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Something has been missing the past five years from my local travel adventures…Baja.  A recent visit to Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe wine region near Ensenada, cured the gap.

What a sense of discovery!  The Valle, as referred by locals, is truly maturing, from a tourism perspective, especially with 90+ wineries and 50+ restaurants in the region.  It’s with good reason; according to the local tourism agency, Proturismo de Ensenada, over 600,000 people visited the wine region last year, and the Valle is stepping up its game.

The area is made up of three grape growing regions near Ensenada, including Santo Tom

img_6232as Valley, San Vicente Valley and San Antonio de las Minas, where the Valle de Guadalupe is located.  Each are sprouting up vineyards, wineries, restaurants and boutique lodging.

With large production wineries like Domecq and L.A. Cetto to boutique wineries like Las Nubes and Vena Cava Vinicola, the sophistication of the Valle’s wineries catches visitors off guard, unless they have read the impressive press this region is receiving. With 90% of all wine made in Mexico coming from this area, it is well on its way to being recognized as a viable wine region.

The Valle and surrounding area’s event calendar is nearly full every month of the year, from wine and culinary festivals, organized bike and off-road vehicle races, and local flair music and dance festivals. The place is booming!

UNO – go
There are several ways to visit the Valle de Guadalupe.  Driving your own car is completely doable, but make sure to obtain Mexican Liability Insurance in advance. Most major insurance companies offer online service to obtain this needed, and inexpensive, insurance.

Alternately, there are several tour companies who offer single day or overnight tours to the Valle, transporting visitors to the Valle from Tijuana, including Wine Tours Baja and UberVALLE, private drivers. A secured parking lot, located on the US side of the San Ysidro border, Border Station Parking, is within walking distance of the border pedestrian walkway to Tijuana. Pick up location in Tijuana varies by tour operator, but most are close to the pedestrian walkway. Note: You will need a valid passport traveling to and from Mexico, regardless if you walk or drive over the border.

A few limited resources will transport from the San Diego area, including Baja Test Kitchen and Baja Winery Tours. Tours are also offered to visitors arriving by cruise ship in the port of Ensenada.

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If you choose to drive, it’s a quick border crossing going south, an easy 90-minute drive from San Diego, traveling on the nicely maintained scenic Highway Mex 1D.  There is plenty to see along the way from the border to Ensenada; the port city and gateway to the Valle.

The drive includes views of the historic Rosarito Hotel, the relatively new Baja Conference Center, the active Fox Studios Baja (where the blockbuster Titanic was filmed), the 75 foot Christ of the Sacred Heart, the beautiful Giorgio Santini Gallery, the iconic lobster town of Puerto Nuevo, the Historic Halfway House Bar and Famous Hotel La Fonda restaurant, Salspipuedes (famous surf spot), and numerous gorgeous whitewashed housing developments, lining the highway throughout the drive.

Entering into Ensenada, a must stop to start the day is the informative Proturismo de Ensenada, where maps and information are offered about the wine and food scene in the Valle.

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Around the corner from the Proturismo office is the historic Hussong’s Cantina, in the heart of the bustling Ensenada retail and tourism district. Hussong’s is still housed in its original building, where its signature margaritas have been served since 1892. It’s worth a stop on the way to the Valle!

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From the heart of the main shopping district of Ensenada, the Valle is an easy 15- minute drive along the La Ruta del Vino, Highway 3, which winds through lush vineyards, past rows of olve trees, lavender, and sunflower fields.  The highway passes through the small town of San Antonio de las Minas, before arriving in the Valle de Guadalupe. Expect the main roads to be paved and maintained, but most of the wineries will be accessed on dirt roads, no worries, it adds to the regional experience and charm!

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DOS – drink
The Valle offers many wineries to choose for a day or overnight visit.  Realistically, a full day allows enough time for two or three winery visits, (tasting and tour), and adequate time to experience a culinary adventure with a meal at one of the many restaurants in the Valle, before making your way back to the U.S. border crossing.

My visit to the Valle started at Entre Santos, Santos Tomas Winery; part of the Bodegas de Santo Tomas Winery Group.  The company has been producing wines in Baja since 1888, and its newest winery location, an ultra-modern tasting room, is worth a visit to see what the new wave of wineries is about!

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There is clearly an emphasis on both wine and art at this winery, with its branding beginning at the parking lot entrance to the tasting room, where the walkway directs guests past magenta-colored painted vines. Be ready for an aha moment as you enter the expansive tasting room.

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There’s an immediate draw to look at the massive floor to ceiling bottle-filled shelves; a piece of art in itself. Numerous other beautiful regional artisan pieces are displayed throughout the tasting room. The tasting room staff was friendly and engaging and offered information about the winery’s many varietals including, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, and Chardonnay. When asked about the issue of salinity in the Valle’s wines, the servers were quick to describe the issue, and the steps the winemakers are taking to improve this phenomenon.

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Make advanced reservations for the guided tour of the facility, where visitors are treated to another aha moment inside the cellar where massive steel tanks and walls painted black with various wine themes are located. Unique and memorable are the words that come to mind.

The tour concludes with a short pictorial film on the history of the winery, shown in a private screening room, and there is an unexpected surprise at the culmination of the film…you’ll have to see it to experience it!

The winery grounds overlook a gorgeous valley and an expansive open-air event center, including a large amphitheater, which holds numerous concerts throughout the year.

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Our next stop was to the beautiful Monte Xanic (pronounced sha-nik).  Named for a Cora Indian word meaning, flower blooming after the first rain, this winery has flourished like its namesake over the past thirty years, and opened its new winery location in the Valle in 2014.  At first view, a beautiful pond greets visitors traveling up the long dirt road from the main highway.  The modern tasting room sits high upon a hill and offers sweeping views of the Valle below.  Monte Xanic offers several varietals, including Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

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With an advanced reservation, the facility tour includes a look at their beautiful, innovative, pristine and state of the art winemaking production area.

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Tours may also include a visit to their wine cellar, where the vineyard’s private collection is found and experienced.  This winery also pays detailed attention to the quality of their wines and is considered by many to be the leader in winemaking for the region

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TRES – stay
Include a visit to Encuentro Guadalupe Hotel on your day’s itinerary, even if you are not planning to stay the night, if for nothing more than to see its beautiful tasting room and hotel.  This modern lodging offers minimalist, container-like structures that are seemingly suspended over the cliffs. Trust me, it will be another aha moment when you first view these dwellings!

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The hotel offers an open-air tasting room/restaurant with a casual friendly vibe, overlooking the Valle with an extraordinary 180-degree view.

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Smiling, friendly, and engaging staff greet visitors at the door with a glass of their signature Sangria and charcuterie trays of local cheese, quince, and olives.

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The hotel includes twenty freestanding “eco-lofts”, and a large “eco-villa”, each with their own expansive and private deck with views of the Valle and vines below.

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As a special touch, each patio comes equipped with a wood burning chimenea for roasting marshmallows or having a fire to warm your toes while enjoying a glass of one of the property’s many wines. There is also a private disappearing edge pool and bar, which is exclusive to guests on the property.

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Make sure to explore the cellar, where you will find an almost hidden wine cave, with unique rows of dusty wine bottles lining the walls and a small open skylight that exposes the bright Baja sun. The cave offers a small sitting area for up to ten people.

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Another wonderful alternative for lodging is the Hacienda Guadalupe Hotel and Restaurante.

This property sits regally upon a mountain knoll, which provides captivating views of the vineyards, and valley below. If you time your visit right, you’ll be treated to a spectacular sunset from the restaurant’s patio, or from a balcony or terrace room. This twelve room boutique-style hotel offers a full-service restaurant, wine bar, and secluded pool area. The rooms are beautifully appointed, with the authentic regional decor, including tiled floors.

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Helado de Pirul, (Pink peppercorn vanilla ice cream), Hacienda Guadalupe Restaurante

As much as the Valle’s wine scene is getting extensive exposure from the prominent press, so is the food scene which is often associated with the many lodging properties in the Valle. Top-named Chefs like Javier Placencia of Finca Altonzano, Diego Hernandez of y Corazón de Tierra, Jair Téllez, of Laja, and Drew Deckman of Deckman’s en el Mogor are tearing up the culinary scene and putting the Valle on the culinary map.

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Pato con puré de Chícharo y Cardamom, (Duck breast with cinnamon and star anise), Hacienda Guadalupe Restaurante

The Hacienda Guadalupe Restaurante is depending on the property’s young Chef to escalate the level of its culinary status. The culinary team and restaurant staff offered not only a creative meal, but an exceptional and memorable dining experience.

The property’s vineyard, Melchum Wines, were paired with the tasting menu, including their 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, 2013 Merlot, and 2013 Nebbiolo.

After a full meal,  and a full day, it was time to say goodbye to this charming wine region, and head north towards the U.S. border, with my single bottle of purchased wine, (California Department of Alcohol Control allows one liter of alcohol, per person, across the border).

I’m already planning my next trip to the Valle, with more time to explore all the region has to offer. Who’s ready to join me?

Cheers!

I was hosted by the destination, and have written an honest opinion about my experience.