Mexico is most definitely the land of beer, tequila, and mezcal. But, in the coastal state of Baja California, it’s all about vino.
Considered the heart of Mexican Wine Country, Baja wine country accounts for almost all of Mexico’s wine production, and most of the Mexican wine you’ll find in the United States.
Yet Baja California’s reputation as a go-to destination for wine is still a bit off the radar. Maybe it’s because, although wine has been made in Mexico for centuries, its commercial wine industry is comparatively new. Or maybe because California wine country heavyweights like Napa, Sonoma, and the Central Coast are better known.
Whatever the reason, we’re excited about wine from Baja California and specifically the area of Valle de Guadalupe.
To introduce you to one of our favorite up-and-coming wine regions, we’re getting into the basics, from where it is located to what makes the area great for winemaking. We’ll also cover a few Valle de Guadalupe wineries you should know about, from some of the originals to their modern counterparts.
Where is Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California
Valle de Guadalupe (aka Guadalupe Valley) is located in Baja California, which is Mexico’s most western state. If you’re driving across the border, “Valle,” as it’s also called, is less than 100 miles away from San Diego. It’s less than two hours from the San Ysidro border and Tijuana and just inland from the coastal town of Ensenada.
Most of the region’s wineries, hotels, and excellent restaurants are situated along Highway 3—aka a sometimes bumpy, unpaved road known as “La Ruta del Vino.”
However, Valle de Guadalupe is often used as a catch-all term to refer to all wines from Baja California. Other Baja California winemaking areas, like San Antonio de las Minas, Valle de San Vicente, and Valle de Santo Tomas, tend to be lumped into the Valle de Guadalupe umbrella.
Why It’s An Ideal Region For Wine
A hot, dry Mediterranean climate characterizes this wine region and, as a result, it’s often compared to California’s Napa Valley and France’s Southern Rhône region.
Many grape varieties need a balance of warm and cool weather to ripen and Valle benefits from the Pacific Ocean’s cooling influence. That is because, like in California’s Central Coast, the Valle de Guadalupe is oriented a bit more east to west than north to south. The result is there is often a snake of mist and fog in the mornings that winds its way through the valleys and offers a buffer from the blazing sun.
Valle de Guadalupe’s warm climate means grapes can ripen quickly, so the wines are typically bold and fruit-forward. Even so, the terroir (or the unique characteristics of the land) changes throughout the region.
Grapes grow in sand and a sand-clay mix called loam, and granite and clay at Guadalupe Valley’s higher elevations, while in Valle de San Vicente, they grow in red-clay soil and sand.
These differences—paired with winemakers’ choices before and after the fruit is picked—influence the styles of wines produced.
History of Wine In Mexico
If you’re still wrapping your head around the idea of (good!) wine in Mexico, know that it is by no means a new concept. Valle de Guadalupe’s winemaking history dates to the 1500s when Spanish conquistadors planted the Baja California region’s first vines. Back then, wine was produced for religious ceremonies and to ship back to Spain.
By the late 1500s, Spain halted wine production in Mexico to protect its domestic production efforts. But missionaries in Baja California continued to make wine on a smaller scale.
In the early 1800s Dominican priests planted Valle de Guadalupe’s first vines at the Misión de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe del Norte, or what we know today as Guadalupe Valley.
That continued until the War of Reform during the mid-1800s when Catholic landholdings were transferred to the state. The state sold these lands to private groups, most notably to a group of peace-seeking Russian emigres. Called Molokans, they fled a potential Czarist draft during the early 1900s and sought refuge in Mexico.
So, while wine was grown in the region, commercial wine production in Valle de Guadalupe didn’t get going till the 1980s when notable winemakers from Europe noticed the region’s winemaking potential.
Nowadays, this up-and-coming wine region is home to more than 100 wineries of all sizes making wine from all varieties of grapes.
And, some of the first wineries like Casa Madero—which initially made wine to ship back to Spain—and Bodegas de Santo Tomas (founded in 1888, the region’s first commercial winery) still make wine today.
Types of Grapes
What makes Baja wine country so interesting is the freedom and creativity winemakers have to experiment.
There are no appellation rules in the area and, while some take that to mean there is not enough standardization across the region, we find it allows quality winemakers to experiment.
At the moment, winemakers in the area list Malbec, Grenache, Syrah, and Tempranillo as examples of grapes with the most significant potential. And we think Chenin Blanc also makes a strong case for white wine in Baja.
But that doesn’t stop winemakers from fermenting and blending other varieties like Nebbiolo and Tempranillo and making wine from some of the first grapes to be introduced to the region, like the historic Misíon grape.
Some of the Best Wineries in Valle de Guadalupe
While they don’t have an official organic designation, many Baja region wineries utilize organic farming practices and minimal intervention as part of the winemaking process.
Here are a few tasting rooms you’ll want to visit in Valle de Guadalupe:
L.A. Cetto is a multi-generational winemaking family with Italian roots since 1928 and Mexico’s largest wine producer. They make everything from Cabernet Sauvignon and Nebbiolo to Chenin Blanc and various blends.
Monte Xanic was founded by five friends in 1987. They focus on Bordeaux-style wines and are known for their award-winning Gran Ricardo, but we’re fans of their whites like the Sauvignon Blanc and their Chenin/Colombard blend.
Bodegas de Santo Tomas is Baja California’s oldest winery, having been founded in 1791. Their red blend, for example, features Tempranillo, Carignan, and the local and little-used Misíon grape (brought from Spain in the 16th century).
The Modern Crowd Pleasers
Villa Montefiori was founded in 1997 by the Paoloni family from Italy. Naturally, Villa Montefiori focuses on Italian varieties like Montepulciano and Sangiovese.
Casa de Piedra was also established in the 1990s. Their Vino de Piedra is a Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo blend, but we’re partial to their sparkling wines, which are labor-intensive to produce and thus a rarity in the region. They go exceptionally well with all the local seafood.
Mogor Badan is a small winery making wine from Chasselas, Switzerland’s most famous white grape variety.
The New Generation
Bruma is a small-production winery led by one of the top next-generation Mexican winemakers, Lulu Martinez Ojeda, with ambitions to transition into a solar-powered and biodynamic operation. Wine is made from a combo of estate-grown grapes and fruit from the winemakers’ family.
Lechuza was established in the early 2000s by the Magnussen family from San Diego. Some of the first varieties planted include Nebbiolo and Merlot. Their wines have even made it onto Michelin-starred The French Laundry wine list.
Bodegas Henri Lurton’s family operation blends French winemaking expertise with Baja terroir. They make Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Nebbiolo.
Finca la Carrodilla is Valle de Guadalupe’s first certified organic vineyard. Their single varietal wines include Chenin Blanc, Shiraz/Syrah, Cabernet, and Tempranillo. The family-run business also owns La Lomita winery located less than 10 miles away.
Planning A Trip To Mexican Wine Country
If you’re planning a wine tasting trip to Valle de Guadalupe, know that most wineries require a reservation, and as driving around the area can be challenging, we’d advise aiming for at most two tastings in one day.
We recommend going in the shoulder season as it can get quite cold at night in the winter and can be seriously hot in summer.
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