Baja California: Mexico’s Up-And-Coming Wine Destination

While many people know Mexico for its amazing tequila, a little known secret is the country also has a thriving wine destination: Baja California, or Baja for short. Although this sounds like it’s on the West Coast of the United States, this is, in fact, an area in Mexico. The Mediterranean climate makes it ideal for producing the libation. In fact, 90 percent of the country’s wine comes from the Ensenada region of Baja.

The Beginning

Mexico is actually the oldest wine-growing region in America, having produced wine since the sixteenth century when the Spaniards arrived to the country with vine clippings from Europe. Soon after, immigrants from other European countries, such as Italy and Russia, arrived to the area with their vine cuttings and planted them in Baja’s Guadalupe Valley. Baja California’s wine is rarely exported, meaning you’ll need to make a trip to the area to sample it for yourself. Some of the popular varieties you’ll find include Chenin Blanc, Colombard, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Zinfandel, Malbec and Barbera.Road Trips

When visiting Baja California, one great way to explore the different areas of the region is to take a road trip. Some suggested itineraries include:

Ruta del Vino

The “Ruta del Vino,” or “Wine Route,” connects over 50 wineries in the Baja California state. The Valley of Guadalupe, Valley of Llano Colorado, Valley of Santo Tomas and the Valley of San Vincente, as well as the port city of Ensenada and the border cities of Tijuana and Tecate are all included. Along with sipping wine, travelers can indulge in world-class restaurants, stay at luxury hotels and visit interesting museums along the way. Click here for a map of the “Ruta del Vino.” If you need a designated driver, Baja Wine & Sun offers numerous tours through the area’s wine routes.

The Baja Gold Coast

This road trip will take you through a mix of experiences, as you begin at the most visited border in the world, Tijuana, and make your way down to Catavina. You’ll also pass through Rosarito, the world’s lobster capital, Ensenada, the land of wine, and Bahia de San Quintin, the farmland capital of Baja. In Tijuana, make sure to explore the city’s cultural side through the numerous galleries and museums. Moreover, the area is known for its delicious Baja Mediterranean cuisine, so eat up and pair it with some local vino. For more information, click here.

The Path of La Rumorosa

On this road trip, you will begin in Tecate, a small city full of colonial architecture, cattle fields, beautiful mountains and renowned wineries and breweries. Moreover, the area is known for producing excellent artisanal pottery and fresh bread. Next, it’s on to Mexicali, which is historic for its settlement of the Chinese. There are many activities, like enjoying the boiling mud lagoons, learning about Mexican history in the Regional Museum, dancing in trendy nightclubs and hiking and swimming in the beautiful surroundings. You’re last stop on the itinerary will be Algodones, where you can go duck hunting, see the Colorado River’s Morales Dam or just enjoy the warmth of the sun in one of the driest places in North America. For more information, click here.

Annual Events

Every August, the Valle de Guadalupe in the Baja California region hosts their “Fiesta de la Vendimia” to celebrate the year’s harvest. Put on by the Association of Viniculture, the event lasts for about a month and showcases the best wines in the area through tastings and themed events. Additionally, there is art, music and a rodeo. This year’s event will take place from August 2 to August 19, 2012.

Top Winery Experiences

In the Baja California area there are many different experiences to be had. Guided tours, wine tastings, markets, boutique hotels, gourmet restaurants, local museums and indigenous communities all help to add to this culturally rich wine destination. When touring the wineries, some top picks include:

  • Adobe Guadalupe– This adobe-style winery and bed and breakfast has been operating since 1998 on 60 acres of vineyards. Their varietals include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Nebbiolo, Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo, Shiraz and Viognier. Tour the winery, participate in tastings or horseback ride through the vineyards. For tastings, you can make an appointment by clicking here.
  • Casa Madero– Latin America’s oldest, traditional winery has been around for over 400 years and produces some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay in the country.
  • L.A. Cetto– Established in 1974, L.A. Cetto is one of Mexico’s largest, and their oldest, wine producers. They are open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. for guided tours, free wine tastings and strolls through their well-manicured gardens. Their varietals include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Nebbiolo, Tempranillo, Grenache, Petite Verdot, Malbec, Sangivese, Mourvedre, Sirah, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Savingnon Blanc and Muscat Canelli. Additionally, they are known throughout the country as being one of the best at what they do, which can be seen through their 132 international awards.
  • Casa de Piedra– Owned by Mexico’s wine legend, Hugo D’Acosta, this winery is uniquely situated near San Antonio de las Minas. At this charming farmhouse-style winery, they make Cabernet Franc, Tampranillo and Chardonnay, and vistors can participate in tours and tastings by making an appointment.
  • Bodegas Santo Tomás– Operating since 1888, they have two locations, Ensenada and San Antonio de las Minas. Both are great for tours and tastings, which take place every hour from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and then again at 3 p.m. Make sure to sample their award-winning 2000 Cabernet, as well as some of their other varietals like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Barbera.
  • Casa Pedro Domecq– Established in 1972, Casa Pedro Domecq is the second largest wine producer after L.A. Cetto. Their many varietals include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Nebbiolo, Tempranillo, Barbera, Grenache, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, French Colombard, Savingnon Blanc and Reisling. Casa Pedro Domecq was the first commercial winery in Valle de Guadalupe, and is well known for producing wine and brandy. They are open daily except Sunday, and offer tastings and tours to visitors.
  • Vinisterra– Vinisterra operates under the idea of interfering in the process of winemaking with technology as little as possible. They officially opened in 2002, and are located in the town of San Antonio de las Minas. The winery building is unique, as it is made of thermal materials and is partially buried to maintain a naturally cool temperature. Varietals include Cabernet Savingnon, Merlot, Syrah, Nebbiolo, Grenache, Chardonnay, Viognier and Rousanne. Make an appointment to participate in tastings.
  • Monte Xanic– The vision of Monte Xanic isn’t to copy what other big name wineries are doing, but to set the standard for the industry themselves. Moreover, they aim for their wines to reflect the pride of the country and its people. Their varietals include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Sirah, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Savingnon Blanc and Semillon. You can participate in wine tastings and tours by making an appointment.

[Images via Fir0002, Gabriel Flores Romero, Hungry Girl]

The Discovery Channel Crashes A 727 Intentionally (Video)

After building a plastic model airplane I used to fantasize about what it would look like crashing. This urge became overwhelming when my best friend was over at my house trying to annoy me to death. So I sent a B-52 across my bedroom for a bombing run.

The end result was a crash that was a bit of a let down.

Someone at the Discovery Channel recently had a similar idea, albeit on a more grand scale. Back in March, Kate Nixon, a producer working for Discovery, emailed me looking for a ‘727 guru.’ She told me that they had purchased a Boeing 727 that they would be crashing in April for a scientific study. I’m sure the fact that it would make for some great T.V. was also part of the plan.

I explained that I was hardly a guru on the old three-engine Boeing, but that I might be able to put her in touch with someone. At the end of the exchange, I asked her what the “N” number was of the airplane to be crashed.

“Our aircraft is a 727-212 built in 1978 registration N293AS,” She said.

A quick check revealed I had flown that exact airplane when working for ExpressOne International (pic), a passenger charter airline. In fact, my sister Kim had flown it as a flight attendant at Alaska Airlines (pic), the original operator of the doomed airplane.

Kate swore me to secrecy and explained that the planned crash that would be extensively filmed for an upcoming special. They were mounting cameras inside and outside to capture the event. I suggested testing some AmSafe airbag seat belts that I had recently seen while sitting on a 737 at a bulkhead seat.

Of course I wanted to share it with all my friends at those two companies. But I had to keep quiet, at least until now.

They apparently used a pilot and some form of radio control device operated by a chase plane to guide it during the final moments. The pilot jumped out (D. B. Cooper style?) before the final descent into the ground.

And of course, in this day of cell phone cameras everywhere, someone managed to capture the crash, and it looks like the results for the Discovery Channel are far from a let down:

Here’s the full press release from the Discovery Channel:


A Boeing 727 passenger jet has been deliberately crash-landed in a remote and uninhabited Mexican desert as part of a scientific experiment for an unprecedented international television documentary for Discovery Channel, Channel 4 in the UK, plus Pro Sieben in Germany. The pilot ejected the 170-seat aircraft just minutes before the collision after setting it on a crash course, it was then flown remotely from a chase plane. The crash went according to plan and there were no injuries or damage to property.

Rather than carrying passengers, the plane was packed with scientific experiments, including crash test dummies. Dozens of cameras recorded the crash from inside the aircraft, on the ground, in chase planes and even on the ejecting pilot’s helmet. The program is being made by award-winning British production company Dragonfly Film and Television Productions.

The project aims to recreate a serious, but survivable, passenger jet crash landing with a real aircraft in order to allow an international team of experts to study the crashworthiness of the aircraft’s airframe and cabin as well as the impact of crashes on the human body, plus possible means of increasing passenger survivability and evaluating new ‘black box’ crash-recording technology.

The plane was crashed in a remote and unpopulated part of the Sonoran Desert of Baja California, Mexico. The location was chosen after an extensive international search to find a suitable location offering the perfect conditions for this groundbreaking scientific project.

For safety reasons, an exclusion zone at the crash site was manned by security teams, as well as the Mexican military and police. Ahead of the crash, a full safety review of the project was undertaken by the highly-qualified pilots and commanders as well as the Mexican authorities who concluded that it was safe for all concerned.

Following the crash, the aircraft will be salvaged and an extensive environmental clean-up operation is being carried out by a reputable agency with the full co-operation of the Mexican authorities.

“This ground breaking project features an actual crash of a passenger jet and explores the big questions about how to make plane crashes more survivable; it’s the ideal premiere episode for our CURIOSITY series that stirs the imagination of our audience, bravely asking questions and fearlessly seeking answers. This latest production captures that audaciousness perfectly and I can’t wait to share it,” said Eileen O’Neill, Group President of Discovery and TLC Networks.

“For the first time, leading scientists and veteran crash investigators, who have been enthusiastic supporters of this project, witness a plane crash in real time and explore what happens to the airframe and cabin, as well as the effects on the human body during a catastrophe of this magnitude. We hope to provide new information about how to improve the chances of survival while providing scientific results on passenger safety and new technologies, including new ‘black box’ flight data recording systems.”

Executive Producer, Sanjay Singhal, from Dragonfly Film and Television Productions, said: “NASA were the last people to attempt a crash test of a full passenger jet three decades ago. Now, with the improvements in filming and remote control technology we felt that the time was right to do it again. It’s never been safer to fly, but we want to use this as an opportunity to provide scientific data that might help to improve passenger safety in those extremely rare cases when a catastrophic aircraft accident does occur.

“This has been an extraordinary feat of organization, involving up to 300 people on location, including the production team, pilots, experts, risk management, plus local crew, military, fire teams and police. This is the culmination of four years of planning and hard work. We’re particularly grateful to the Mexican authorities for their assistance and support.”

The crash and the results of the accompanying research will be shown later this year in a feature-length documentary on Discovery Channel in the United States, Channel 4 in the UK plus Pro Sieben in Germany. The program is made by award-winning production company Dragonfly Film and Television Productions.

Travel Expert Brings Local Flavor To Guidebooks, Video

Known worldwide as travel editor for CBS News, Peter Greenberg has traveled the planet bringing far away places into living rooms for decades. Now, Greenberg shares his expertise on destinations around the globe in his new “Like a Local” series of guidebooks, videos and travel tips that go on sale April 16.

Teaming with Michelin, Greenberg is releasing the series of “Like a Local” travel guides to Buenos Aires, Cuba, the Caribbean, New Orleans, and Miami that have must-see sights and activities, but also reveal insider tips on how to navigate the process of travel to get the best experience.

“Learn tips like how to avoid the touristy tango clubs in Buenos Aires and dance with the locals in a milonga,” says a release touting Greenberg’s endeavour. Telling “where to find street food stalls serving locally sourced seafood in the Bahamas; how to spend a day with Cuban tobacco farmers in Pinar del Rio” and more, the series looks to be a winner.

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to Greenberg in Amsterdam and found him as colorful and descriptive about travel as one might expect. Speaking of his recent PBS special, “Mexico:The Royal Tour,” Greenberg was as passionate about experiencing the country with Mexico’s President, Felipe Calderón as his guide, undertaking whale watching in Baja California, rappelling down the Cave of Swallows in San Luis Potosi and zip-lining through the jungles of Puerto Vallarta.

Bringing that level of up-close and personal experience to us via guidebooks, videos and tips, the project promises to be far more than the sum of it’s parts.

[Image via Flickr user LollyKnit]

A new twist on Spring Break at Las Animas

Trade those tequila body-shots for a more serene scene at the Las Animas Wilderness Retreat. This is the only boat-in lodge on the Sea of Cortez in Baja, Mexico, and it is getting ready to redefine “spring break.” Keg-standing coeds are in short supply, but regular wildlife is not. Hiking and snorkeling are among the activities that will bring you back to nature in a relaxing environment.

If you’re interested in nature, you’ll find three orders of marine birds – arctic, temperate and tropical in the Las Animas area, as well as more than 50 species, including Blue Footed Boobies, Brown Pelicans, Royal Terns, Frigate Birds, Cormorants, Turkey Vultures and Osprey. While the animals are plenty, people are not. The remote, eco-friendly resort accommodates no more than 16 guests in eight beachside yurts. Each has a solar shower, covered patio and hammock.

Try the Fish Taco: Baja’s Favorite Food

Maybe it’s just me, but the first time I heard the words “fish” and “taco” together I felt rather nauseous. But, the ol’ fish taco is definitely Baja’s favorite and most famous meal — be it breakfast, lunch or dinner. Just about everywhere you look there is a taco stand accompanied by a sign with a happy looking cartoon fish encouraging you to come over and try this local specialty.

The customs officer who helped us with our paperwork in Tijuana was the first person to mention the fish taco. In fact, he recommended that we eat as much fish as we could in the Baja. I don’t mind fish but it seems like a risky food to consume at an outdoor stand…really how long can shrimp sit in the sun before it becomes a hazard to someone’s health?

Rumored to be a creation of Japanese fishermen, this meal was the word on everyone’s lips by the time we reached Southern Baja. “Try the fish taco” was pretty much a daily occurrence. Usually, I am game to try most foods but for some reason I pictured this dish as a soggy taco with undercooked fish coated in a slimy sauce. I hadn’t even seen a fish taco in actuality but already this figment of my imagination had turned my stomach against it. Soon, though, curiosity got the better of me and I wanted to see whether the fish taco was any good — so I came up with a plan. This well-devised plan was to get my husband Tom to try one and let me know how it was.
I caved once I saw that the fish was deep-fried. We ordered and sat down to enjoy this famous Baja treat. I finally understood what the hype was all about — it was absolutely delicious. If you visit Baja California Sur, eating a fish taco should be on your list of things to do.

“Tacos de pescados” (fish tacos) consist of your choice of fish or shrimp deep friend then wrapped in a flour or corn tortilla. A dollop (or smothering, depends on what your prefer) of mayo is added and then it is up to you to choose from all the fixings. Your choices include: red onion, three or four types of salsa, coleslaw, cabbage, guacamole, and cucumber. Top it all off with the juice from a freshly squeezed lime and you are are ready to experience the best food in the Baja.

A few things to keep in mind:

Eat on the Street
The best “tacos de pescados” are found at the small stands located on the corners of busy streets or tucked away in the middle of town. It might be dusty with only one plastic table to sit at and no ambiance whatsoever but these little vendors can create a meal that will put any five star restaurant to shame.

Pile up your Plate and Save Your Pesos
You can load up your plate with as much of the fixings as you want — it’s not only allowed it’s expected! The first time we ate at a taco stand we tried a little of everything, then we looked around and noticed that everyone had their plates piled high. This is a great way to save money traveling since fish tacos cost around $1.25 US (12.5 pesos) each. Get two and create a great meal that will see you through most of the day.

Eat Right Away

You have to eat them right away while they are piping hot — deep-fried anything doesn’t taste very good even twenty minutes later.

The Spice Factor
The green salsa tends to be way hotter than red salsa.

Get Messy
And, finally, eating a fish taco is a messy process. The taco falls apart, juices will run down your arms–if you haven’t used at least four napkins during this meal you might have missed the beauty of the fish taco.

“No Wrong Turns” chronicles Kelsey and her husband’s road trip — in real time — from Canada to the southern tip of South America in their trusty red VW Golf named Marlin.