Monday, September 1, 2014 at 6:03 a.m.
This year's Vendimias, Provino's annual wine harvest festival
in the Valle de Guadalupe saw another season of sold out events and special tasting dinners featuring some of the best chefs in the world. It was a challenge due to the fact that the government of Ensenada never fixed the collapsed highway and then made things worse by beginning construction during the busy weekends, snarling traffic on the free highway that runs through La Mision.
On Saturday the 16th I attended the sold out Finca Altozano dinner in the Valle de Guadalupe that featured chefs Javier Plascencia (Finca Altozano, Misión 19), Jair Téllez (MeroToro, Laja), Timothy Hollingsworth (the Broad), Ori Menashe (Bestia) and more that prepared an amazing from an all star line up of chefs. Down the road at Corazon de Tierra, Latin 50 Best chef, Diego Hernandez cooked alongside chef Dante Neuquen from Monterrey, and in Ensenada, chef Benito Molina prepared a meal at Manzanilla
using Ensenada products paired with legendary winemaker Hugo D'Acosta's wines. All in all the impressive events should speak for what's happening in the region but in a 24-hour trip, WSJ's Lettie Teague, who apparently wasn't treated as the important writer that she is, left with an attitude and just as uninformed as when she arrived
What was Baja's crime?--not being Napa (is Napa even Napa anymore?) and not having time due to the busy season to wine and dine a writer who was expecting a little more. Teague commented that on the day she went to Hugo D'Acosta's Casa de Piedra they were closed, well here's a news flash--Casa de Piedra has never been open for walk-ins, the tastings are by appointment only and have always been since D'Acosta opened in 1997. Every wine region in the world has wineries that only do tastings by appointment.
Teague gave Lechuza Winery a mixed review and then went on a tangent about the saltiness of the Valle de Guadalupe wines when it's well known that many winemakers don't have this issue and many others are getting grapes from Santo Tomas, which lies south of Ensenada and doesn't have to contend with salty water. She visited Las Nubes, Vinas de Garza, and a few others but refused to mention these wineries because she deemed the wine to be unmentionable. There are perhaps 60 wineries in the region and over 150 labels, and Teague could only find good wines at one winery, Mogor Badan?
She also loved Deckman's en El Mogor, which is one of my favorites, too, but left out 2 restaurants that are listed on the Latin America 50 Best--Corazon de Tierra and Laja. Teague also didn't visit Finca Altozano, one of the most popular spots in the Valle de Guadalupe; she didn't stop at La Cocina de Dona Esthela. Laja is a seminal restaurant in the region and in Modern Mexican cuisine, as is chef Benito Molina's Manzanilla in Ensenada--Molina also has Silvestre, his camp-style restaurant in the Valle de Guadalupe. Malva, Latitud 32, and many other restaurants in the Vallle are fine options for the Valle de Guadalupe cuisine that makes the area so attractive. Tegue didn't check any of these places out. A first trip to the Valle without hitting up Laja is like missing the French Landry in Yountville.
Teague further complained about incompatible blends of grapes, as if Mexico should only stick to the Bordeaux blends that marked the 80's in the Valle de Guadalupe. Mexico isn't the only wine region to do unconventional blends--Artiste, a cult wine from Los Olivos which also has a tasting room up in Napa is sought by wine lovers for its unique blends, and their are plenty of other examples in other New World wine regions.
I believe that when we refer the Valle de Guadalupe valley to Napa we are not treating it as a facsimile, but more the idea of an underrated wine region that seemed to have grown a considerable amount practically overnight and has turned into a food and wine destination. But the truth is that you can dine at better restaurants in the Valle de Guadalupe than in Napa, with chefs that are among the elite in the world. For the same price as a night at the French Laundry you can hit all the top restaurants in the Valle with a region that boasts 7 of the 9 most expensive seafood products in the world.
There are plenty of great winemakers in the Valle that are making delicious wines in the same league as Mogor Badan and the dining options are exciting and approachable--the best attribute of a wine region is the strength of its restaurants. The region's wines also hold up better to dishes with chiles and bold Mexican flavors. This leads me to believe (I also spoke with someone who knew details about Teagues experience) that Lettie Teague wasn't able to properly research the Valle de Guadalupe, and therefore had a limited experience in her rather brief 24 hour trip. It's not common for a travel writer to write up a destination with just 24 hours to figure it out. The story itself mostly misses what's great about the Valle de Guadalupe and is somewhat petulant-- ultimately it comes across as sour grapes.