Valle de Guadalupe
By Ron Fenolio
Having heard much about the Valle de Guadalupe and their newly emerging world class wines it had become a “bucket list item”. Everyone wants to visit Napa, Sonoma, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Tuscany or Piemonte, but who has the “southern side of the San Diego border” on their radar screens as a wine country destination resort. Well, you should!!!!!
The Valle de Guadalupe is about 90-100 kilometers (60 miles more or less) south of the border at Tecate, if you feel the need to avoid Tijuana. It is about one and one half hours south of Tijuana by a new four lane toll expressway, and it is 20 to 30 minutes northeast of Ensenada on fine four line highway. The main roads are to American standards. Ensenada is cleaner than most American cities, not one scrap of paper in evidence, no cigarette butts, no panhandlers on the street, no derelicts sleeping in doorways. San Franciscan’s should be so lucky as to have their city be so clean!
But one goes there to experience the wines. The microclimate is very much like Napa or Sonoma in that there are cooling evening breezes off of the Pacific blowing through the mountain passes along the coast into the valley. The valley itself is very dry, water is at a premium, and the vines therefore have to struggle and send roots into the soil. Perfect for concentrated grape juice and intense wines. The wines at three wineries were outstanding – Napa or Bordeaux or Piemonte quality at their finest. The area is specializing in Cabernet, Tempranillo and Nebbiolo, with a great deal of plantings in Granache, Carignane, Chenin Blanc and others varietals not always prevalent here in California. There were some very unique blends.
One would probably wonder about the quality of food that one can find in the Valle de Guadalupe. So probably a great place to start is to recommend the Villas del Valle Bed and Breakfast at the Vena Cava winery. Hard to find at the end of dirt road several kilometers off the main highway, but the restaurant Corazon de Tierra (heart of the earth) produces food worthy of a Micehlin star or two. The dining deck extended out into the organic garden where the chef’s assistants went out and gathered greens and vegetables to prepare for the guests while the guest were dining. And advertised five course tasting menu was five main courses, eight courses if you included the amuse bouchee and the palate cleaning sorbets, etc. all for $55. Their winery produced an outstanding single vineyard single varietal Tempranillo, maybe one of the world’s finest.
At Sol Y Barro the Swiss winemaker came to the Valle de Guadalupe via Orange County where he had been a chef. He literally has created the adobe brick winery with his own hands, adobe brick by adobe brick, created the art, did everything himself including how to personally make the wines – and what a fabulous Cab Grenache and great Nebbiolo Barbera blends they were. A bargain at $20 per bottle, especially in an area where the wine alcohol tax is 41%.
Chateau Camou is indeed intimidating. The pedigrees of its founders and winemakers include Michel Roland (the “flying winemaker”, movie “Mondovino”, consultant to greats such as Alpha Omega in Napa, consults to over 100 wineries I 13 countries) consults for this one in the Valle of Guadalupe Valley. Camou was started and is owned by a French winemaker who got his Doctorate from the University of Bordeaux and did his apprenticeship at Chateau Margaux. Pretty impressive wines.
With grounds perfect for weddings, with landscaping designed by and outdoor furniture all hand built by a wealthy Ensenada businessman, Vinos de Garza is not to be missed. Wines from this prestigious 4,000 case production winery command $80 retail and up to $200 on wine lists in Mexico City and other major resort area restaurants. The wines of Garzas have earned 93 point ratings from Wine Spectator. Entrancing, ephemeral, intense, complex, spectacular, layered, the Cabernet Tempranillo Zinfandel Merlot blend aged 36 months in oak beat a Stag’s Leap cab in a comparative tasting. Well worth the price.
The quality of wines food and accommodations are excellent. Maybe a visit to an overlooked nearby area should also be on your bucket list. Enjoy!