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For today’s #WineWednesday, TPG Contributor Casey Hatfield-Chiotti takes us down to Baja California’s little-known Valle de Guadalupe to explore Mexico’s burgeoning wine scene.
Valle de Guadalupe in Baja may be one of the most under-the-radar wine regions in the world. Just an hour and a half south of San Diego, the fertile valley is Mexico’s premier wine country. Due to production limitations and government regulations, Mexican wines are not readily available in the US and many Americans have never heard of this area. However, the history of viticulture here is rich.
Spanish missionaries planted the first vines in the 1700’s and over the last three decades, Valle de Guadalupe has quietly been undergoing a renaissance. New upscale accommodations and gourmet farm-to-table restaurants are shining a worldwide spotlight on the region.
Valle de Guadalupe enjoys a Mediterranean climate ideal for grape growing, but unlike other emerging wine regions, winemakers in Valle de Guadalupe have decided not to embrace a specific varietal, so you’ll find a diverse range of things to try from Tempranillo to Cabernet Sauvignon to Rhone-style wines, and everything in between.
Flying into San Diego International Airport and renting a car is probably the easiest way to get here. All the major US carriers and alliances are represented here and airlines like Southwest, JetBlue, Delta, Alaska, United and US Airways offer frequent and direct flights. Flying into the airport in Tijuana is also an option. However, there are no direct flights from the US. Hotels in Valle de Guadalupe can arrange transfers from TJ, but you will probably want to have a car to be able to fully explore the valley.
The drive from San Diego shouldn’t take more than two hours. Skp Tijuana altogether and enter through the mellower Tecate border crossing. From the border, Highway 3 will wind you through a picturesque, sparsely populated landscape before delivering you straight into the heart of Valle de Guadalupe.
Know Before You Go
Valle de Guadalupe is considered safe, still, it’s best to take precautions. Consider purchasing Mexican car insurance (about $35 for 48 hours bajabound.com) and only travel long distances during daylight hours.
Crossing into Mexico is usually very quick, however, crossing back into the US can take hours. Add at least two hours to your estimated travel time on the return trip.
Many wineries in Valle de Guadalupe require reservations. Let your hotel know where you’d like to go ahead of time and see if they can make appointments for you.
Where to Taste
Most wineries in Valle de Guadalupe are located along the “Ruta del Vino,” or wine route, which basically follows Highway 3. Your hotel should be able to supply you with a “Ruta del Vino” map.
When you venture to Valle de Guadalupe you’re likely to hear two names over and over again: Hugo D’Acosta, the valley’s most accomplished winemaker, and Alejandro D’Acosta, his architect brother. Hugo’s two wineries, Paralelo and Casa de Piedra (both designed by Alejandro), are must visits. Paralelo is a contemporary, no-frills winery built with functionality in mind where you’ll be able to sample a delicious, acidic Sauvignon Blanc.
The wines produced at discreet Casa de Piedra, a velvety Tempranillo Cab blend and an unoaked Chardonnay, are considered some of the best wines in Mexico. The rust-colored winery surrounded by Chardonnay grapes is utterly charming and the educational tour will give you a glimpse into the boutique wine-making process.
L.A. Cetto is one of the valley’s largest producers. The winery welcomes many visitors and may feel a bit touristy, however the grounds are beautiful and they do make excellent Nebbiolo and Petite Sirah.
Newcomer Hacienda La Lomita sits on a hilltop and offers beautiful views of the surrounding vineyards. The red hacienda-style winery pours easy drinking reds in its cool modern tasting room
Monte Xanic is one of the most well known producers of fine wines in Mexico, but locals love the vineyard and winery for its hands on approach.
Vena Cava on the La Villa del Valle Inn property is another Alejandro D’Acosta designed property. The winery is ingeniously constructed of upturned boat hulls and makes a Sauvignon Blanc perfect for pairing with local seafood and full-bodied reds which exhibit the valley’s signature terroir note of “salted plum” in signature wines like the Tempranillo and a Cab Grenache blend.
Adobe Guadalupe is a beautiful Mission-style Inn and winery which makes complex reds named after Archangels like the Kerubiel, a blend which uses the same grapes as France’s renowned Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Tastings are done in a cellar-like tasting room with large wooden doors that open to the vineyards and horseback rides through the vineyards can also be arranged.
The Swiss-French owners of Mogor Badan winery have a passion for the environment and local agriculture. In addition to producing world-class wine including a crisp, fruity sparkling Swiss wine called Chasselas as well as a Bordeaux blend, the winery organically grows figs, honey, grapes, olives and tomatoes. Drew Deckman, a Cabo-based chef, does a seasonal pop-up restaurant at the winery every summer.
Where to Stay
The hotel Endemico’s innovative design has brought worldwide attention to Valle de Guadalupe. Its 20 eco-lofts cling to a hillside overlooking the valley. Each pod features crisp white linens, minimalist decor and its own patio with outdoor fireplace. The hillside pool with views of the valley is stunning and the property has started making its own wine including a red blend and a sparkling variety.
Glamping at its best, accommodations at Cuatro Cuatros are in Safari-style tents next to vineyards. The decor is rustic modern and bathrooms have open air showers. The property is huge and features varied terrain – from some vantage points you can see spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean. Guests can explore using one of the property’s complimentary mountain bikes. Cuatro Cuatros also has a winery and plans for a boutique inn overlooking the ocean are in the works.
La Villa del Valle is a boutique hotel that feels like a cross between a Tuscan villa and Mexican hacienda. There are 6 romantic bedrooms, some with full balconies, and guests can enjoy fresh fruit and Mexican cookies in their room as well as a full breakfast featuring homemade granola and eggs from the property’s chickens.
Where to Eat
At Corazon de Tierra, on the La Villa del Valle property, Chef Diego Hernandez deftly demonstrates the complexities of Mexican cuisine. Dishes range from simple deconstructed salads to complex gastronomy like perfectly cooked black cod covered in onion embers with onion lemon-verbena puree. The open dining room melds modern lines with natural materials and many of the ingredients come from the restaurant’s own vegetable garden.
Recognized as the pioneer of Valle de Guadalupe’s farm-to-table movement, Laja is often referred to as Baja’s French Laundry. The restaurant’s wood beam adorned dining room is rustic and unpretentious but farm fresh food like quail with spring carrots is skillfully prepared.
Finca Altozano on famed Mexican chef Javier Plascencia’s own ranch features views of the valley and a rustic Baja-Mediterranean-style menu. Completely al fresco, the restaurant closes for the winter and will reopen in May. Much of the food is cooked on a wood-fired grill. Sample dishes like grilled octopus with ponzu, cilantro and peanuts and an unforgettable grilled cornbread cake with vanilla ice cream.
La Escuelita (Tecate-Ensenada Km. 3.5, Scenic Route) or “little school” was created by Hugo D’Acosta to train the next generation of winemakers. Anyone can sign up–classes start Saturdays in August, however it’s worth a peek just to take a look at the delightfully unpolished buildings made of various materials related to viticulture, such as stone, wood stakes, glass bottles, and fragments of barrels. The school is also home to a coffee shop, which brews cups from locally roasted beans.
Built in 2012, The Museo del Vino tells the history of wine growing in the region. The modern structure is easy to spot along the wine route.
In the early 1900’s a group of Russian immigrants who fled the Russian Orthodox Church purchased land in Valle de Guadalupe. The area retains a Russian look and feel and the history of these settlers can be found at the Museo Comunitario Ruso del Valle de Guadalupe. There’s also a small cafe attached serving traditional Russian food.
Unfortunately you’ll only be “allowed” the equivalent of one bottle per person back across the border but stunning architecture, haute cuisine and impressive wines all await you in this hidden gem of a wine region.