When it comes to Mexico libations the choices are usually tequila or beer, seldom is it wine. But it should be.
Mexico wine doesn’t register high on the list of international wines because most of what is bottled stays in the country. The main wine region is the Valle de Guadalupe, about 90 minutes from the U.S. border in Alta Baja. What isn’t consumed locally is often shipped to restaurants and stores in Mexico City, and other cities on the mainland. Baja produces 90 percent of the 45 million liters of wine that are produced in Mexico each year.
It’s a growing industry, with more than 200 wineries in Alta Baja. Some are elaborate, looking like castles that would be more appropriate in the Napa Valley. Others are more modest, more like something that would be found in El Dorado County. Most charge to taste. This is one way they make money.
The Mediterranean climate is much like that of the Wine Country of Northern California. This is why many of the varietals are Italian like Nebiollo, Spanish like Tempranillo, and French like Chenin Blanc. Those looking for Cabernets and Chardonnays will find those as well.
Winemaking in Mexico goes back to the Spanish missionaries who first planted grapes. At the museum on the main road much of the region’s history is told, though, all in Spanish. This includes the influence of Russians who settled in the valley in the early 1900s. One lesson learned is there are five wine valleys in the area, with Valle de Guadalupe being the most famous. The museum is a stop worth making, especially with an entrance fee of 50 pesos – about $2.50.
While Bodegas de Santo Tomas is the oldest winery in Baja, having been founded in 1888 just south of Valle de Guadalupe, it is Monte Xanic that is credited with being the first in the region to produce more upscale wine. The first release was in 1989. About 60,000 cases are produced a year under the labels Gran Ricardo, Limited Editions, Monte Xanic and Monte Xanic Calixa.
Monte Xanic is popular and requires a tasting reservation of at least 72 hours in advance. Without one, you won’t even get past the guard and through the gate.
Still, there are plenty of wineries that are more welcoming to spontaneity. With a day and half to taste, the only reservation we made was for lodging. Our two nights at Casa Mayoral were a delight. The breakfasts were delicious, the room spacious and clean, and the patio ideal for another glass of wine while looking out to the valley. A bonus – it’s pet friendly. Staff recommendations for where to taste and eat were spot on.
A delightful wine experience was near our bed and breakfast – Cieli. With the owner being Italian, he opted to plant mostly varietals from his home land. An interesting one was Blanc di Grenache. Not normally one of my favorite flavors, it was unique enough that a couple bottles found their way into the Jeep. It was the first time I had tasted a white Grenache. The tastings are inside, while outside is a deck looking across the valley.
Las Nubes came recommended from our bed and breakfast, a friend and the guidebook. The setting is stunning. Appropriately las nubes means the clouds, which is the perspective we felt like we had of the valley below us. It was so enchanting we bought a bottle of red (Seleccion de Barricas) to go with their cheese plate, which was substantial enough for lunch. All of that for about $30 (U.S.)
In many ways, Valle de Guadalupe reminds me of the Napa Valley, with the highway being the main road, with another road (think Silverado Trail) being the parallel secondary route. In between this valley and the more famous one are various tiny roads (in Baja they are dirt) that lead to more wineries and eateries, as well as offering a short cut between the two to reach the main roads. A major difference, though, is there is no traffic in Baja. Another bonus is how gracious people are (workers and guests); that is harder to find in Napa and Sonoma counties these days.
The only winery we found with a hint of pretentiousness was El Cielo. We left without tasting. Life is too short for such attitude. We went down the road to Paoloni, where we found much to enjoy and some to buy for later.
The harvest is similar to that of Northern California, with all the grapes plucked from the vines by mid-October. Many of the vines look dry, though. Water is not in abundance anywhere on the peninsula.
“There is a fight over water. Now there are like 215 wineries,” a Las Nubes worker tells us. “We irrigate. To not water you need old vines. Most aren’t. There was not much rain this year.”
Also on this side of the valley is Adobe Guadalupe. Owner Tru Miller, who is from Holland, has a winemaker from Chile. The operation started in 1997, with the first vintage released in 2001. With the owner’s son having died, all the wines are named after angels. Roxanna, who shared stories of Adobe Guadalupe with us, said her favorite is Gabriel – which is 25 percent Merlot, 25 percent Malbec and 50 percent Cabernet.
While the wines were good here, the Adobe Foodtruck on site was even better. It was truly one of the best meals I’ve had — and for less than $20.
Leda, who owns the truck, came out to say hi and see how things were. The sautéed mushrooms we ordered are her favorite. I have such a thing for mushrooms that I didn’t want to share with Sue. She was OK with this since she had the camarones all to herself. Those shrimp were fairly local, having come from San Felipe. Sue said they were the best she’s ever had.
“Everything on this table is just unbelievable,” Sue added. We also ordered caprese salad, which was more like an appetizer than salad, and roasted potatoes, with what tasted like cayenne seasoning. A side of French bread was perfect for the mushrooms and shrimp. It was served in plates that would be found in a high-end restaurant, with service to complement it all.
This food truck is so popular it takes reservations. It’s a must stop, as the whole of Valle de Guadalupe should be.