Baja’s Wine Route and Valleys

There aren’t that many places in Mexico where the combination of land, altitude, seasons, time and weather come together in such a way as to give the ideal Mediterranean conditions for the growing of grape vines, olives, refreshing citrus fruits as well as the collection of honey. One such area is located between the parallels 32o35 and 31o15 North Latitude in the region known as the Wine Route; where not only the Guadalupe Valley (Valle de Guadalupe) but also San Antonio de las Minas, Santo Tomas, Calafia, San Vicente, Las Palmas, and the Tecate valleys extend perpendicular to Baja’s Pacific Coast.

Perfect for a romantic getaway or a family vacation, this part of Baja offers you a number of choices for entertainment. If you choose to venture into the wine valleys, you can start from Tecate in the north, sampling the beer that bears the town’s name, the Cuauhtemoc brewery, founded more than 110 years ago, offers guided tours of their facility Monday through Saturdays, from there you can continue your journey south by highway #3 which will take fist of all to the Tanama Valley where Tanama Wines awaits with its beautiful gardens; continue on and you will reach Valle de las Palmas, there you fill find the Cavas de Don Juan where you can stop by and visit their store which offers products such as grapes, honey, olives and olive oil. To the south of Las Palmas you will find the Guadalupe Valley, also known as Calafia Valley, home of the two largest wine producing houses in the country Casa Domec and L.A. Cetto where you can sample award winning wines and enjoy a tour of the cellars and fields; this valley is also home to Monte Xanic, Chateau Camou, Adobe Guadalupe, Biyaboff with its Russian heritage, Baron Balche where you might just want to take a closer look at the sand by the caves, you’ll be surprised to discover you are standing on grape seeds. Continuing the route further to the southwest, San Antonio de las Minas Valley awaits with Casa de Piedra who offers a course on wine growing, Viña de Liceaga, Viñedos Lafarga, Vitivinicola Tres Valles, Vinisterra, one of the newly established wine makers in the region, all of which offer tours and sampling; some require reservations. If you continue south, 90 km past the city of Ensenada you will arrive in San Vicente Valley home to Vides y Vinos Californianos.

Another option is to start from the south, taking the scenic route (highway #1) all the way to the third toll booth, before entering Ensenada look for the highway 3 exit (Ruta del Vino), toward Tecate, which will take you to the San Antonio de las Minas Valley. Tourist offices in Baja can provide you with a map of the wine route.

Considering that this area is home to around 50 wine producing houses from the large internationally know to the small family owned artisan wine producers, a lot of which are gaining international acceptance winning awards in Nappa Valley, Ensenada and Europe, it is impossible to list all of them and their particular qualities. The best way to experience them is to come down for a visit, along the Wine Route you will find choices of dining from family restaurants to fine cuisine, ranches for camping, artisan centers, museums, wine boutiques, art galleries, small inns and B&Bs, Viñedo Adobe Guadalupe has its own six bedroom B&B plus stables where you can go horseback riding; all of this and the beautiful natural surroundings make this a special tourist destination. Whether or not you come for the wine, the food, ranches and other recreational areas still makes the trip worth while.

The history of wine making in the Baja valleys is speculated to go all the way back to Hernan Cortes, who in 1524 was the appointed governor of the New Spain, ordered the planting of vineyards each year for 5 years, having as a result a grape that was known as criolla, and with it establishing the first wine-producing haciendas in Coahuila, Mexico. During the 16th century, the wine production was extended by the Jesuits to other parts of southern America like Argentina, Peru and Chile; by the 18th century it had extended to Baja California and parts of western United States.

The first vineyard in the peninsula was planted by Father Ugarte a few years after the Nuestra Señora de Loreto Concha mission was established in 1697 in the town of Loreto in Southern Baja. In 1888, on what was the Dominican Mission of Santo Tomas, Francisco Andonegul and Miguel Ormart started the vineyards and wineries of Santo Tomas still in operation today, making this the oldest continuously operating wine producer in Northen Baja. Around 1904 Russian molokan immigrants and their families opposing the war, fled Russia to avoid being recruited by the Czarist armies, originally settling in the Los Angeles area, they soon ended up in Guadalupe Valley, where they purchased land to cultivate their grape cuttings, along with oats, grasses, wheat and barley brought over from Europe. These Russian farmers where the first to bring wine production to a large scale within the valley; the Bibayoff winery, established in 1970 is owned by descendants of that group of immigrants continuing with the family tradition that started in the 1930’s; this winery along with Casa Domecq, established in 1972; followed by L.A. Cetto in 1974 marked the growth of the valleys into what they are today.

If you have ever requested wine with your meal while visiting Baja, chances are that you have tasted some of these wines, in case you haven’t and are unsure to make the trip, there is a closer starting point, L.A. Cetto has a facility close to downtown Tijuana, where they offer free tours of the cellars and sampling starting at 2 dollars; several cultural activities such as concerts, and plays are presented in their venue, also available for your social or business events.

A warning for those living in the U.S.; you will be tempted to purchase more than one bottle of wine to take back home with you. When you come to visit these valleys, be sure to visit this link [http://www.abc.ca.gov/permits/importing.html], it tells you how much wine you can bring back with you to the U.S. To everybody living in Mexico, feel free to take home as much Baja wine as you like.