Sipping South Of The Border

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If the rowdy wine-tasting crowds in Napa, Sonoma, or Santa Barbara have you singing the blues, consider California’s OTHER wine production area, just south of the border in Mexico’s Baja California. Valle de Guadalupe is a wonderful and largely undiscovered wine region hosting more than 100 wineries, located just an hour and a half from San Diego, near the Mexican city of Ensenada.

Why Mexico? Why not? While Mexico is known internationally for its fine tequilas, wine production is an up and coming industry and the local wineries in the Baja region are producing some noteworthy wines. Valle de Guadalupe is rustic and rugged, replete with diamond-in-the rough wineries. Come down for the day or make a weekend of it. The many local hotels will welcome you with traditional Mexican hospitality.

If you decide to stay, choose from the refined La Villa del Valle, featuring a swimming pool, spa, horseback riding, and winery right on the property, or try the minimalist and ultra-modern Encuentro Guadalupe with panoramic views of the valley from their hillside Eco-lodges. Check out Cuatro Cuatros and their glamping tents—glamorous camping taken to the highest level of fabulous, or stay just outside the valley at the Hotel Las Rosas where you fall asleep to the sound of the Pacific Ocean crashing on the rocks and wake up to the scent of salty sea air. You can’t go wrong.

Valle de Guadalupe is nowhere near as polished as Napa or other wine regions north of the border. Pitted dirt roads abound and street signs are hard to find.  You may want to consider hiring an English-speaking guide to ensure easy passage through the valley. Knowledge of the Spanish language is a definite plus but the friendly locals are happy to try out their English and assist you in any way. As some wineries offer tastings by appointment only, a guide with knowledge of the area can set your tour up in advance and avoid any scheduling disappointments.

You’ll find that not only wine is crafted in these verdant hills. Look out for spicy, tasty olive oils, artisan-crafted local cheeses, and tangy, sweet orange marmalade. If you’re in the mood for a snack or a meal, options abound. Everything from food trucks with traditional tacos to casual cafes offering burgers and fries, to an upscale Michelin-starred restaurant is at your fingertips. You’ll find delicious and creative fare featuring both meat and seafood. Paired with a selection of local wines, you’ll be in heaven.

So how did vineyards come to be planted in Baja California? Mexico actually has been producing wine since the 1500s when the Spaniards brought their vines over from Spain. Most of what was made was bulk wine for local consumption and quantity was valued over quality. It is only in the past two decades that Mexico has started to dramatically improve the quality of their wines and market them on an international level. Valle de Guadalupe is the center of Mexican wine production and is considered the “Napa Valley” of Mexico.

The hot climate of Baja California offers perfect growing conditions for red grapes from Spain, France, and Italy such as tempranillo, sangiovese, syrah, and cabernet sauvignon. Some white varieties are also cultivated, including palomino, viognier, sauvignon blanc, and chardonnay. Over the years, “Flying Winemakers” from other wine-producing regions of the world have visited the valley, sharing their expertise and winemaking skill with local producers. The result is a grand variety of carefully crafted wines offering elegance and rusticity, reflecting all that is Mexico.

Most of the winemaking families live on their properties. These are small-scale businesses where the very heart and soul of the family goes into each bottle. J.C. Bravo Vinicola is a small, family-run business. The grandfather planted the vines, the father is the winemaker, and the wife and children work full-time in the family business.

Production is small at J.C. Bravo Vinicola, but the wines are crafted with love. All of the grapes are harvested by hand, and only by women, as men are considered “too rough” with the grapes. They make a single white wine—a simple, crisp Palomino, and two red wines: a 100% carignan, and a nebbiolo-malbec blend. The reds are rich and velvety and truly worthy of the many awards they have garnered.

Baron Balché is named for the Mayan word meaning “ceremonial drink.” The Rios family bought their property in 1997 and prides itself in the creation of wines steeped in tradition with an eye on environmental conservation and respect for the nobility of the land. Winemaker Oscar Castillo has created an incredible portfolio ranging from basic, easy-drinking reds and whites to world-class premium wines. His understanding of each variety and how to best showcase its strengths has propelled this winery to well-deserved acclaim and distinction.

Be assured that you won’t want to leave this wine-lover’s paradise but do give it some advance thought. Getting back across the Mexican border can take time. Be sure your tank is full of gas and consider using a Border Wait Time app to plan your return. Keep in mind that only two bottles of wine per person are allowed over the border without making a customs’ declaration. Though it seems inconvenient, consider this regulation a blessing in disguise. Now you have a great excuse to plan yet another visit to beautiful Valle De Guadelupe.

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