Friday, January 6, 2017

A Few Quick Words on Travelling to the Valle de Guadalupe

So, the significant other and I recently traveled to the Valle de Guadalupe in Baja California for a short post-Christmas vacation. This is our second short trip to the Valle, and as with before, it was awesome. In fact, so awesome that I figured I should write a short write-up of the trip, so that the readers of this fine, and now somewhat defunct blog, can judge for themselves.

What is the Valle de Guadalupe?

As stated above, the Valle is found in Baja California, and is one of the few regions in Mexico with weather appropriate for growing grapes for wine. The Valle itself is about 20 miles inland from Ensenada, and approximately 60 miles from the US-Mexico Border.

Is it safe?

The first thing that comes to mind when traveling to Mexico these days is safety. And for good reason - the drug wars in Mexico were legitimately terrifying. And it still is. However, since Tijuana was the first stage of the drug wars, most of the violence has moved east and south towards the borders with Arizona and Texas. Also, Tijuana, or TJ, had more or less been the playground for dumbass Americans since the 1920's and when we stopped coming, the locals realized that they were living in a pretty incredible area of the world. So everyone started focusing on what was amazing. When we went, we never felt threatened by the populace at all. Also, most of the tourists in the Valle when we were there were from Mexico. If Mexicans feel it's safe to go there, then it's safe to go.

But what about Zika?

Well, yes the CDC advises that women stay out of Mexico because of the Zika virus. However, for a variety of reasons, Baja California hasn't been hit with Zika at all. There have been no reported cases of Zika in Baja California. There were a few cases of Zika reported in Baja California Sur (the southern tip of the pennisula), but none up north where the Valle is located. 

So, is the wine any good?

Generally speaking, yes. Because the climate is a bit warmer in Baja, the biggest problems seem to be restraining the fruit in the wines (Merlots tend to be HUGE), and some of the white wines from older vineyards tend to be salty due to several years of drought. But, the more recent vintages of whites don't seem to have the problem. All in all, I think the wines from the Valle are slightly better than those from Temecula, and close to those from the Santa Ynez valley. So, pretty dang good. Not yet Napa or Russian River good, but still pretty good.

What's great about the Valle, then?

The food. Holy shit, you guys, the food. And we're not talking about the typical Mexican cuisine here either. The cuisine of Baja is unlike any cuisine anywhere, including in the rest of Mexico. Seriously, they refer to the cuisine as "Baja-Med"  which is meant to be a mix of Mexican and Mediterranean styles, mixed with ridiculous good produce, meats and seafood. It's farm to table cuisine, but instead of the restaurant buying their produce from a local farmer, the restaurant is the farm, and the chef cooking the food has a Michelin star. Literally, every meal I had there was memorable. Also, thanks to the exchange rate, relatively cheap. So instead of paying $200 for a tasting menu for 2, you'll pay $50-$100.

And that's what separates the Valle from every other wine region I've been to. In most wine growing places, the food can be good, but it's generally forgettable. Sure, some winery may have a good Reuben, or has scallion oil to dip bread in, or whatnot, but at Fuego, the first restaurant I ate at, I had the best fish taco I've ever eaten. At Deckman's I had fantastic ceviche and roasted vegetables, at Tahal, which just opened, I had one of the best steaks I've ever eaten. 

So, its all good?

Well, not exactly. The roads are less than optimal. Now, driving down from San Diego was pretty easy, and the roads are pretty good. But once you are in the Valley, you're going to be driving on dirt roads. And if you are there during the winter, like I was, the drive becomes somewhat challenging. Fun, but challenging. So, absent driving a 4x4, don't go during the winter. You want a couple of weeks of baking sun to solidify those dirt roads. Also, remember to get Mexican based insurance. For a variety of reasons, many of them well-founded, Mexican authorities do not take kindly to Americans getting into crashes without insurance.


I've been to a fair number of wine growing places - Temecula, Santa Ynez, Russian River Valley, the Cowichan Valley, the Sierra foothills, the Ramona Valley, etc. - and they all have their charms. The Valle de Guadalupe definitely fits with them. The scenery is beautiful, the people are nice, and the food, as I said, is amazing. So, if you are into wine and food, go. Go and see and eat. You won't be disappointed.