Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico’s Wine Region
Before moving to Mexico I had no idea that the country produced wine. Tequila and mezcal yes, but wine? However, during the five-and-a-half years that we lived there, I quickly learned that not only did the country have a viniculture but the local wine is very, very good. There are a number of wine-growing regions in Mexico but the biggest – and the best – is just 90 minutes from the California border.
Located near the seaside port of Ensenada, the dry and sunny valley of Guadalupe (Valle de Guadalupe) is Mexico’s answer to California’s Napa Valley but without the fussy tasting rooms or the price tag. We went for a long weekend with some friends prior to leaving Mexico (we had booked the weekend a long time ago, before we knew that we were leaving) and it ended up being not only the most wonderful weekend but a truly fitting adiós a Mexico.
Valle de Guadalupe
What’s so wonderful about Valle de Guadalupe is that it is so authentically Mexican. The parched, reddish-gold terrain is home to around 100 wine producers and grows some of the country’s best wine, including both big name brands such as L.A. Cetto and smaller, more boutique names that can be found on the menus of some of the country’s best restaurants. This is a place where you bump along pocked dirt tracks to reach each vineyard, where tasting rooms are simple but characterful and where, like much of Mexico, people have a real passion for what they do. Valle still feels like you’ve stumbled across somewhere special that few people know about but the truth is, this wine country is booming.
Where to Stay in Valle de Guadalupe
Our group booked the six available rooms at Bruma Valle de Guadalupe, a boutique hotel that’s been cleverly built to blend into the environment. The rooms are sleek and the breakfasts delicious but my favourite part was the infinity pool that overlooks the property’s vineyards. The pool is not huge but it is perfect for spending an afternoon with a glass of wine in hand (the hotel has an honesty bar to facilitate such events).
Bruma also has a handful of mountain bikes for exploring the area via dirt trails (go early before it gets too hot) and its own winery nearby which is a work of art in itself, built out of recycled glass and discarded wooden beams from a bridge in San Francisco.
Valle de Guadalupe’s Wineries
The history of wine culture in Valle de Guadalupe is a fascinating one and, if you really want to hear how it all started, speak to Phil Gregory, the charismatic British owner of Vena Cava. In brief, however, wine making began in Mexico with the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century. Spanish missionaries first introduced wine to Baja California in 1701 when Jesuit priests planted the first grape vines. Ninety years later the first vineyards were planted and in 1888 the Santa Tomás winery was established, giving birth to Baja’s wine country. In the 1970s L.A. Cetto, one of the country’s oldest and biggest wineries, opened shop, which started Valle de Guadalupe’s wine revolution.
There are lots of wonderful wineries to visit in the region but some of the ones that you should not miss are:
Established by Phil Gregory and his wife Eileen, two Brits who fell in love with the region, this was my favourite winery that we visited in Valle de Guadalupe and not just for the design aesthetics; the vaulted ceilings of the tasting room are made from the hulls of wooden boats from a nearby port and old glass bottles have been used to make a main door. More importantly, perhaps, the wine produced at Vena Cava is excellent and you’ll find many of their labels available in some of Mexico City’s best restaurants. We spent a wonderful afternoon here, sampling the antojitos (snacks) from the food truck that is parked permanently on the premises and the different blends of wine.
Viñas de Garza
Located on a small hilltop overlooking the vineyards, the bougainvillea filled terrace of the family-owned Viñas de Garza is one of the prettiest in the valley. We didn’t book a tasting session but instead sat on the terrace and sampled various wines by the bottle (we were a party of eight!).
Founded in 1988, Monte Xanic is one of Mexico’s larger wineries and one of the first to produce high-quality wines in the valley. This is the place to go to see wine production on a larger scale (large for Valle de Guadalupe that is!), the winery produces some 50,000 cases of wine annually.
Finca La Carodilla
The first certified organic winery in the valley, Finca La Carodilla, is a small but charming winery (they produce 3,000 bottles of wine a year).
Where to Eat in Valle de Guadalupe
Just as Valle de Guadalupe is making a name for itself with the wine produced in this region, so too is it for its food. There are some outstanding restaurants in this area, all serving fresh, farm-to-table produce in beautiful settings. The following are just a few of the restaurants that you should visit – make sure to book well in advance! One thing to note, unlike almost everywhere else in Mexico dinner starts and finishes early in Valle. Most restaurants stop serving food after 8.30/9pm.
Owned by Jair Tellez, one of Mexico’s most important chefs, Laja was the first proper restaurant to open in Valle de Guadalupe nearly 20 years ago and largely paved the way for the gastronomy scene that the valley enjoys today. We enjoyed a lovely meal here; the restaurant is nothing fancy but the food is superb.
The setting for Deckman’s is just beautiful, with sunflowers hanging from the open windows overlooking the vineyards beyond; make sure to arrive in time to see the sunset over the fields. All the food is locally grown or sourced from the region but Drew Deckman and his wife Paulina insist that they are not just serving food at their restaurants (they also own Conchas de Piedra) but an experience, their way of life in el Valle.
Corazon de la Tierra
Run by the owners of Vena Cava wines, Corazon de la Tierra is supposed to be excellent. We didn’t get the chance to eat here when we were in Valle but it has a wonderful reputation and, if its anything as good as its winery, then I’m sure it will be excellent!
Is Valle Family-Friendly?
Like most of Mexico, families and children are warmly welcomed in Valle de Guadalupe. Whether or not you want to bring your kids on a winery tour is another matter. We didn’t bring our kids for this trip and, to be honest, it would not have been much fun for them. As much as I like to take my kids everywhere, this is one destination where I would recommend leaving them at home.
Getting to Valle de Guadalupe
El Valle de Guadalupe is just a couple of hours south of San Diego, across the border in Mexico. The closest airport is Tijuana. We hired a car and driver through our hotel for the duration of our stay, which was definitely the easiest way to get around.
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