Much has been written already about Baja California Mexico’s recently popular Valle de Guadalupe wine country, although it’s been developing for a number of years as a legitimate source of high quality wines. A couple of weekends ago we traveled to Valle de Guadalupe with close friends, motoring across the border from our home in San Diego for an easy 1.5 hour drive along the coast to Ensenada and then inland.
Our friends know their way around, so Triton and I could sit happily in the back as awestruck passengers. Taking in the sights along the way, the terrain grew more beautiful the further south from Tijuana we ventured. A winding road through the hills dropped us into the green valley and its verdant acres of vineyards. I grew up in Northern California with regular trips as a kid to Napa Valley, and Valle de Guadalupe reminds me a bit of Napa before it blew up with big hotels, corporate ownership and wealthy weekenders.
Originally sprung from the rich local soil some sixty years ago, the early vineyards here have now grown into dozens of small-batch wineries – many family owned and operated. Almost all are located down dirt roads in random locations that seem less planned than simply convenient for the growers, who nurture vines that might have originated from Spaniard occupation centuries ago.
The wineries are legit, and many have sophisticated tasting rooms where guests can sample before purchasing. Others are more mom-and-pop, with dusty roadside tasting areas that seem like the inside of someone’s house (and probably are.)
Here are a few of our favorites to check out. It’s really worth the visit – not difficult to reach, full of rustic charm and very safe. Most of the wineries also have small B&Bs on site, which have also received rave reviews and are booked to capacity many weeks in advance:
Bruma – Brand new and visually stunning, Bruma Winery was created completely from recycled and found materials, all centered around a gigantic dead tree that forms the centerpiece of this gorgeous space. There was a small charge for the wine tour, which was more about the tour than the wine. The wine was good. The architecture was spectacular.
Adobe Guadalupe – One of the first to find a tourist crowd, Adobe Guadalupe is a small B&B and winery with a beautiful tasting room/gift shop featuring a very good flight of wines. When you arrive, it’s like a deep breath of fresh air and instant relaxation – complete with food truck. We saw. We tasted. We liked. We purchased.
Vena Cava – Most of the buildings in Valle are created from upcycled materials, including the spaces at Vena Cava. The wine cave is created from overturned boat hulls, forming a zigzag rooftop both interesting and architecturally mind-blowing. The tasting area is outdoors, at brightly colored picnic tables shaded by a web of intricately woven old rubber hoses. Just gorgeous, overlooking the vineyards with a duck pond and adjacent party tent.
There are many other fine wineries building solid reputations and award-winning vintages. We’ll have to return soon to discover more.
Driving – There is a reason they call it Baja California – it is literally an extension of California with an international border drawn across it. Valle de Guadalupe is an easy drive from San Diego, and took us a little under two hours to reach. Passing through the San Ysidro border crossing, we entered Tijuana and navigated to the Toll Road which provides the quickest and smoothest highway to Ensenada.
Once you arrive in Valle de Guadalupe, be advised that almost all the roads are unpaved and some are pretty rough. Our friends drove their SUV, which was sturdy and comfortable for the bumpy dirt roads. We saw plenty of BMWs and Mercedes driving around, so it can be done (but I don’t recommend it). There are no streetlights, making the nighttime drive to some locations an adventure in which you will be glad for that navigation system.
Wine Tours – Many tour companies have popped up to offer several options for visiting Valle, either for the day via bus or in small groups led by knowledgeable tour guides. A couple options include Baja Winery Tours for a larger group experience, or a more intimate personally led tour by local entrepreneur Fernando Gaxiola’s Baja Wine & Food.