March 25, 2016

Photo Essay: The Terroir of Baja Wine Country

Our long weekend in Mexico started as you'd expect: with a shot of tequila.

But surprisingly, that was the most tequila that I had over the course of the entire trip.

Never mind that it wasn't even 10 a.m. yet. We were on a mission to eat and drink as much as we could from Tijuana to Ensenada, Valle de Guadalupe, and back before Sunday.

I've been a fan of underdog wine country pretty much ever since I went to Napa and Sonoma in 2006 and realized I liked small-time, small town wineries—be they in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Upstate New York, the North Fork of Long Island, or Southern California—much more than the big, corporatized, faux European thing that the Bay Area has cornered the market on.

So, ever since I heard that there were wineries just south of the border, along the coast of Baja California, I've been dying to go.

And now that I've been, I can safely say it was everything I'd hoped for and more. And I'm dying to go back.

Our trip was primarily focused on sampling culinary delights, but we managed to squeeze in a few fascinating wineries...

...not the least of which was Lomita, which brings both modern technology and ancient techniques to their winemaking in their Mediterranean and Moorish-inspired villa.

At their vineyard, they grow just five types of grapes—shiraz, merlot, tempranillo, chardonnay, and grenache—but their winemaking might incorporate other kinds of grapes from vines found elsewhere.

Their Discreto Encanto (loosely translated as "Secret Enchantment"), for instance, is a red blend of tempranillo, barbera, and shiraz. And while they're first conditioned in the tanks, they then go into wood barrels and down into their wine cave.

Eventually, they come back upstairs in bottles... be poured in the tasting room.

You can buy a taste, a glass, or a bottle—which they'll ship to you for free—and also stock up on some local gourmet dry goods and even jewelry.

Their vino blanco is called "Blank Space," a blend of sauvignon blanc and chenin blanc with nice tropical fruit flavors and just the right acidity—and served at the proper temperature (and not too cold).

And the rosado is called "Cursi"—Lomita's "sweetheart" wine, which is made from grenache.

Just three miles away was a completely different experience at another vineyard and winery...

...Clos de Tres Cantos, a kind of cloistered environment for winemakers and wine drinkers alike.

They've built an incredible Aztec-inspired compound out of found objects...

...including outdoor furniture created by pouring concrete over old armchairs.

The rocks in the walls were sourced locally...

...and much of the wood is reclaimed.

They've also got quite an interesting philosophy behind their wine, which has names like "Noesis" (a tempranillo, named for the thinking mind)...

...and "Nada," a tempranillo and petite sirah that's anything but nothing.

Taking a trip down to their wine cave is a pretty special experience...

...where their larger-than-life menu pivots to open a door into a downright spiritual experience—an underground facility that's as much about meditation and spirituality as it is about wine storage and aging.

What's particularly impressive to me is how sophisticated the wines could be, considering how young the vintages were—and how new the wineries were.

The winemakers of the Valle de Guadalupe region must be really industrious, or motivated, or just that smart—to do so much with so little.

And even Americans are getting into the game, as with the small, family-run Lechuza winery and vineyard...

...and the farm-to-table restaurant Deckman's, whose "slow food" comes to Baja courtesy of American Drew Deckman, who hails from Georgia...

...but spent years developing his craft in Europe, when he earned a Michelin star as a chef in Germany.

Now, you can enjoy his open-air restaurant with an incredible vineyard view right next to chickens and geese...

...eating a salad that should not be so delicious. and sipping on some 2014 vintage vino blanco from Cavas del Mogor.

Wait, this is Mexico? you ask. I know, you don't expect all this talk about philosophy and sustainability; but it's there, and it's happening right now.

And in many ways, it's still pure—untainted—because it's still kind of an underground movement. Nobody's really come in from the outside to exploit-and-destroy it.


I don't think that Valle de Guadalupe will ever grow to the level of the Napa Valley, even though the media likes to call it "the Napa of Baja." I hope it retains its "underdog" status but continues to grow—as have the Edna Valley, Santa Ynez Valley, and Temecula Valley wine countries.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Baja for Foodies
Photo Essay: A Culinary Tour of Tijuana
Photo Essay: Rosenthal Malibu Estate Vineyard Tour
Adventure Is Out There! Wine Country Edition

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