I've been to Mexico plenty of times. The people are warm and welcoming, the food is amazing, and the beaches are beautiful. My visits to the coast have kept me coming back but I had no idea that just south of the border lies the area of Mexico responsible for 95% of its wine. Until recently many Americans considered it unsafe to use the San Ysidro border crossing south of San Diego. The crossing is the best way to access Baja but visitors are forced to pass through the notorious city of Tijuana to get to the 1 Highway south. Over the years, Mexico has worked hard to improve the safety of the city and today there is booming restaurant and entertainment scene and access to all of the delights of the area.
We starting in San Diego and took the 805 Freeway south to San Ysidro. Once we made it through Tijuana, which is fairly easy to do with adequate signage, we on our way. We hit a couple of tolls along the coast (*make sure you carry small US bills or pesos if you have them for the tolls) and continued smoothly southbound. About an hour after the border we cruised by Rosarito, the classic Baja party spot for Americans wanting a taste of Mexico close to home.
Earlier that day I had made a reservation via Airbnb for a room in a house just off the 1 Highway at the northern edge of the city of Ensenada (check it out) . When we arrived we were only two hours south of San Diego. We grabbed a couple tacos, the first of four times in three days that we would eat at that taco stand because they are that good. We checked in with the owner of the house, an English-speaking guy named Peter, and dropped our bags. It was getting dark so we walked down the road a short way to the Cerveceria Agua Mala. Their Sirena Pilsner is one of my favorite product labels of all time.
The next morning we woke up early. We were right on the water and I was still having a hard time visualizing our desitination. The Valle de Guadalupe sits just beyond the hills to the east. Within 10-12 minutes of driving the terrain had changed and the road twisted upward. The region's wine industry owes its success largely to a geographic anomaly. It was discovered by vinters that the Baja peninsula has a semi-desert climate, but Ensenada's region has a cold marine current, which helps to produce a Mediterranean-style climate ideal for growing wine grapes. With its warm summers and mild winters, not to mention sunny days and cool nights during the growing season, this valley produces fine Mexican wines with a style of their own.
Our first stop was at Deckman's el el Mogor, a restaurant I had read great reviews for. Tables are spread around various levels of earth which feel like a fairytale land full of nooks and secret places. We chatted with our server and regretted having eaten earlier near the house thinking we might not find anything to eat out here. Rookie mistake. The chefs cook over an open fire surrounded by hanging pots and stone surfaces. Food from the nearby sea and land around the vineyards is colorful and aromatic. We order our first wine, a 2012 blend of Mogor Badán Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc & Merlot. It was inky and powerful with graphite flecked across the palate. A serious wine for such a relaxed and not serious place. The server gave me a map of the area - a tool that proved extremely valuable as relying on the roaming map on my cell phone gets pricy on these trips.
The Valle de Guadalupe Ruto del Vino is well organized, well maintained and relatively simple to follow (check it out). For the next 6-7 hours we wound along the ruta, stopping periodically for one reason or another as things struck our interest.
We made it to the following spots:
Viñedos LA Cetto
Quinta Monestario Viñedos
*Click on any of the places above to view their website!