When people think of Baja, the word “wine” wouldn’t make the keyword shortlist, but Valle de Guadalupe has a winemaking tradition that dates to 1888 with the opening of Bodegas de Santa Tomas. We left Ensenada and snaked east along Highway 3 to explore Mexico’s top wine-producing region, which is 75% the size of Napa Valley. The terrain primarily consists of brown, rolling hills, but offers some gorgeous vistas, as evidenced by our experience at La Villa del Valle, a spectacular villa/winery/B&B that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Tuscany.
After our first wine country stop, where we encountered syrupy sweet and overly-tannic wines, I was pretty skeptical about Baja wine, but Philip Gregory, wife Eileen and their unfiltered Vena Cava wine made a convincing argument at La Villa.
In general, the 50 Valle de Guadalupe wine producers have a lot to contend with, battling high heat, low rainfall and extreme minerality, but as the Gregorys proved, perseverance pays dividends.
In addition to wine, the Gregorys also grow a range of produce. 90% of the seeds come from seed banks, leading to “unusual things.” For example, you’ll find 3000 lavender plants. They also host an olive grove to produce olive oil and even have their own labyrinth. Take that, David Bowie.
We started with 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, cloudy because it’s unfiltered. Chef Garcia paired the first wine with incredible latke-like zucchini fritters that were spoonable with an aromatic clove, cherry tomato and pineapple chutney.
Unfortunately, due to our frenetic pace, we didn’t have time to relax at La Villa del Valle. It would have been fun to take it easy at the villa for hours, sipping wine and enjoying more of the terrific food that was absolutely of-the-moment. A bunch of people in our group inquired about room rates, for good reason. Rooms are $175 on weekdays and $195 on weekends.
Thank you to the Tijuana Convention and Visitors Bureau, Crossborder Agency, Cotuco (Tijuana Tourism Board), and Tijuana Canirac (Tijuana Restaurant Association) for sponsoring our eye-opening culinary tour of northern Baja. Thank you to Bill Esparza from Street Gourmet LA for leading the tour and for supplying so much invaluable information.