On Friday night I attended the kickoff party for the 22nd annual Fiestas de la Vendimia at the Riviera Casino in downtown Ensenada which runs from August 3rd through the 19th. Around 3,000 attendees sipped Mexican wines from the Valle de Guadalupe, sampled the finest Baja cuisine from various booths featuring star chefs, and loudly mingled under the Ensenada night's sky. Former presidente Felipe Calderon even came in for this one, to attend the official opening of the new Wine Museum, and to sip a few glasses of vino mexicano at the Muestra del Vino put on by Comite ProVino.
I was talking with an LA chef about the event and he replied, “Don't you think that's too many events, and just a little too much?” (the festival boasts 49 events in over 2 weeks). I've attended Vendimia events for the last 6 years, but going to the Muestra del Vino finally showed me what this festival is truly about. It's Coachella for Baja Californios, an all-out, no-holds-barred bacchanalia where Baja chefs, winemakers, and their supporters cook, eat, drink wine, and party 'til the dawn–restaurants stay open until five in the morning to keep the spirit of Vendimias alive. For the locals, Vendimias is far too short. Here's what you can expect if you're ready to imbibe, Baja California style.
Muestra del Vino
I received a promising map from ProVino listing all the wineries in colored zones around the casino, but all pragmatics float away like angel's share from a wine cask once you get to the first wine station. This is a party para pistear–there will be time to savor wines and get to know the producers at the individual events.
The food was provided by the who's who of Baja chefs: Drew Deckman of Deckman's en el Mogor, Chef Benito Molina's Manzanilla, Chef Javier Plascencia's new wine country restaurant Finca Altozano, Muelle Tres, Asao, Chef Diego Hernandez's Corazon de Tierra, Boules, and many more.
There were 46 labels present at this wine drinking event, and I did my best to seek out wines I hadn't tried, but mostly I took in the sights. Baja Californios are decked out for these gatherings, where you will see a well-heeled crowd and an endless parade of beautiful young women at every Vendimia celebration.
The Vendimia has become more local these past couple of years due to the drop in US visitors yet the events are sold out–locals have caught on that this is the premier Baja fiesta. What has been neglected by the news is that there are a ton of Americans living in Baja like Dennis Sein and Bo Bendana from Newport Beach, who bought a house on Rosarito Beach because they love beach living but couldn't afford to do it in California. They're planning on opening a Baja-Med restaurant soon in Rosarito. “We love it down here, and can't believe people are afraid to come down, I mean just look at how amazing it is,” said Bendana.
When not attending one of the gala events, or “mas country” style parties there's wine tasting. Vendimia celebrations run from Tuesday through Sunday each week with at least one event each day, and as many as 8 on the weekends. In between, revelers grab sips at the various wineries.
When I arrived at Vino y Musica en La Nubes on Saturday evening I noticed some familiar faces–many locals stumble from one event to the other. The stunning hillside winery attracted a crowd of businessmen and their wives, guapas, and Mexican wine enthusiasts.
Las Nubes has made a name for itself in a rather short time, and is currently one of the finest producers in the Valle de Guadalupe. Guests gulped glass after glass of a crisp unoaked chardonnay waiting patiently for a much anticipated Baja tasting menu catered by Chef Plascencia(Mision 19) paired with the winery's boutique wines.
There's still a chance to score some tickets for events if you hurry. Prices range from as low as $22 to around $120 for the more prestigious houses. Live music, DJ's, dance, and even a Russian festival are provided at various happenings during Vendimias. Come get your drink on in El Valle de Guadalupe from now until August 19th.
XXII Fiestas de la Vendimia, August 3-19, 2012, Various locations in the Valle de Guadalupe, Ensenada, Tijuana, and Tecate, Tickets available at ProVino http://www.provinoac.org/espanol/calendarioCompleto.php