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For most people, Baja California’s beautiful Valle de Guadalupe wine region is an undiscovered secret, yet it’s home to 100 wineries, top winemakers and talented chefs.
The Valle de Guadalupe region of Baja California is a 14-mile pastoral paradise, with patchworks of vineyards, orchards and organic gardens, not to mention a unique history and lively culture only found in Baja. After Mexico was colonized by the Spaniards, settlers from other European countries such as Italy and Russia arrived with their own grape varieties and planted them in the rich soil of the Valle de Guadalupe. Valle de Guadalupe is actually one of the oldest grape growing regions in the Americas, with roots in the 1700s. Over the past several decades, the region has experienced an explosion of growth, transforming into a gastronomy haven. Baja California's Valle de Guadalupe now produces nearly 90% of all the wine that comes from Mexico and boasts over 100 distinct vineyards – some featuring architecturally striking wineries, quaint tasting rooms and delicious food.
Set back far enough from the coast to experience hot, dry days, the region is still close enough to the water to get a cool ocean breeze at night, creating a Mediterranean-like climate favorable for growing grapes. While some moisture does travel through this nighttime ocean breeze, the lack of substantial rainfall makes the region much dryer than other wine countries. As a result, many Baja vineyards rely upon irrigation to keep the grapevines well-watered. The water drawn from wells underground happens to be extremely high in salinity, giving the Valle de Guadalupe wines a very slight hint of saltiness.
Some of the popular varieties of wine that can be found in the valley include Chenin Blanc, Colombard, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Zinfandel, Malbec and Barbera. With the wide range of wines produced in this region there really is something for every taste. A friendliness pervades the valley as winemakers welcome guests and often conduct tastings or tours themselves.
When it comes to small-batch boutique wineries, Vena Cava is worthy of a visit. This boutique eco-conscious winery has a tasting room structure made out of upside-down refurbished boats that serve as roofs. Wine drinkers can try Phil Gregory’s respected wines inside the cellar or outside by the lake while enjoying gourmet local eats from a food truck. Quinta Monasterio is a tight-knit family vineyard that offers a uniquely personalized wine tasting experience. Visitors can enjoy a tour guided by one of the vineyard’s owners through the wine cava and winemaking rooms before or after tasting some of Quinta Monasterio’s delicious wines, like their specialty Natal, a dry, apricot-peach-pear Chardonnay, and their Sinfonía de Tintos, an impressive red blend. Casa de Piedra, another notable small-scale winery owned by famed winemaker Hugo D’Acosta, stands out with its commitment to translating the tastes and experiences of the land they live in through the wines that they offer, and makes it certainly worth a visit. The winery’s Vina de Piedra, a blend of Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon, has been regarded as one of the finest wines in all of Mexico.
Medium-sized wineries include: Chateau Camou, a French-inspired winery located in the heart of Baja California on a mountainous slightly-less-than 100 acre estate called Canada del Trigo. Monte Xanic is an elegant and ambitious winery producing over 50,000 cases of wine annually, while Baron Balche winery specializes in producing wine using delicious old vines and the most modern wine-making technology including stainless steel tanks, gravity systems, automatic temperature control and the finest American and French oak barrels.
In terms of large scale-commercial wineries, Domecq should be a stop on any wine-tasting itinerary. As the first commercial winery in Baja, it is certainly one of the most well-known. L.A. Cetto is also one of the oldest and most respected wineries in Mexico. Managed by Luis Alberto Cetto, the winery produces nearly 1,000,000 cases of wine each year. Its tasting room in Valle del Guadalupe is spacious and elegant, giving guests a luxurious environment to sip the cellar’s award-winning wine. At Santo Tomas, guests can enjoy the winery’s well-regarded ruby Cabernet Sauvignon as well as the robust Santo Tomas Reserva Unico (a Cabernet-Merlot blend) at tables overlooking a breathtaking view of the Valle de Guadalupe.
If on an extended trip, be sure to head to Ojos Negros to explore La Cava de Marcelo for artisanal cheese that perfectly complements the area’s wine. This 100-year-old cheese cellar is one of the only open to the public in all of Latin America. They offer tours and samplings of their many regional cheese variants, like their queso fresco flavored with basil or their two-year-old añejos.
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