Wine Country Review for 2009

The last eight years of blind leadership has “broken the bank” in the United States, but fortunately those same eight years have been used wisely by many dynamic individuals in the wine country of Baja California. In fact, it’s been a “silent revolution” in creating high quality wine throughout Mexico’s emerging wine industry. Even the wine culture has evolved with Ensenada becoming the new “food and wine capital” of Mexico over the last few years. In this seaside port regional gourmet chefs blend their culinary skills with the abundance of fresh seafood, premium quality aged-cheese, artisan olive oil, organic produce, and have the ability to hand select artisan and boutique wines directly from the local wine country to match harmoniously with their culinary wonders. Despite a slowed global economy, Mexico’s wine culture rapidly moves forward and advances in a positive manner.

So much has changed in the last two years that I want to give you an update so you can explore and investigate the Baja California wine country with new information and an open palate. There has been a lot of misinformation and outright propaganda about the wine industry here that needs to come to light. Yesterday’s self-proclaimed “greatest winemakers” have now taken a back seat to the newest wave of creative women and men who are handcrafting some unique wines. Several of the former “top wineries” have slipped back to mid-pack with mediocre quality wines while the lesser known producers are making major progress in creating high quality wine. The problem is with the wine media, international writers who spend a few days in the region and are misguided or misled by their hosts. In reality, wine lovers should let their palates be their guides and discover for yourselves what wines are good for you personally, without relaying on the press, including myself. Believe it or not, there are more than the five wineries we always hear about! In reality, there are now several hundred individuals and creative artisans making good wine in this region. Don’t be fooled by smoke and mirrors, the truth lies in the bottle, and with your personal taste.

Having said that, I’m going to focus in 2009 on smaller and lesser-known winemakers so my readers can explore their options and be their own judges. The best wines are really the ones you love the most, whether it be the easy going white Zinfandel or the noble Nebbiolo. One intriguing movement in the wine industry is the artisan (handcrafted) wine renascence. Mexico has a lack of professionally trained enologists (winemakers) with less than ten holding certified degrees and two with a Ph.d in winemaking, one from Italy and the other from France. Many local winemakers are either self-taught or educated at the “little wine school” (la escuelita) in Valle de Guadalupe and/or at the new wine program at UABC. For those interested in experiencing these wines you can join the artisan winemakers each summer in Valle de Guadalupe at their intimate event called Gueteque, where you’ll have the option to sample wine from over twenty-five new winemakers while enjoying regional cuisine and live music. In the meantime, you can visit several small artisan or boutique operations at Tres Mujeres (Three Women), Casa Vieja, JC Bravo, Vinos Fuentes, Tres Valles Vitivinicola, Rancho Malagon or Viñedos Malagon, Roganto, Norte 32/Oscar Obregon, Vinicola Navegante, Vinart and Viñas Pijoan.

The lodging venues in Valle de Guadalupe have evolved in quality, quantity and affordability as well. Plaza Fatima Hotel is located on Highway 3 near the village of San Antonio de las Minas at Km. 92. This cozy, comfortable and clean hotel is new and provides budget pricing for those folks who would rather spend money on bottles or cases of wine than on high-end lodging. Another new option for more refined accommodations is Hacienda Guadalupe Hotel located in the “heart” of the wine country at Km. 81.5. This twelve room hotel offers scenic balcony views, king-size beds, handcrafted furniture, large pool, jacuzzi, wine bar, cafe, lobby fireplace, with superb hospitality and consistent professionalism. The newest B&B in the valley is also the easiest to get to with a short two hundred yards drive on a dirt road versus one to three miles over rough terrain. The Rancho Malagon or Viñedos Malagon bed and breakfast facility is centered in a courtyard that features a cantina, private kitchen and dinning area with a fireplace. Four deluxe room options are available to meet your specific needs. The suite named “Grenache Suite” features one queen bed, large private bathroom and spacious living room area with sofa. This room also features a private patio looking out into the beautiful private gardens. The “Green Room” includes one queen size bed, private bathroom and balcony with a sitting area offering a majestic view of the mountain range. The “Blue Room” includes two full size beds with one private bathroom and balcony with sitting area featuring a view of the mountain range. Many guests rent the entire complex to host family, friends and clients. For those desiring to lodge in Ensenada, Costa Baja Condo/Hotel is a great option with fantastic harbor and sunset views, pool side wine tasting, wine tour packages, restaurant, bar and spa treatments.

2009 will bring another spectacular season to Mexico’s premium wine producing region. Keep your eyes on the following new stars and let your palates be your guide: Roganto and Tres Valles wineries in Ensenada, and in Guadalupe Valley, Rancho Malagon or Viñedos Malagon, Norte 32 degrees, Viñas Pijoan and Vinisterra. Of course, there are many new and exciting wineries and winemakers joining Mexico’s “silent revolution” in creating high quality wine and as many diverse and unique styles to choose from. Come out to the valley and discover the many “bottled treasures of delight” and enjoy the peace and quiet of the winter season.