Sometimes the best kind of vacations are daycations.
It's possible to have a spontaneous getaway and refresh without breaking the bank thanks to Club Tengo Hambre (CTH, www.clubtengohambre.com), a roving supper club that explores the food, wine, spirits and craft beer of Baja California, Mexico City and Los Angeles. For someone such as myself, whose traveling itinerary revolves around where I'm going to eat, CTH's mantra of "Eat. Drink. Repeat" fits the bill for an affordable wine-tasting day trip to Baja California's Valle de Guadalupe wine region.
CTH is the collective efforts of Bill Esparza (Street Gourmet LA), Jason Thomas Fritz (Tijuanalandia), and Antonio and Kristin Díaz de Sandi (Life & Food), whose respective influential blogs and food tours have introduced gabachos, hipsters, pochos and pochas alike to Baja's gastronomical scene. The outings are an all-day affair: Expect to be at the border promptly at 9:30 a.m. (and return to the pedestrian border crossing at about 8 p.m.). You'll meet on the U.S. side, in front of the McDonald's at the San Ysidro Trolley station. This is where you'll stare at strangers and play a guessing game of who's joining you until your CTH host waves you over.
Violeta Jimenez was our chingona guide for the day, a millennial born and raised in Rosarito who now lives in Las Playas de Tijuana. Once the entire party arrived (a group capped at 11 people total makes for an intimate experience) and a quick meet-and-greet, everyone walked through the border together (passport required). We met our private transportation on the other side for a two-hour drive to Mexico's wine country.
As we enjoyed a scenic ride along the coast, our host busted out a bottle of La Fiera mezcal from Guerrero, a great way to break the ice among wine-thirsty strangers. We stopped at an OXXO (the 7-Eleven of Mexico) for anyone who needed to use the restroom, wanted to purchase snacks or grab a roadside michelada (this is the only stop on the way to the Valle). Eventually, the beaches turn into rolling hills. If you thought California experienced a super-bloom this spring, Mexico had a mega-bloom among its boulder-covered hills.
After some time, we passed by a giant sign stating, "A La Ruta del Vino." It's the beginning of a dusty, two-lane highway that leads past beautiful olive trees, haciendas and grapevines—the Wine Route to the Valle de Guadalupe.
Las Nubes (Callejón Emiliano Zapata, Valle de Guadalupe, 22750 Mpo. Ensenada, B.C.; vinoslasnubesbc.com) was the first stop—and an impressivle one at that, with views and a large deck overlooking the valley. It was founded in 2008 by oenologist Victor Segura, whose wines are as inventive as they are bold and delicate. We got to sample five wines: Jaak (a rosé that was bright and clean), Selección de Barricas (a fruit-forward aromatic dry blend of garnacha, petite syrah and zinfandel), Colección de Parcelas (a spicy blend of tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and nebbiolo with a long-lasting finish), Cumulus (a robust full-bodied blend of garnacha, carinena and tempranillo) and Kuiiy (a combination of chardonnay and sauvignon blanc with a refreshing taste of guava).
CTH likes to rotate its wine tours, so consider yourself lucky if you get to visit Finca La Carrodilla (Parcela 99 Z1 P14, 22755 Valle de Guadalupe, B.C.; www.fincalacarrodilla.mx), one of the most educational wineries along the route. Originally, La Carrodilla was only going to be a production facility for the winery Hacienda la Lomita. But highly influenced by biodynamic approaches to sustainable agriculture, owner Fernando Perez Castro set out to make biodynamic wines. In 2014, Finca la Carrodilla was awarded its organic certification by the IMO (Institute for Marketecology), making it the first certified organic winery in Valle.
Carrodilla's contemporary industrial architecture covered in trellising vines has a purpose: the garden-and-grape reception is on the second story to work as a gravity flow and protect the tank and barrel room (on the first floor) from direct sunlight. We experienced its dedication to the Valle de Guadalupe terroir with samplings of Chenin Blanc (a white wine with elegant notes of honey and grapefruit), Cabernet (full-bodied and refined), Tempranillo (a complex example of how the varietal performs on the soil, with notes off allspice and earthiness), and Syrah (toasted oak, dark berries and a long finish). Besides the great wines, its awesome mission to be a self-sustainable, living farm makes it a must-visit.
Hacienda La Lomita (Fracc. 3 Lote 13, Camino vecinal Parcela 71, San Marcos, 22750 Valle de Guadalupe, B.C.; www.lomita.mx) was one of the first wineries in Valle to start using modern techniques and technology. By the time we arrived, everyone was pretty hungry and feeling warm from all the wine, so we opted to take the bottles of wine to Hacienda La Lomita's TrasLomita restaurant (an outdoor eatery surrounded by beautiful landscaping), our final tasting of the day.
Here is Baja-Med's best-kept secret: Chef Sheyla Alvarado. We started with tostadas de ceviche verde, small tostadas piled high with finely cubed jícama and yellowtail dressed in a herbaceous verde dressing and topped with pickled red onions and micro cilantro. Next, was the borrego adobada al horno de lena, a succulent lamb dish that sits in a comforting stew of hominy and garnished with charred onions and creamy avocado; you'll want to ask for extra tortillas to mop up every last drop of au jus. Paired with Lomita's exceptional Discreto Encanto wines and beautiful al-fresco ambiance, our lunch was worth the wait, balancing unforgettable flavors that spoke to the region's promise.
After our meal, we took a group photo before making our way back to the border. Driving up the two-lane highway, the golden hour set its glow on the picturesque landscapes of the Valle. Despite the winding roads, our crew started to nod off after a long day of wine tasting. We agreed that CTH created a memorable experience and opportunity to explore just one of the infinite distinctions that makes Mexico so special. It's easy to see why the Valle de Guadalupe has garnered accolades for its wine, food and breathtaking scenery with its sincere embrace of tourists from el Norte.
Our driver dropped us off back at the San Ysidro pedestrian border crossing, where we said our goodbyes, exchanged numbers and thanked our amazing tour guide, Violeta. We only visited three wineries out of the 100 or so that sprawl the Valle, so salud to more daycations.
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Pro tip: Make sure to take advantage of the two-bottle allocation (per person) and bring some wine back with you to enjoy at home and share with friends.
Side note: A visit to the wineries calls for proper attire. Valle chic is guayabera or sundress. Don't dress as if you go to San Diego State, people.