Cetto 2003 Nebbiola: "An elegant,silky nebbiola with soft tannins and tasty ripe blackberries from entry to finish. While it's a bit short on finish, it's soft palate and fruity flavors made this exciting"
Neither Leslie nor I are wine experts but we both like Champagne and L.A. Cetto is the only winery that produces it in the Baja that we were aware of, so we picked up a couple (4) and drank them before we left. Oh yes we liked L.A. Cetto immensley!!!!
Tres Mujeres Winery
We had planned to visit Tres Mujeres the next morning. I had heard wonderful things about this winery. It is owned and run by three creative and ambitious women (hence the name). Eva Coltero Altamirano, Ivette Vaillard (also a skilled and talented ceramic tile artist), and Laura MacGregor Garcia. It was also very close to La Villa del Valle where we were staying.
It had been a long and eventful day so we returned to our beautiful B&B and looked forward to our evening meal that Chef Jose Maria Garcia Ramos
would create for us. La Villa de Valle is such a wonderful, relaxing and romantic Villa, we actually forgot it is actually a winery!!! Could we have a wine tasting here? What a great idea!!! Always accomodating Agnes agreed to set up a wine tasting for us in the beautiful guest living room.
Actually of all the wines we tasted that day I feel Mogor Baden and La Villa del Valle were both exceptional but since I'm not a wine connoseur here's a review from thebestofwines.com
2007 Vena Cava Chenin Blanc : Cloudy in the glass as it is unfiltered. Fruity, pears, yeast flavors. Creamy with good acid. Bright, middle weight. This grape seems to do well in the valley. All wines are 11% to 12% 2005 VenaCava Tempranillo: Nice plum flavors. Has the salt water taffy flavors that come with the better made wines in the Valley.
2005 Vena Cava Petite Syrah: A crowd favorite for its heavyweight feel. Has sweet strength. Almost dessert style. The sweetness does bring out the salt.
Sitting on the couch in the beautiful guest lounge we had so much fun and learned so much about
wine making in the Valle de Guadalupe from Agnes.
Villa del Valle Guitar
Water is always a problem and trying to neutralize the salty soil is not such a simple task as the grapes harvest very ripe. The wine has a very unique, salty and sweet at the same time flavor
Jorge inspired by El Valle
Eileen and Phil have a beautiful nylon string guitar on display in the living room that was made by an artisan in Michoacan (Mario our director's home). Jorge, who can do everything, as well as write most of the music that is on our DVDs and this website, put on a concert for us. Chef Jose Maria Garcia Ramos made us a four course gourmet meal that neither I nor Leslie can remember because we were seriously inebriated by that time.
I would suggest taking your time and staying for a little longer than we did. Maybe doing a couple of tastings a day. I'm going to give you the previous day's menu.
-Scallops & Peach Ceviche with fresh Basil.
-Salad with Baby Lettuce, Grape Tomatoes and Pomegranite Seeds.
-Mahi Mahi on a Chard Sauce with an Eggplant Gratin.
And last but not least,
-Puff Pastry with a Strawberry Filling and a fresh Watermelon Granita.
The Wine was a lovely Red from the Vena Cava series.
The following morning we got an early start and never went to the Tres Mujeres much to our dismay. The next time it will be first on our list. We crossed the border at Tecate which I would highly recommend. A much smaller border without the mayhem of the Tijuana/ San Ysidro border.
Bodegas de Santo Tomas
I can't tell you how impressed I was with El Valle de Guadalupe. Next year I want to return for the "Fiestas de la Vendimia" Every summer in the month of August for about two weeks, the wineries of Baja California, Mexico pool their talents and wares to host an amazing series of wine, food, music and cultural events. It takes place in Ensenada and the Valle de Guadalupe.
Open since 1888, Bodegas de Santo Tomas, is the oldest winery in Mexico, located just a few miles south of Ensenada. This winery is also a must for my next trip. I feel I have only begun to scratch the surface of this amazing destination. Perhaps next time we'll run into each other!!! So until then...