Locale’s South of the Border Picks
Written By: Jacqueline Bryant Baja Wine Tour
Baja California’s Valle de Guadalupe is a wine region that the world is finally waking up to. After a couple of decades of hits, misses, and pushes forward, the valley and its wine, food, and hotels is finally getting the acclaim it’s been due. We’ve gathered the best of the best to show you how to have the greatest time on your visit south of the border.
The wine in the Valle de Guadalupe can admittedly be hit or miss, but when it’s good, it’s as good as anywhere else. Some of the vineyards have begun exporting en masse to different restaurants in the United States, including the 2016 James Beard winner Cosme, in New York City. Latin American diners already know all about it, though some of the best restaurants throughout Mexico and South America have been serving Valle de Guadalupe wines for years now. There’s no signature varietal, so you’re free to sample all the different blends and monovarietal wines that are produced.
Vinicola Torres Alegre y Familia is a smaller-scale winery that produces consistently quality wines. Tucked in a flat part of the valley behind the village of Francisco Zarco, the tasting room is a futuristic, industrial inspired building that reflects its place in a desert but also the forward-looking nature of its founder, Dr. Victor Torres Alegre. He’s the first winemaker in the area to have a PhD in oenology, which he received in Bordeaux. According to Fernando Gaxiola of event and travel company Baja Wine Food, standouts include the Nebbiolo Cru Garage 2011 and for white wine, La Llave Blanca 2013, which is a crisp Sauvignon Blanc-Chenin Blanc blend.
Lechuza Vineyard is another one of the valley’s most celebrated wine producers. Husband-and-wife duo Ray and Patty Magnussen started operations in 2005, with their first vintage appearing in 2007. Of their 2013 Nebbiolo, Ray says it’s, “quite possibly our best wine ever. It’s a complex and well-structured wine with dark aromatic notes of tobacco, laced with soft aromas of dark chocolate covered cherries. The tannins are present but soft and will make aging this wine easy.” Winery tours and tastings are by appointment only.
Paolo Paoloni’s Italian varietals are at home here in Mexico. His winery sits up against the hills and the tasting room lords over the valley, setting the stage for truly epic sunsets. His Nebbiolo is the most buzzed about, but we have it on good authority that his new release, the Nerone, is going to be another showstopper.
Phil Gregory’s tasting room under a small fleet of boats is but one venue where you can sample his full range of wines. Outside, under a webbed pergola, is a bar and taco truck, called Troika, where you can also enjoy craft beer selections. If you haven’t gotten your fill, they produce some of the wine served at the famed restaurant Corazon de Tierra. We think this is one of the most fun tastings, because, let’s be honest, who wouldn’t enjoy tasting wine in the hull of a boat?
A visit to the valley wouldn’t be complete without stopping at Monte Xanic. This winery can be credited with helping to revive the Valle de Guadalupe’s wine business back in the 1980s and remains the biggest player in the area. We particularly enjoy their white wines, which are perfect for a hot day in the Mexican sun.
Corazon de Tierra
Photography By: Chrissy Lynn
Corazon de Tierra is easily the most buzzed about in the area right now, and for good reason. Head Chef Diego Hernandez Baquedano has made it his mission to serve hyper-local, sustainable, and Baja-centric food from the restaurant’s wood, glass, and metal adorned dining room, which looks out to a garden. All of the food served comes from this garden, local ranchers and the sea 30 minutes down Route 3. We wouldn’t be surprised if they ended up getting a Michelin star at some point, so get here before it becomes impossible to get a seat.
Just behind Lechuza Vineyards is one of the famed classics of Valle de Guadalupe cuisine, Laja. Currently it sits at number 46 on the San Pellegrino’s Best of Latin America list, and you can expect that number to climb as time goes on. Chef Jair Tellez started Laja in 2001 and nurtures its own orchard, farm, and vineyard, making sure “farm-to-table” is as literal of a term as possible. Expect a rustic-chic inspired dining room, reminding you to stay comfortable.
The lesser-known of the three restaurants mentioned here, Malva is not to be slept on. Chef Roberto Alcocer’s tasting menu is a feast for the senses and evokes the absolute best the Valle has to offer. In particular, their ribeye, paired with pureed root vegetables and other roasted vegetables, is particularly outstanding. Also exemplary is any seafood on offering, especially the oysters. The dining room is partially outdoors, hidden, and eclectic, ensuring a memorable evening tucked away from the rest of the world.
Adobe Guadalupe is a hacienda-style boutique hotel that offers superlative dining options, its own house-made wine that’s among the best in the valley, beautifully-designed rooms and horseback riding, for the equestrian in the group. One of the older names in the valley, this is one of the best all-encompassing hotel experiences to be had in the Valle de Guadalupe.
At the far north end of the Valle de Guadalupe sits a hotel comprised entirely of wooden eco pods that sit among giant boulders, with a view of the valley below. You’ve probably seen the pictures on Instagram. This hotel comes equipped with an excellent restaurant, stylish digs, and views for days.
The newest addition to the Valle is a 6-room bed and breakfast, Bruma. It’s tastefully designed, has a beautiful pool overlooking the vineyards, its own winemaking capabilities, and its own fire pit. Take some of their bikes and ride to the hot springs nestled in the hills nearby.
Should you want to go, the Valle de Guadalupe is an easy drive from anywhere in Southern California, being just 1.5 hours south of the border at San Diego and Tijuana. For readers farther afield, flying to San Diego and driving from there is very easy, too. You can drive across or hop on a tour; our favorites are Club Tengo Hambre and Coast to Costa. Club Tengo Hambre’s tours to Baja are led by a couple from Tijuana and Orange County, who also run the blog Life & Food. They know the region inside and out and their tours are gastronomically focused, as the intent is to create a supper club-like experience. Coast to Costa is also run by a couple, and they’re geared towards a different type of social outing—you won’t be avoiding your fellow bus-mate on this tour, in fact, you’ll probably be best friends by the end of it. However you choose to go, you’re guaranteed a buzz that’ll last you a long time, and it won’t just be from the wine.
Jackie is the Lifestyle Editor for JustLuxe.com. Her freelance work has appeared at Afar.com, Harper's Bazaar, The Infatuation, and Locale Magazine. Her favorite vices include peaty alcohol, rich textiles, far-flung hotels, and all food from any part of the world that can be found in a dumpling-like format. She can usually be found hanging out in her current homes of San Diego and Baja California, visiting family in Barcelona, or in her hometown of New York. You can view some of her work here: jackiebryantwriting.com