How the Valle de Guadalupe has changed! Fifteen years ago, there were about a dozen wineries; now there are more than sixty, with more seemingly springing up every day. Ten years ago, what was being produced was quite frankly awful, sticky-sweet wine that couldn't have held a candle to Ernst and Julio up here; now, there are wines that compete favorably against Californian and even French wines.
Most of the valley's production is blends–big blends, sometimes with five different varietals, often from different ranchos. While this isn't always the case, most of the tastings you'll do will come with a litany of what kinds of grapes went into the bottle you're sampling. “Este vino lleva Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Tempranillo y Mourvèdre,” for example, with the hard Ts pronounced at the end of Cabernet.
It's slowly changing, though, and as the quality of the grapes
increases, so too does the chance of finding a good varietal wine. It's a
slow process, and because viticulture is such a crapshoot, a
Tempranillo that's excellent this year may need to be tempered with a
little Cabernet Franc next year.
We found out about the grape orgy that happens all over the Valle de
Guadalupe, with grapes being traded in order to produce very different
wines, from Phil and Eileen Gregory, owners of La Villa del Valle, a
bed-and-breakfast off the main drag that happens to contain a winery
called Vena Cava and a certain locally famous restaurant called Corazón
Phil Gregory is a sailor, and he and his architects designed the winery
with abandoned boats found in the Ensenada harbor. It's a stunning
place; it seemingly rises out of a hill, completely invisible from the
main road (if a patch of rock-strewn red dust can really properly be
called a main road–this is rural Mexico, after all), with lenses placed
in the walls to provide a little light. It's a building that could
simply never be built in the United States, despite the fact that it
would win awards here. There are several rooms, and eventually this will
be a fully functioning winery and bottling facility; right now,
tastings are held at a long glass table in the barrel room.
Those barrels, incidentally, are a living example of the changing of the
wine production in Baja California; the Gregorys have dozens of barrels
of wine from neighboring wineries, from Ojos Negros (in the next valley
southeast, but still part of the denomination region), and from their
Their Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the lightest such wines I've ever
tasted; it's still tannic like all Cabernet Sauvignons, but maybe it was
the heat–it was 100° on our last visit–it didn't seem as heavy as we
The Tempranillo, though, made from their own grapes, is big and
bombastic and the best wine they sell at Vena Cava; it practically
screams to be paired with meat and chiles. At $26 a bottle, it's on the
lower end of Baja wine prices, too. It's well worth bringing back (there
is a limit, thank you California and your stupid laws, of three bottles
per couple, or one liter per person).
They make white wine, too, but in one of those you're-in-Mexico moments,
there isn't any; they have drunk it all, and the few bottles that
remain are earmarked for the Fiesta de las Vendimias, the wine festival
that through this weekend in Ensenada and the Valle de
Guadalupe. The Gregorys even have been experimenting with méthode
champenoise sparkling wines, with large racks shot through with holes in
order to turn the bottles and agitate the sediment.
What's most remarkable about the place, besides the total serenity and
the fact that you walk outside at night and are taken aback by thousands
upon thousands of stars, is how laid-back it is.
It's best to call for an appointment to ensure someone will be there to
talk about the wine, though you can always have a glass at the bar in
Corazón de Tierra. From the US, dial 011-52-1-646-183-9249, visit their
website, or leave a message at (818) 207-7130.