There’s more to Baja California than cervezas and the possibility of a sunburn. Get ready to discover the Napa Valley of Mexico, where hot days and cool ocean breezes are a recipe for wine making success.
Quick, what comes to mind when you think about the typical drinks of Mexico? The country’s famed tequilas and beers are obvious choices. But what about wine? Drive just an hour south of San Diego and you find yourself in Baja California and what some are likening to the Napa of 50 years ago.
In the 1520s, Cortes and his conquistador buddies not only encouraged the planting of vineyards but went as far as to require by law that every recipient of land plant vine shoots annually. Unfortunately, the King of Spain ruined the party in the late 1600s when, in an effort to create a captive audience for Spanish goods, forbid Mexican winemaking. Though the restriction ended when Mexico gained independence in 1821, the enthusiasm for winemaking and wine drinking had all but evaporated. Then in the 1980s, thanks to new free trade agreements, new wineries started cropping up and older ones revamped their vineyards.
Today, Mexico’s quality wines are centered in Baja California—and the Guadalupe Valley specifically—where hot days combined with cool ocean breezes at night provide the classic winegrowing combination: grapes are allowed to develop their sugars without a corresponding drop in acidity. Monte Xanic is well worth a visit as many credit it with boosting the quality of Mexican wines when it issued its first wine in 1988. Nearby is Chateau Camou, where the owner and his Bordeaux-trained winemaker have turned old and unkempt vineyards and winery into a state-of-the-art facility.
Baja is bound to keep growing as domestic and foreign investment allows wineries to improve their facilities and growers become more aggressive about lowering yields. To the surprise of skeptics everywhere, the dedication of Mexican winemakers is finally paying off as their wines compete with those of top-tier winemaking regions of the world. “We are trying to place Mexico on the map of good wines,” says Victor Manuel Torres Alegre of Chateau Camou. A visit to Baja and a sip of its vinos will undoubtedly make you a believer.
WHEN TO GO Fiestas de la Vendimia is an annual vintage festival featuring winery tours, tastings, contests and more.
WHERE TO STAY Located in the Guadalupe Valley near Ensenada, Adobe Guadalupe is a working winery and B&B with six guestrooms. Nearby is La Villa del Valle, a small inn with views of the olive groves, vineyards and mountains.