Maybe the winter that never was has you ready for some more fun in the sun, down south on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. If so, you might want to set aside some time to travel the peninsula’s back roads and quiet, hidden valleys to discover that this region is home to a growing fine wine industry, complete with picturesque vineyards, boutique wineries, and stunning villa-style B&Bs to lounge in after a day of roaming on Mexican time. If your stay coincides with the region’s many wine- and food-oriented festivals, all the better.
Most of the important vineyards and wineries are located in the northern part of Baja, outside the city of Ensenada. In this region the Valles de Guadelupe, San Vincente, and San Tomás stretch out, blessed by geology, typography, and climate. Here, slopes of granitic soil receive abundant sunshine, and Pacific breezes cool the nighttime temperatures, creating ideal conditions for growing fine wine grapes. And microclimates ensure that cool-climate riesling thrives along with viognier and chardonnay; while big reds do well here, including cabernet sauvignon, merlot, zinfandel, as well as tempranillo, syrah, grenache, dolcetto, nebbiolo and petit sirah.
One factor facing the tourism industry along the Ruta de Vino (and its 50 wineries) has been the well-publicized Mexican drug wars. While this and any associated violence may take place in northern Baja, it stays out of the more remote and quiet environs of the Ruta, according to those in wine country.
Vinos L.A. Cetto is the region’s premier winery, founded by Don Angelo Cetto in 1975 after five decades working the land in the Valle de Guadalupe. Cetto first planted in 1928, and by the mid-‘60s had found a variety of grapes that grew well in the diverse regional terroir. Cetto’s tradition is carried out in the modern age where intelligent winery practices meet with global wine marketing to bring his wines beyond Mexico, to the United States, Europe, and South America. Cetto produces lovely sparkling wine, fume blanc, chenin blanc, chardonnay; reds include cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, petit sirah, and the Piedmont, Italy, varietals dolcetto and nebbiolo. The latter won double-gold at the San Francisco International Wine Competition in 2009.
Since 1997, the boutique Casa de Piedra winery, located in the Valle de San Antonio de las Minas, has worked with its own diverse microclimates, combining winery innovation with the personality of the land in yet another example of technique and terroir in modern winegrowing. Chardonnay is their main white, and it is produced in the style of Chablis, without oak, allowing for the expression of pure fruit flavors. Their reds are blends featuring tempranillo and cabernet, much like the Spanish wines of the Priorat region.
Other wineries worth looking into are Vinos Pedro Domecq, Bodegas de Santo Tomás, Chateau Camou, Cavas Valmar, and the Russian-owned Bibayoff.
If you are looking for a beautiful place to stay, the Adobe Guadalupe combines Persian architectural splendor with the rustic feel of a horse property set on a working winery. The inn offers horseback riding, fine dining, tours to area wineries, and it houses a museum depicting the history of Russian immigration to the region. The winery occasionally offers wine and wine making lessons.
If you find yourself in Baja during the mid-summer, you’re in for a treat. The region’s oldest, and largest, harvest festival kicks off. The Fiesta de la Vendima features, among many events, the Noche de Cofradia en Ensenada, where chefs square off against one another in cook-offs, and Ensenada’s colorful restaurants step it up, pairing local wines with their finest culinary efforts. The event, held annually in the beginning of August, hosts wine makers in seminar and at wine maker dinners. There is also a golf tournament, an art show, concerts, and special events at local wineries.
It sounds as colorful as the town and region that host it. Cheers! Remember, wine reveals truth.
Drew Stofflet lives in Carbondale. Correspond with him at email@example.com.