The Valle de Guadalupe was hotter than ever this summer, especially in the month of August during the annual Vendimia (run by Provino), or wine harvest festival. This is one part of Baja that isn't sweating the lack of U.S. tourists at all, because you simply couldn't get a room the entire month--everything is booked--I drove around to 4 hotels in Ensenada the first weekend of the Vendimia before finding a room for one night--with hourly rates!. A woman at my table attending Corazon de Tierra's G-8 dinner had to get a room all the way back at La Fonda in La Mision, 30 minutes away, down a dark winding country highway.
Chilangos, tapatios, regios and the local elite loaded with cash and an appetite for all things Baja--not to mention THE best chefs in Mexico--are pouring into Mexico's premier wine country to throw dollars in the air like rock stars, snatching up any and every event--no questions asked. Anybody got tickets for...sorry, it's sold out! 3 weeks and 41 events later, we are stuffed, glowing, hungover, and have had to toss a few wine stained shirts and blouses. Next year will be even bigger, so, here's what happened while you[tourists] were away.
Laura and Maribel Villareal at EMEVE
The Vendimias has three main types of events: gala dinners at wineries, grand tasting events, and chef dinners with wine pairings. All the Baja chefs are involved in these dinners, as are the top chefs in Mexico. Many of the events are hallmarks of the Vendimias, like the paella contest, the Noche de Cofradia, and Jazz en el Mogor.
For fresas, it's the big disco party at L.A. Cetto for tacos, Earth Wind and Fire on the DJ console, and enough wine to make a pair of cuates argue until both have been properly splashed with red wine. "Ai wey, no mames!"
Your best bet is the chef dinners and winery events, preferably, a winery that you like, and could drink it all night long, because you will--this is a party, really.
EMEVE winery, Vendimias 2012
EMEVE throws a relaxing affair at their beautiful estate surrounded by their vineyards and warm hospitality from Laura Villareal (winery manager), and her French-trained chef sister, Maribel Villareal--wine are made by enologist Reynaldo Rodriguez, who has an affinity for malbec.
Las Nubes, 2012
At Las Nubes you can expect a gala event in every sense of the word, with every detail attended by winemaker Victor Segura at perhaps one of the most charming wineries in the Valle de Guadalupe. The wines are excellent, and Chef Javier Plascencia is usually in the kitchen tent pairing his unique brand of Baja cuisine with Segura' s kuiiy(Savignon blanc and Chardonnay), Jaak (rose), and Cumulus ( grenache, tempranillo, and carignan).
Chefs Zach Pollack and Steve Sampson join Chef Javier Plascencia at Finca Altozano, 2013
Lamb by Sotto Restaurant at Finca Altozano
Chef Javier Plascencia's Finca Altozano had a chef dinner at a dark romantic dinner which enlisted L.A. Chefs Steve Sampson and Zach Pollak of Sotto. As all the events I attended, all the usual faces from region were there, even the son of Livio Santini, a chef who has been credited with the creation of the Caesar's salad; Santini worked under Caesar Cardini, founder of Caesar's. Between Plascencia's quail and foie gras and Sotto's lamb dish, and the great company, the evening was another night to remember at Vendimias.
Edgar Nuñez at the G8 dinner, Corazon de Tierra 2013
This years big ticket was the G8 dinner, or Gang of 8, a nod to Ferran Adrias G-8(group of 8) chefs that are spreading the news of Latin cuisine to the world stage.
The two nights featured none other than Chefs Enrique Olvera (Pujol, Eno, Maiz del Mar), Guillermo Gonzalez Pangea), Arturo Fernandez (Raices), Jorge Vallejo (Quintonil), Edgar Nu
Barbacoa in chirmole, G8 dinner at Corazon de Tierra
Concurso de paellas
For the finale, I finally made it to Concurso de Paellas, or paella contest at Viña de Liceaga--I heard this was the biggest party--40 competing paella pans the size of hummers and 50 wineries. the wine set up is nice and the lines are non-existent because everyone is jockeying for position at some of the more famous paella stands like Los Domineros.
Paella by Chefs Margarita Prieto and Javier Plascencia, Concurso de paellas, 2013
Baja has its own style of paella--it's not traditional Spanish paella--but paella is done is different guises all over Latin America. In Baja, it's long grain rice, but you'll not find anything of this caliber in the U.S.
Chef Plascencia worked with Spanish Chef Margarita Prieto from Granada--she's the chef at Lorca in Tijuana. Nearby was Chef Drew Deckman, and the snacks while we waited consisted of whole roast suckling pig and lamb cooked in a caja china--there was beer and wine--this was the place to set up camp. A handful of sorties for more wine and to taste paellas and back in time to watch the lid come off Prieto and Plascencia's paella pan.
The prices are reasonable, and the lodgings(they can't build the fast enough) are a dream, if you can get a room. No one leaves this event hungry or sober--this is what a wine harvest celebration should be, a celebration of life, wine, friends and food.