"Valle De Guadalupe--Baja California's wine country

By Joe Hilbers

Valle de Guadalupe is one instance where the place is just as beautiful as the name. Located in Baja California, just 70 miles south of Tijuana, Valle de Guadalupe is Mexico's premiere wine country.

It had been a number of years since I had visited this scenic wine country but a chance meeting with an old acquaintance, Dick Colangelo, presented me with a wonderful opportunity for another tour of Mexico's 'Ruta Del Vino'. Dick Colangelo has been active in the wine industry for many decades but his lasting fame will be as a wine educator. Over three decades he has conducted wine classes at colleges in and around San Diego exposing many hundreds of people on all aspects of wine, from vineyard to the finished product. His knowledge is vast and includes almost every varietal of grape, type of wine and country of origin.

Presently Dick has classes at both Grossman College in San Diego and Mira Costa College in Cardiff by the Sea. When we met he explained that he would be taking his Mira Costa class on a tour of Valle de Guadalupe and invited me to accompany them.

The changes that have occurred in Valle de Guadalupe in the last two decades are startling. On our last visit there were only three wineries in the valley as well as some growers. Now there are twenty three wineries and Valle de Guadalupe is filled with vineyards and olive trees. Rows of olive trees intermingle with vineyards reminding one of this same scene in Tuscany. Besides producing some of Mexico's best wines the Valley's olive oil is also of superior quality.

We were forty four in number when our bus left Cardiff. The trip to Valle de Guadalupe is a delight in itself, with a route from Tijuana on Toll Highway l-D. The highway offers first excellent views of the Coronado Islands and then rises high into steeply sloping coastal mountains with breathtaking views of a rocky coast reminiscent of Big Sur. At El Sauzai, a suburb of Ensenada there is a junction with Highway 3 east, the road to Tecate and also the gateway to Valle de Guadalupe.

Valle de Guadalupe has a colorful history. It was originally settled by 50 Russian religious immigrants through a concession from the Mexican Government in l903. The first vineyards plantings were made by the Russians and some of the original vineyards still exist.

An unusual microclimate has made Valle de Guadalupe Mexico's premier wine country. The valley lies at l,000 foot elevation just l3 miles from the north Baja coastline. An oceanic condition called upwelling keeps the coast between Tijuana and Ensenada unusually cool throughout the summer. The same oceanic condition is responsible for Ventura's and Oceanside's cool summer temperatures north of the border.

While summer temperatures may reach l00 degrees in the valley, cool moist marine air arrives on schedule every evening. Some growers use the olive trees as wind breaks for vineyards and produces olives and oil as well.

First stop in the Valley was Vina De Liceaga where Director and Owner Eduardo Liceaga-Campos was on hand to greet us. The first harvest at this winery was in 1993 and now a new restaurant, tasting room and patio for sipping and picnics is available. Planned for next year is a Bed and Breakfast Hotel with sixteen suites located in the vineyards.

Here we tasted Castillo de las Minas, the red, a 2004 vintage, made from Grenache and Merlot and the white from Chenin Blanc. Also Rancho El Paricutin 2002 Reserva Merlot which also includes some Cabernet Franc. Vina De Liceaga is also unique in the Valley for producing grappa. Under the Aqua de Vid label there are two 80 proof bottlings, one called De Moscatel and the other, De Uvas Rojas.

Next stop was the showplace Adobe Guadalupe Vineyards and Inn. Owners are Don and Tru Miller who were the first to bring 'world class' lodging to the Valley. The Winery's first harvest was in 2000. Winemaker is Daniel Lonnberg who is producing premium Rhone style wines.

Greeting our group and acting as guide and hostess was Karla Marquez, of Adobe Guadalupe public relations. The Inn, with its lavish Mediterranean architecture and decor, includes six suites, a wine cellar and tasting room, the winery and patio, all surrounded by 63 acres of vineyards.

The wines are all named for archangels. Tops in our scoring was the 2003 Serafiel which is 70 per cent cabernet sauvignon and 30 per cent syrah, with one year in French and American oak and two years bottle aging. We also particularly liked the 2004 Miguel which includes 76 per cent Tempramillo, 14 per cent Grenache and 10 per cent cabernet sauvignon.

The 2003 Kerubiel is a Rhone Rose style wine, a blend of five different varietals. The winery here is state of the art with computerized stainless steel tanks and a cellar for barrels and bottle aging.

Following our tasting we moved to the patio on a glorious Spring day to admire the carefully cared vineyards and the mountains which surround the valley. We also admired and did justice to the wonderful barbecue luncheon which was served with all the traditional Mexican style trimmings.

The Inn is a showplace and we had time to wander through the natural brick motif kitchen and the lounging rooms decorated with art objects from many parts of the world.

Our last stop was L A Cetto Winery and vineyards which is one of the pioneer wineries in the Guadalupe Valley and now Mexico's largest vintner. Cetto is big enough that it would rank among the top 20 U.S. wineries. Besides having much of the Mexico market it exports to countries around the world..

Our visit was to Cetto's tasting room, retail store and scenic patio with lawn and shade trees for sipping and picnics, adjacent to the winery.

All the most famous varietals are grown in the Valley including chenin blanc, French colombard, Johannisberg riesling , sauvignon blanc and voignier. Red plantings include cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, petite sirah, merlot, barbara, tempranillo, syrah, grenache and Nebbiolo

While there have been vineyards since the early l900s, plantings really increased in the late l940s and the valley saw millions of new vines planted in the last two decades.

In beauty and character Valle de Guadalupe matches that of wine producing areas of California Norte. The terrain and climate is much like Southern California's own wine country at Temecula.

Since Ensenada is only a short distance away from Valle de Guadalupe a trip to down the Baja coast highway can be twofold, a visit to the wine country and then a visit to Baja's second largest city. Now cruise ships that stop at Ensenada offer shore excurisions to Valle De Guadalupe and LA. Cetto, among others, has a tasting room there as well.

The Ensenada Visitors Center has a booklet entitled "Discover Baja Wine Country" which lists all the wineries and their location on a map. On the web at cotucoe@telnor.net. For more information on Adobe Guadalupe Vineyards & Inn call 949 733-2744 or on the web at www.adobeguadalupe.com. For information on Vina de Liceaga check the web at www.vinosliceaga.com. On L.A. Cetto Winery, www.cettowines.com.

Last Update:9/1/12

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