Rugged mountains and fertile valleys characterize the agricultural land in Mexico’s California
A few facts and a bit of geography to get us started: (1) The border between the US and Mexico at Tijuana is basically on the outskirts of San Diego; (2) Over 50 million people cross this border every year and it is apparently the busiest border crossing in the world; (3) About an hour’s drive south of Tijuana brings you to Ensenada and Mexico’s wine country, the Guadalupe Valley; (4) Ensenada is also the gateway to the Baja California; and (5) more than 10 million foreign tourists visit the Baja every year. If any of that is surprising to you then here’s another illuminating fact – the wine is pretty damn good as well.
Yes, in general, the Baja has a hot, dry climate but there is nevertheless a tremendous amount of agriculture here. There are a few factors that mitigate the latitudinal disadvantage of trying to grow wine grapes this far south. The Valle de Guadalupe (Guadalupe Valley) is one of several valleys that run perpendicular to the Pacific Ocean coastline. This allows cooler marine air and fog to flow up the valley in the evenings just as happens in Napa. The winegrowers also have the benefit of altitude with vineyards located at 350 – 380m of elevation which likewise provides slightly cooler temperatures. The climate here is often referred to as “Mediterranean” which is probably fair but there is no doubt the region is on the “warm” side of Mediterranean. Fog and elevation can only do so much to slow ripening and the harvest in the Guadalupe Valley starts in July!
Why Valle de Guadalupe for Wine?
Tempranillo is a happy transplant to the Valle de Guadalupe
Although grape growing and agriculture have been going on in the area for hundreds of years, it is only quite recently that the wine making industry has hit its stride. Commercial winemaking of any significance only started in the 1970’s and then only really started to gain traction in the late 80’s as quality started to improve. In fact, in a circumstance similar to what happened with the Canadian wine industry, the drive to quality was forced when barriers to imports were relaxed. As always in an open market, the quality of the wine must be good in order to drive sustainable demand. Today the wines are very good and the industry is thriving due to a combination of the vibrant tourist scene and rising internal demand for local wine. Not surprisingly, you will find deep and powerful wines from varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Tempranillo, Nebbiolo, Zinfandel etc as well as elegant white wines from Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc etc.
Baja California with the Guadalupe Valley wine country in the upper left.
Where Is The Guadalupe Valley?
The location of Ensenada and the Guadalupe Valley almost on the doorstep of San Diego and the California border may be a bit of a discovery. Proximity to the US and the position at the head of the Baja Peninsula give the wine industry fantastic tourist potential. And business is booming. A virtuous inter-relationship between gastronomy, wine and high-end tourism has blossomed. The place is almost as well known for its celebrity chefs as its winemakers. For the traveler, the Valle de Guadalupe provides an intoxicating mix of exotic scenery, dramatic coastlines, wildlife and, of course, eating and drinking.
Who Are The Winemakers?
There are over one hundred wineries in the Guadalupe Valley and the Baja produces almost 90% of Mexico’s wine. The wine route is well established and caters extremely well to tourists. You can find a wine route map on the useful www.turismomexico.es site. Some of the better known wineries are set out below but the community is diverse and fascinating and wine touring in the Valle de Guadalupe is well worth the travel.
The welcome cooling fog over the Monte Xanic vineyards.
When Is The Best Time To Visit?
The Baja is a year-round destination and the wine touring and restaurants will be wonderful any time of year. You might want to come for the Valle Food & Wine Fest in October. It’s also a good idea to combine the trip with exploring the amazing Baja Peninsula. The visit of the Grey Whales to the coast between December 15 and April 15 is a major attraction.
Lechuza Vineyard on the Valle de Guadalupe Wine Route
Photo credits: www.turismomexico.es; Lechuza Vineyard; Monte Xanic Bodega Vinícola; Pixabay