The Vine, Baja-Style
When Californians think of wine, and likely most Americans, they tend to look north to the well-established (and well-publicized) places within the valleys of Napa and Sonoma Counties.
Indeed, they would be deeply gratified by their choice to visit there, not only because of the nearly 400 established wineries, but because of the vast oenological culture that lives there. Combine that with the regions' rich history (its first commercial winery opened around 1859), these twin valleys constitute California's second most visited state attraction (only Disneyland is more popular).
Less is known about the "other" western coastal winemaking region, nestled just two hours south of the border, located in the temperate region of the Baja Peninsula's northern zone. It is eclipsed perhaps by the more famous cousins to the north, but no less rich in its history - and its selection of vintners - topping out at more than 50.
Getting to this point has been filled with many fits and starts along the way; Spaniards first planted vineyards at the Santo Tomás Mission in 1791, they had enough success that the King of Spain felt threatened by potential competition from New World wineries and banned all vine planting, essentially bringing wine production in Mexico to a halt -- though a few savvy missionaries refused to abide by the crown's draconian laws and continued production in secret until 1857.
Trouble came again after Mexico's War of Reform stripped the Catholic Church of all of its holdings in the region, ending wine production again for many years. Around 1888, the government sold the former lands of the Santo Tomás Mission to private investors and the Bodegas Santo Tomás was established, becoming the first large-scale winery in Mexico.
Forward to the late 1980s and the work of Hugo D'Acosta, an internationally trained winemaker who many say is responsible for the regeneration of the wine industry in the region through his work at the large Santo Tomás valley winery. His exploration of the Guadalupe Valley and the creation of his family's winery, Casa de Piedra, one of the oldest in the region, helped to establish production of wine as a whole there.
The region is responsible for nearly 90 percent of the country's available wines with almost all of that coming from three areas near the port city of Ensenada: the San Antonio de las Minas zone, which includes the Valley of Guadalupe, the San Vicente Valley and the Santo Tomás Valley. The regions' similarities to the Napa and Sonoma valleys include rich granite soils, cool ocean breezes and warm sunny days create perfect terroir, the sum of which allows for the production of world-class wines.
Three of the major wine producers in the region have won international competitions including the Double Gold won by L.A. Cetto at the San Francisco International Wine Competition in May 2009. Red varietals produced there include Cabernet Sauvignon, Ruby Cabernet, Zinfandel Grenache and Mission. Whites are Chenin Blanc, Palomino, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Saint Emilion and Malaga.
HERE ARE FOUR WINERIES FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
CASA DE PIEDRA
Km. 93.5 Carretera Federal #3 Tecate-Ensenada
San Antonio de las Minas, Ensenada
01152.646.155.3097, 01152. 646.155.3102,
01152.646.156.5267 y 01152. 646.156.5268
Built in the late 1990s by the aforementioned Hugo D'Acosta and his family, this is one of the originals in the region and ranks as one of the premier producers today. It began as a small property built of reclaimed woods, rustic metals and plenty of stone. Casa de Piedra has two main offerings: the velvety red Vino de Piedra, a blend of Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon aged in oak barrels and its lively sister Piedra del Sol, created from 100 percent Chardonnay grapes-connoisseurs and news media have described the wines as "groundbreaking", "impressive" and "sensational."
Lago Tangañica 18, Col. Granada, 11520, Mexico, D.F.
Tel. 01152.545.1111 Toll Free Number 01.800.717.4633
CEO Hans Backhoff and five friends founded this winery in 1987 and as they say on their website, "At Monte Xanic we do not intend to imitate the world's greatest wines. We aim to produce excellent wines using noble grapes and the most advanced processes reflecting our character of proud open-minded Mexicans." The winery boasts a wonderful tasting room and has four categories and many choices within, each for you to try: Calixa, Monte Xanic, a Limited Edition and their Grand Ricardo.
VITIVINICOLA TRES VALLES
Ensenada, Baja California México
The name was born from the three valleys that the vintner produces their wines from, Valle de Guadalupe,San Antonio de las Minas, San Vicente de Ferrer. As they say, "we make honest wines with respect to what nature brings, related to the terroir, water and weather. Inspired by the origins of our state, our image and brands are based on the first native settlers of Baja California." Tres Valles wines drive their names from the ethnic Kiliwa language and include reds; 2011 Jala, 50 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 50 percent Grenache Noir, 2010 Cuwal, 90 percent Tempranillo, 5 percent Ruby Cabernet, 5 percent Grenache blend, 2010 Maat, a 100 percent Grenache Noir, 2009 Kojaa, a Petit Sirah and a single white 2012 Jalá, a Sauvignon Blanc.
HACIENDA LA LOMITA
Lote 13, Comunidad de San marcos,
San antonio de las Minas, 22760
Baja California, Mexico
Phone: 01152.646 156.8459
The creation of lifelong friends Fernando Perez Castro and Reynaldo Rodriguez, this vintner was conceived of in 2005 and began offering wine for purchase just one year later in 2006. Its modern tasting room opened its doors at the region's 2009 Harvest Festival and as they say, "It was built by moving rocks from one place to the other." Their modern facility and tasting room is surrounded by the family's rolling hills of Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay vines, grown, harvested, processed, bottled and aged on their property.
HERE'S A SOLID LIST OF VINEYARDS AND WINERIES THROUGHOUT BAJA:
VALLE DE GUADALUPE CELLARS
Phone: (646) 177 2722 and (646) 176 1008
BODEGAS SANTO TOMÁS
In San Antonio de las Minas
BODEGAS Y VIÑEDOS SAN RAFAEL
CASA PEDRO DOMECQ
CAVAS VALMAR CELLARS
L.A. CETTO VALLE DE GUADALUPE
MARTÍN DEL CAMPO
VIDES Y VINOS CALIFORNIANOS
VIÑA DE LICEAGA
Phone: (646) 178 3310 and (646) 178 3350
VIÑEDOS DON JUAN
VINICOLA SANTO TOMAS
VINÍCOLA TINTOS DEL NORTE 32
VIÑEDOS SANTA URSULA
VINÍCOLA J.C. BRAVO
VINÍCOLA TRES MUJERES