Less than a two-hour drive south of San Diego, down the scenic coastal Mexican Federal Highway No. 1, lies the Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico’s burgeoning wine region. While you may associate beer and tequila as the quintessential beverages of Mexico, the popularity of wine is growing at a tremendous rate, close to 15% last year. We don’t see Mexican wines in the States because Mexican wineries sell most of their production within Mexico. Wine sales are significant in the beach resorts of Puerto Vallarta, Cancun and the Rivera Maya, as well as in the large cities of Guadalajara, Tijuana, Monterrey and the capital, Mexico City. Hans Backoff, GM and principal winemaker of Monte Xanic Winery, put it into perspective for us in explaining that the consumption of wine in San Diego is larger than that of all of Mexico. “There are only 2 million drinkers of wine currently in Mexico, but they drink A LOT of wine.”
The translation for “winemaker” in Spanish is enólogo, or oenologist, and 80% of the oenologists in the Valle are first generation. Coming from all walks of life, they are determined to stand the winemaking industry on its head. In Mexico, there are no AOC/AVA/DOC designations, which refer to the regulations that define quality standards for wine. And they like it that way. No rules means no boundaries, restrictions or government. This leaves the door wide open for artistic expression and creativity.
Hubby and I found ourselves in the Valle under the guise of doing some advance work for our Desert Drinkers wine group out of Arizona. Two years ago, we planned a wine tour in the Santa Ynez Valley of Central California, and it was such a hit we were asked to plan another. Next on our list was Mexico, and the reason was twofold. First, we have a dear friend, Adalberto (Beto) Rios Lanz, who just happens to be a prominent photographer and food writer in Mexico (funny how we surround ourselves with foodies). He has been expounding on the virtues of the northern Mexican state of Baja California Norte (BCN) for many years. Secondly, BCN sees 800,000 visitors annually whose number one reason is to partake on a food and wine safari. The growth of the wineries is only equaled by the growth of cutting edge and outstanding restaurants. It’s a symbiotic relationship, where gastronomy and oenology work hand in hand to promote the overall growth of the area.
One of the things that struck me the most about our visit was this incredible nationalistic pride of Mexico, of their wine and of their food, and all of this intertwined in the culture of the Valle. Our three-day visit was extensive, I and have included the highlights below. Follow me on Instagram and Facebook as well to see how our Desert Drinkers BCN Food and Wine Safari turns out that we have planned for April. Buen Provecho! Xo M
Where We Sipped:
Take in the spectacular view of the Valle de Guadalupe from the deck of the winery and tasting room at Monte Xanic while savoring some of their Bordeaux varietals. We were a bit hot and dusty upon arrival and their crisp Sauvignon Blanc worked its magic to quench our thirst. Established in 1987 by Hans Backhoff Escudero, Monte Xanic is now run by his son, Hans Backhoff. Hans explained to us that over 30 years ago his father took a batch of wine he had made on his farm to a regatta. He passed it out to his buddies who said, “this is wonderful…you made this from grapes grown on Mexican soil? We should all go into business together.” Just goes to show that no idea is a crazy idea.
Finca La Carrodilla
A sister winery to Hacienda La Lomita, Finca La Carrodilla is just stunning. This 50-acre biodynamic and organic farm has a gorgeous rooftop garden from which taste their Shiraz, Chenin Blanc, and a blend made up of Cabernet, Shiraz, and Tempranillo. We also were treated to a divine cheese plate, all of which came from the property.
Across from our hotel, Rocas del Valle, Hilo Negro was founded in 2012 and turns out some of the Valle’s newer wines. This small winery produces four wines under the tutelage of Juan Carlos Guevara: one Sauvignon Blanc and three reds. The principal variety of the winery is Nebbiolo, a grape that arguably could define the terroir bajacaliforniano in producing wines that are strong in character with a hint of salinity.
Casa de Piedra
Casa de Piedra was established in 1997 by Hugo d’Acosta, a Mexico City native who trained in Bordeaux and is credited (along with Hans Backoff) with having kick-started Baja’s wine revolution. Daniela, Hugo’s daughter, led us through a tasting starting with their sparkling wine (yes! Sparkling wine out of Mexico!), followed by a Chardonnay and a Cab blend. Their flagship wine, Vino de Piedra, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo, is considered one of Mexico’s finest wines.
Viñas de Garza
The Viñas de Garza winery and estate is built on a ridge with a commanding view of the valley from their open air tasting room. Oenologist Amado Garza Vargas is a mechanical engineer from Monterrey who turns out a variety of tasty wines, such as his namesake, the Amado IV, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo, and Zinfandel, which is considered one of Baja’s benchmark red wines.
Adobe Guadalupe, established in the late ’90s by retired American banker Don Miller and his Dutch-born wife, Tru, is a charming six-room bed and breakfast that is also home to a 60-acre vineyard. Touted by Hubby as some of his favorite Baja wines, Adobe plants Cabernet, Grenache, Nebbiolo, and Tempranillo grapes. Under the direction of Chilean-born winemaker Daniel Lonnberg, the estate turns out a number of well-regarded wines under labels named for archangels.
Three ladies–Ivette Vaillard, Eva Cotero Altamirano and Laura McGregor Garcia–met at Hugo d’Acosta’s winemaking school, La Escuelita, in the nearby village of El Porvenir. What started as personal experiments in winemaking has evolved into a winery that produces over 4,000 bottles. Wine is sold directly to the many visitors who arrive at their winery each week to take a tour or experience a tasting, inspired mainly by word of mouth and the recommendation of friends.
Where We Supped:
An influential organizer of our trip also happens to be one of the Valle’s fastest-rising chef stars. Roberto Alcocer, alum of the uber-famous Pujol in Mexico City, was instrumental in crafting our three-day tour. As a result, we were treated to a delightful evening at his popular eatery, Malva. Alcocer masterfully blends flavors and textures with Joel Robuchon-like precision. One of his signature dishes is lamb that has been slowly roasted in a wood-fired oven for 14 hours, then pressed into a perfect cube and set atop creamed cauliflower. I look forward to returning, this time during the daytime to take in the view of the Valle from the open-air dining room/kitchen. Plus, I am still dreaming about his Salpicón de Pato, a duck confit tostada.
Deckman’s en el Mogor
Drew Deckman earned a Michelin star with his Deckman’s en el Mogor situated on the grounds of the Mogor Badán winery. Slightly reminiscent of my experience in Córdoba at Francis Mallmann’s 1884, Deckman’s outdoor kitchen setting is idyllic. Walking into the restaurant you pass by the various outdoor grills, where the meal is prepared and all of the vegetables come from the property. This is an experience not to be missed.
Manzanilla is on Mexico’s San Pellegrino top 50 restaurant list, and for a good reason. If you are a bit tired of wine at this point, here is your chance to order a Gin & Tonic and sample the delicacies of Northern Baja that Chefs Benito Molina and Solange Muris dish out, such as oysters, abalone, sardines and yellowtail tuna.
Foodie Tour of Ensenada
I am forever changed by our Foodie Tour of Ensenada. For in the span of two hours, I had the best Baja Fish Tacos and Clam Cocktails in my life. Plus I tried a tostada topped with uni (sea urchin) and tuna. And no, I did not get La Turista. It is all that fresh and that good!! Just see for yourself:
Where We Slept:
Rocas Del Valle
Rocas del Valle is a new resort with beautiful views, a centralized location and a chic, youthful design. Breakfast was served under a lovely open-air pavilion, and they also offered a nice choice of vegetarian options.
Muchisimas gracias a todos los que hicieron possible este viaje fenomenal, especialmente a nuestro compadre (y socio en crimen) Adalberto Rios, y su vasta red de amigos, incluyendo pero no se limita a, Roberto Alcocer y Paola Norman.
A Texas-sized thank you to all who helped to make this trip happen, especially our dear friend and compadre, Adalberto Rios, and his vast network of friends, including but not limited to, Roberto Alcocer and Paola Norman.
All photos by Marci Symington for texAZtaste.com. This was not a sponsored post.