Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Vintastic Voyage: Valle de Guadalupe

Vines in the Valle de Guadalupe

About a month ago, my husband and I were going on a staycation to San Diego for the night. It was Thursday and we were getting on the road the next morning. That day at work I read this article in the LA Times. It suggested a few different road trips from LA and one suggestion was the Valle de Guadalupe in Baja Mexico. Before I knew it, we had booked an AirBnB condo in Ensenada (for $55!), purchased Mexican car insurance, and were off on an adventure! Those who know me know that I don’t do things on a whim. Luckily I have a husband who does, and he frequently takes me along for the ride!

We spent a wonderful night at the Sofia Hotel just outside of the Gaslamp in San Diego on Friday night. It reminded me of a Kimpton Hotel with fun and kitschy details and a yoga class in the morning. We also had an INCREDIBLE dinner at Bottega Americano. It is a beautiful Italian restaurant and market in the Gaslamp; very similar to the Eataly concept. We shared a cheese plate, a whole grilled branzino, and a lovely pasta dish. It was simply delightful.

We woke up early on Saturday morning and headed for the border. Getting into Mexico was a piece of cake. We paid a toll and we were off! The first pleasant surprise was how absolutely stunning the Pacific coastline is as you head down Baja. I mean, gorgeous bright blue waters...I felt like we were in Cabo.

Pacific Coast heading South in Baja

First stop, Puerto Nuevo for a lobster lunch! This town is known for lobster. There are casual restaurants lining the waterfront, with lots of shopping as well. For US$20 they do a whole grilled Pacific lobster with drawn butter, rice, beans, and tortillas. Just glorious.

As always in Mexico, the shopping is wonderful. I bought some beautiful handpainted serving pieces for the kitchen and Aaron bought some delicious homemade almond tequila. To get to the Valle de Guadalupe wine country, from the border you head South about 30 minutes, then you veer inland another 15 minutes, and voila, wine!

Let’s get one thing straight, you’re not coming here for world class wines. The wine country is still new, but it does have potential. As a whole in the Valle de Guadalupe, they make good, honest wines that are easy to enjoy. A couple of the wineries have been there for about 15-20 years (including Santo Tomas Winery, one of the firsts), but most of them are just a few years old (less than 10 years actually). In 2004, Hugo D’Acosta (of Santo Tomas) opened a non-profit winemaking school and crush operation in Baja called La Escuelita. The goal was for the new vineyards to use La Escuelita for their vinification. This alleviated them from having to build winemaking facilities up front. They could focus on securing land, planting vines, and growing grapes. Then eventually they could build their own winemaking facilities and take the knowledge they learned at La Escuelita to make their own wine. The school was built in an eco-friendly way, and many sustainable tenets still apply. Everything there gets recycled, even the materials used to build the school.

Our first stop was Clos de Tres Cantos. This was a wonderful first experience on our Baja wine trip. The grounds are absolutely gorgeous. I had trouble capturing the beauty with my iPhone, so just take my word for it. Everything felt “of the earth”.  Overall, along the Ruta del Vino, that is a common feeling. We are in a desert climate and terrain. Aside from the blue waters, the colors you predominantly see are orange, brown, and red in the soils, hills, and rocks. All the wineries utilize those colors and seem to be built into the ground with a sustainable feel. Clos de Tres Cantos is no different. It sits up on a tall hill and the facilities feel like they were built into the mountain. Very respectful to the earth. At Clos, we met Joaquin, the owner. He is a philosopher and a former professor/lawyer from Mexico city. An incredibly interesting guy to talk to. Their goal is to be a 100% sustainable operation. They modeled their winery after a monastery, hence the heavy use of stone in their decor.

L to R: pourer for the tasting, Joaquin, Maria, myself, and Aaron (my hubby)
Joaquin even had one of his associates take a few of us on small tour of their facilities. They are going to start making wine on-site very soon (until then, they are using La Escuelita). The entire winemaking operation is underground. Check out these brand new stainless steel tanks still in their plastic wrap! Note the different colored bottles in the wall. Everything is built with the earth in mind and to moderate temperatures. The green bottles are placed to allow morning light to come in, clear bottles for daylight, and yellow bottles for afternoon light. Two of the wines that we enjoyed were Duda (Carignan and Mourvedre) and Tu Mismo (a red blend).

 In contrast to this amazingly personal experience we had at Tres Cantos, we then headed to Las Nubes, which is one of the largest wineries in the area. It was a much more impersonal feel, but the view and setting were stunning. You can tell that no expense was spared in the building of this place.

Two of the wines we enjoyed were a white called “Kuiiy” (a Sauv Blanc and Chard blend) and a red called “Cumulus” (a Garnacha Carinena, and Tempranillo blend). 

Overall, this was a wonderful trip and one I HIGHLY recommend if you are already in the San Diego/LA/Orange County area. I didn't even touch upon the NEW Tijuana, yes, the NEW Tijuana.  Would you believe me if I told you that there are 2 Michelin-rated chefs with restaurants in TJ?  And that there is also a vibrant culinary scene in Ensenada and in the Valle de Guadalupe.  I'm serious when I say this, RUN to Baja and enjoy wine country!  If you're in SoCal, you’re only 2-3 hours away from a beautiful and friendly wine region in another country. So grab your passports and take a Vintastic Voyage south of the border!

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