It’s Not Where You Think It Is! ( Hint – You Can Drink the Wine, But Not the Water!)
Looking for a new vineyard adventure? Head for the border, the Mexican border, to Valle de Guadalupe, just 90 minutes south of San Diego and 15 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean.
Recently ranked as one of the Top 50 Travel Destinations in the World for 2017 by Travel and Leisure, this unpolished yet highly appealing wine region is already being dubbed “the Next Napa”. For many, the appeal lies as much in the adventure and ruggedness of the experience, as in tasting the distinctive wines.
The main Valle del Guadalupe Wine Route or Ruta del Vino, as it is known, stretches along Highway 3 between the cities of Tecate and Ensenada. Once the road less traveled, the highway now buzzes with constant traffic of Mexican locals and U.S. adventurers alike.
Though the attention to this fertile valley may be new, the industry is old. The region has produced wine since the 1700’s, distinguishing itself as one of the oldest wine growing regions in the Americas. The ebb and flow of production, along with Mexico’s overwhelming affection for tequila, brandy, and beer, have long kept wine production out of the limelight in Mexico. It’s only been in the last decade that the area’s popularity has exploded. With the increased popularity of the area and the paving of the roads between Ensenada and Tecate, tourism increased and shows no sign of slowing.
The contemporary vineyards and notable restaurants emerging in The Valle strongly embrace the area’s regional and cultural traditions. This authenticity creates an aura of old-world charm that allows visitors to step back in time while enjoying the distinctive wines of this modern Mexican wine country.
With more than 7,700 acres of vineyards, this relatively young, rapidly expanding region now produces an estimated 90% of the country’s wine. The Valle boasts an eclectic blend of French, Spanish, and Italian grapes. But, unlike every other major wine area in the world, Valle has no signature grape. There are cabernet and cargnan, grenache and nebbiolo, syrah and tempranillo, chenin blanc and sauvignon blanc. While every grape has a chance to become a star, many vintners believe it’s the blends that best highlight the potential of the region.
Amado Garza, owner of Viñas de Garzas prefers the blends because they contain the essence derived from his vineyards and craftsmanship. “Giving structure to each varietal becomes personal like authorship, and I like to work with that freedom,” explains Garza.
Each wine created comes with a set of varying essences. There are nine basic essences characteristic to all wines: sweet, bitter, sour, smooth, acetic, flowery, fruity, oak, and tannin. These essences, although sometimes barely noticeable in some wines, will ultimately determine whether the customer likes or dislikes a wine.
With more than 100 wineries dotting its desert-like terrain, and over 150 across the Baja California Peninsula, this laid-back, unpretentious region holds countless surprises for visitors with its old-world charm and contemporary tasting experiences. Despite the influx of wine curious visitors, Valle de Guadalupe remains low-key and un-commercial for the most part. It’s reminiscent of pre-tourism Napa.
The region is still new enough and small enough that all of the wineries here are family-based says Fernando Perez Castro, owner of Valle’s La Lomita and Finca La Carrodilla wineries. “We all live here. When you visit a winery, there’s a great chance you’ll see the owner or winemaker hanging around.”
Getting to Valle de Guadalupe is easy. You can drive two hours south from San Diego or fly to Tijuana. Once you’re across the border, you can use UberValle to get around; it’s an Uber service that dispatches private drivers to chauffeur you all day long, from Tijuana’s airport to the wineries, and to dinner or beyond.
Your UberVALLE driver will wait for you as long as you need so you can enjoy the vineyards in Valle de Guadalupe. Once you’re done for the day, your driver will return you safely to Tijuana or Ensenada.
Whether it’s with a tour operator or on your own, you’re sure to find a wine you like and venues you love.