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.
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.
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.
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]