Valle de Guadalupe in Baja California is the prime winemaking region in Mexico.
- Welcome to Baja Wine Country
- Visit During the Week
- How to Get There
- You Need Mexican Insurance
- The San Diego Tour
- More Wineries
- Wine Country Dining
- Where to Stay
- The Annual Vendimia
Welcome to Valle de Guadalupe
Visit the booming wine growing region of Valle de Guadalupe before it explodes and becomes the most popular weekend winery getaway. It’s not if, it’s when.
Adventurous Americans are regularly traveling 75 miles south of Tijuana to visit the increasingly popular Valle de Guadalupe wine growing region with its dozens of superb wineries, superb world class gourmet restaurants and high-end boutique hotels for a fraction of what they would pay in Napa, Temecula or California’s Central Coast wine countries. Here in this picturesque wine growing region some of the best wines in the world are being produced, sampled and enjoyed.
Getting there is as simple as taking a big comfortable tour bus. Even better is getting some friends together and renting the entire bus, which is amazingly affordable. Then using this article, plan the trip of a lifetime. Getting there by car with your sweetheart is just as safe and gives you the added plus of staying overnight or longer in an awesome mansion and soaking in the joy of living the good life for as little as $220 a night.
Plus, tour ships with regular stops in Ensenada, Mexico, a mere 27 miles away, offer guided tours to these world class wineries on a weekly basis. For those who can’t read between the lines: traveling in Baja California, Mexico, is as safe as driving to the grocery store to buy a quart of milk.
So if you are even a little bit adventurous and want to experience great tasting wines, superb world class Baja Med cuisine served in stunning open air restaurants like Finca Altozano (17), you’ll want to visit Valle De Guadalupe. Plus, you can enjoy world class accommodations at classy, romantic, boutique hotels. Some are haciendas on a hilltop overlooking the Guadalupe Valley or sit secluded in the middle of a vineyard. If this adventure I recently took sounds appealing, don’t put coming to the Guadalupe Valley into your someday file because awesome, affordable places this good do not remain a secret forever. Once the word gets out, it will be like going to Napa: fun, expensive and way overcrowded.
This wine region has been around since 1905 when Russian immigrants fleeing the Russian Revolution immigrated to Valle de Guadalupe and planted vines and produced the first wine. But nothing really happened until L.A. Cetto (2) got serious about producing his great wines in 1928. His passion resulted in his winery receiving over 480 blue ribbons which helped the Valle de Guadalupe become the wine capitol of Mexico, and sooner or later it will eclipse the wine growing regions in California in popularity.
Why? Because of the incredible taste of these well balanced and incredibly delicious wines. In fact, it’s no secret that wineries in Temecula and San Diego have been purchasing grapes from Valle de Guadalupe for years to make their wines equally delicious. So, it’s easy to see why Valle de Guadalupe is the wine growing capitol of Mexico.
Wine experts will tell you that the reason why these wines are so exceptional is due to the dry Mediterranean climate of Valle de Guadalupe and the nearness of Valle de Guadalupe to the Pacific Ocean. They’ll say that the soothing breezes that come from the ocean give the wines of Valle de Guadalupe their unique characteristic, which is enhanced by the land and soil to create the high alcohol levels and berry aromas.
Plus, it’s the years of innovative wine making blended with experience and experimentation, which has resulted in the production of exquisite tempranillos cabernet sauvignon, merlot, grenache, shiraz, zinfandel, nebbiolo and
carignan. These full-bodied wines with high alcohol content are unforgettable in taste.
Visit During the Week
Plan to visit the Guadalupe wineries during the week to avoid the traffic, crowds in the wine tasting rooms, crowds in the winery and crowds in the limited number of restaurants. If you are staying overnight, a weekday visit helps in getting the best room or a room at all as there are only a few boutique hotels at this time in Guadalupe Valley. By visiting the wineries during the week you can take your time and poke around the wineries and dine in the best restaurants recommended here. (I personally review each restaurant I dined in.) See Restaurants on the last page of this book. Even if you don’t plan to stay overnight on this visit, it’s amazing how beautiful these hotels are. So you’re missing the boat by not seeing where you might be staying in the future and the rates are all very reasonable.
See Where to Stay in this chapter.
How to Get There
Right now cruise ships like Carnival Cruise Lines with stops in picturesque Ensenada are spreading the word by encouraging their passengers to take day trips to the wineries. That tour company is a well-established tour company called Cali-Baja Tours (011-521-646-178-1045). An excellent way to experience winning and dining in Gaudalupe Valle is by booking a group or private tour with Baja Winery Tours (619-535- 9994). Prices start at ($189) and this includes a delicious meal at the famous Finca Altozano Restaurant (17). Go to bajawinerytours.com or call direct at (619-535-9994). This is a reliable, San Diego based company that’s well established and uses the best transportation using a 15 passenger van up to 50 passenger buses to get you safely to the valley and back. If you have a private party of six or more they will come to you for pickup. The all inclusive tour is an unforgettable experience, which includes tastings/tours of three of the valley’s best wineries where you will taste up to five different labels of wine in each one. Open group tours depart from a central meeting point in San Diego at 9 a.m. and brings you back to the meeting point by 8 p.m. Credit Cards: MC, VISA.
However, taking your own car gives you a lot more flexibility and enables you to visit other places, stop and stay where the bus can’t go or are not on a scheduled tour to go. Either way the inland and coastal views are stunning, especially the toll road, which offers miles of breathtaking ocean views. So either take the toll road (MEX 1) south to the (MEX 3), or to save 30 minutes and exit at La Mission and you will eventually connect back up to the (MEX 3) in the Valle de Guadalupe. Both are excellent roads.
If you do go by car make sure that you get Mexican auto insurance from a reputable company such as BajaBound.com, which sells reasonably priced insurance online and accepts AE, MC and VISA. The beauty of online purchasing is that you can be quickly insured vs. stopping at the border and getting a policy at a drive thru or having to stop at the border and walk in to purchase it. So you just stream through the border and on to your wine tasting adventure without having to stop.
The reason why you need Mexican insurance is because Mexico does not recognize American insurance as being valid. Mexican law is based on the Napoleonic Code, which means that when you become involved in a crime, you are presumed guilty. (American law maintains that you are innocent until proven guilty.) Automobile accidents (same for private boats and air- planes) in Mexico are considered criminal offenses.
If you have a serious accident in Mexico, you (and your car) will be detained until it is determined who is the guilty party and damages are paid on demand. Your American insurance carrier cannot send an adjustor to help you, and the Mexican authorities will not accept your American insurance policy as proof of financial responsibility. Just get Mexican insurance and you’ll be safe vs. sorry.
The San Diego Tour
A glance at the map in this chapter reveals that there are over 50 wineries worthy of discovery. And the lesser known wineries are near the entrance of the wine growing region. So which ones are best and in what order is essential to getting the most out of your visit. Just let our map be your guide. Then discover the rest. Of course everyone is going to have their favorites. Thus, you should begin your discovery of the Valle de Guadalupe wine country with a visit to the ultra-modern designed 4,000 sq. ft. wine museum.
The Museo de La Vid Y El Vino (1) (01152-646-1568165) [museodelvinobc.com] is ideally located on Highway 3 at K 81.3 Fracc. Norte seven miles from the entrance to the wine country from the toll road (see map). It’s open daily except Monday from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Admission is ($3) for adults. Children under 12 are admitted free. This magnificent 10,000 sq. ft. museum opened in 2012, and is the only one of its kind in Mexico. It is the primer you’ll need to get the lay of the land that you’ll need to enjoy the best of the Guadalupe Valley’s wine country, which the museum explains in four main areas related to the history, industry, culture and identity in the art of wine making. One interesting statistic learned at the museum is that 90% of the wine produced in Mexico is grown here in the Guadalupe Valley.
So once you are equipped with the lay of the land travel north on Highway 3 for about 4 miles until you see a sign that identifies that you are approaching L.A. Cetto (2), at Canon Johnson 2108, Hidalgo 22156 (01152-646-155-2179). This impressive winery is open daily. It’s the oldest, (circa 1928), the biggest with 700,000 acres and the best if being awarded more gold medals than all of the other wineries combined is a testament to what the best of the best means. Their gold medals number 480 at last count. Credit cards: DC, MC, VISA.
Like most of the wineries, getting to L.A. Cetto once you leave the highway you’ll be traveling about a mile along a bumpy dusty road. But you will be justly rewarded. The cost for a wine sampling is a mere ($6) a person, which is a third of what is typically being charged at wineries in San Diego and Temecula. Getting the best for less, is always fun. Plus, they offer an informative tour. Periodically they have special events. So visit their website and see if you can either schedule your arrival when they are having an event or avoid that date, as you choose to do. And wherever you dine in Mexico’s better restaurants L.A. Cetto and the nearby Monte Xanic are the wineries of choice based on gold medals alone for being the best wineries in Valle de Guadalupe.
In 1928, Don Angelo Cetto founded this winery with the hope to build a wine revolution in the region, which he did. Then in 1963 Cetto’s winery, under the leadership of Don Luis Augustin Cetto, spearheaded a rapid mod- ernization and vast transformation of enology. Being the wine pioneer in the Valle de Guadalupe, Cetto concentrated on the introduction of a variety of fine grapes and in exploring the diverse terrains and climates of the region. He crowned his wine-making process by founding L.A Cetto Winery in 1975 with the purpose of giving Mexico the best Baja California has to offer. Currently, Luis Alberto is the third generation of this wine crafting family. L.A. Cetto wines are sold in 27 international markets of distribution to France, Spain, Germany, the United States and Canada.
At the corner where you turn off the highway is where you should have lunch before visiting L.A. Cetto. Wise thinking, it should be before having wine but either way dine here unless it is on the weekend or you don’t want to wait. There is another excellent choice just down the road. This destination is called La Esperanza (3) and features awesome Baja Med Cuisine. It is located at Km 73.5, which is on the Carretera Highway to Tecate. (01152-664-972-9935) [laesperanza.com].
Expect to be blown away by the breathtaking views of literally miles of lush leaved vineyards growing in rows in the spring and summer. This restaurant is one of three owned by Miguel Angel Guerrero, the Baja Med founder and practitioner of cuisine influenced by the cuisine of Baja California, Spain and the Asia.
Interestingly enough the roots of the Oriental influence came from the Orient by way of the railroad construction in the 1850s. Then later the Chinese migrated to Mexicali, the capitol of the state of northern Mexico. You may say that their entrees are the most delicious cuisine you have ever tasted. the ingredients are either fresh from the ocean or the land. Each entree is presented with flair. See restaurants and look for the Category titled Baja Med Cuisine in the Restaurant Section.
Your next stop is the most talked about new hotel and restaurant in the Guadalupe Valley. It’s called Encuentro Guadalupe. So upon leaving the restaurant you will be heading west. The hotel and restaurant are about a mile away. It’s worth stopping here as you’ll be able to decide if coming back for a meal and/or accommodations will be on your agenda. It’s located at Km 75 on the Carretera Tecate-Ensenada Road and the phone number is (01152-646-155-2750). Credit cards: AE, MC, VISA.
It’s perched on a rugged hillside offering breathtaking views from each separate modular, mini-suite. Suites are offered at ($325) a night. They also have an impressive accommodation that sleeps 14 at ($3,500) a night plus tax. Both sound interesting for their breathtaking rugged hillside views and unique ultra modern architecture.
Your next stop will be about 7 miles away, going back in the direction from which you came through the small town of Francisco Zarco (see map), which has a Pemex Gas Station if you need one. So when you reach the town veer to the right vs. the main road Mex 3 from which you arrived in the Guadalupe Valley.
En route through the town you’ll see a lot of small businesses one of which may interest you on the left side of the road. It’s called El Tigre, which sells Mexican Folk Art.
However, the destination you’re looking for is Monte Xanic (5) (01152- 800-717-4633) [montexanic.com.mx]. It is open Mon.–Fri. 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m. and Sat. 8 a.m.–noon. The winery will be on your right. A guard at the entrance will let you in. After traveling down a long dirt road with vineyards on each side you will come to a big beautiful lake and on the hill beside it is the one and only Monte Xanic. Founded in 1987, the wines produced here rival L.A.Cetto for superiority and consist of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot, malbec, sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc, syrah and chardonnay. All express the elements that make the wines in the valley so exceptional. The following labels are produced at Monte Xanic: Monte Xanic, Calixa and Gran Ricardo.
Dr. Hans Paul Backhoff is the Technical Director, Enologist and founding partner of Monte Xanic and has earned multiple international awards in becoming Mexico’s leading winery. Dr. Backoff studied Enology in Bordeaux, France. So the international ties are obvious. In 2014, Dr. Backhoff was named one of the five enologists of the year by
the Wine Masters Challenge held in Estoril, Portugal. These credentials demonstrate the international appeal for the wines of Monte Xanic.
Barón Balché Vineyards (7), From Highway 3 take the main road and turn right at the Health Center IMSS Centro de Salud. The winery is open daily from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. (01152-646-688-1032). The name Baron Blanché, means “ceremonial beverage” in Spanish, and is meant to honor the Mayan religion and past kingdoms. Indeed, this winery is a hidden treasure. It features a tasting room, tours and shopping. Available for private parties. [baronbalche.com].
Bibayoff–Bodegas (9) Valle de Guadalupe San Antonio de las Minas off Highway 3 at “El Tigre”, follow the dirt road to Rancho Bibayoff. (01152- 646-176-1008). Open Sun.-Sat. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. The only Valley winery and vineyard with Russian tradition, it offers wine, wine tasting, outdoor banquet facilities, campground and a small private museum. Reservations required.
Cava de Don Juan (20), Km. 28 Highway 3 Tecate-Ensenada (01152- 664-681-1386) [vinedosdonjuan.com]. Open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Founder ‘Don Juan’ has been active in the wine industry in Baja California for 20 years. The winery produces up to 1,200 cases of wine annually. Wine garden, cellar and store with products from the Don Juan Ranch, vineyards and winery. The store offers local olive oil, olives, grapes, wine, preserves and honey.
Viña de Liceaga (12), at Km 93.5 Highway 3 Tecate-Ensenada. (01152- 178-158-2922) [vinosliceaga.com] Open Mon.-Fri. 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat. and Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Family owned winery and vineyards. Wine tasting in their cellar and shopping. [vinoscasadepiedra.com].
Vitivinícola Tres Valles (13), off Highway 3 at the only paved entrance to the town of San Antonio de las Minas. Turn left one block at the end of the street and then one block right. (01152-646-178-8052) [vinos- tresvalles.com].
The winery got its start in 1999 when a group of friends got together to learn about winemaking.
Wine Country Dining
Totally unique to wine tasting in the U.S.A. are the handful of cutting edge restaurants featuring incredibly delicious Baja Med Cuisine featuring the best chefs in all of Mexico. It’s a mind blowing experience to be able to taste world class wines at reasonable prices and then to dine at a world class restaurant for pennies on the dollar. Thus with their farm to table fare you’ll enjoy the best meat cuts, fish right out of the ocean and locally- grown, organic vegetables. So fine dining is as much a part of wine tasting here in the Valle de Guadalupe as is wine tasting. So this a total wine tasting experience at the best wineries, dining in gourmet restaurants and overnight accommo- dations usually only enjoyed by the rich and famous. It’s an affordable all in one vacation experience.
Corazon de Tierra Lunch 1:30 p.m.-4:30 p.m., dinner 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Closed Tues. (01152-646-156-8030) [corazondetierra.com]. This gastronomic delight is a locally sourced culinary adventure of texture and flavor. The contemporary cuisine changes with the harvest from the garden as well as ingredients available from small local produce growers. Reservations recommended.
La Finca Altozano (17), Km 83 Ejido Francisco Zarco, Valle de Guadalupe 22750 (01152-646-156-8045) [fincaltozano.com]. Open Mon.–Fri. 1 p.m.–9 p.m., and Sun. noon–8 p.m. You owe it to yourself to dine here before, during or after a day of wine tasting in the Ville de Guadalupe. You’ll dine outside under a huge canopy with sweeping views of the vineyards. The atmosphere is always festive with laughing happy people enjoying the fine Baja Med cuisine made famous by owner Chef Javier Plascencia. So expect to enjoy the unique taste of farm fresh and ocean fresh cuisine such as fresh octopus, sauteed in citrus juice, ginger and cilantro while enjoying a refreshing sangria. Main course selections include Rancho Cores lamb served in a cajun china sauce. Also superb are the pork chops cooked to perfection. It’s to die for. And the steaks are wonderful. For dessert order the sweet potato in a glazed sauce. This is world class cuisine cooked to perfection. Credit cards: AE, MC, VISA.
Laja Restaurant (15), at Km 83 Carr. Tecate-Ensenada (0155-646-155- 2556) [lajamexico.com]. Open Tues.–Sun. 1:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m.; Sun 1:30 p.m.–5:30 p.m. In a rustic setting Laja delivers memorable service and inno- vative wine parings with a not-to-be-missed multi-course tasting menu. Staff speaks English. A dining destination that’s not to be missed. Credit cards: MC, VISA.
Hacienda Restaurant and Hotel, at Carretera Tecate-Ensenada Km. 81.5 Valle de Guadalupe (01152 646 155-2859) [haciendaguadalupe.com]. Open Thurs.–Mon., 8 a.m.-7 p.m., Fri. and Sat. until 10 p.m. Closed Tues. and Wed. Featured is a 12 room hotel and restaurant, ideally located across the road from the Valle de Guadalupe wine museum, where breakfast, lunch and dinner are served. Hacienda offers dining al
fresco with awesome views of the wine country from a hillside vista. Fresh Mexican and Mediterranean fare are served. Wedding venues. Credit cards: MC, VISA.
Where to Stay
At the moment there are dozens of small hotels popping up, which is testament to the growing popularity of driving south of the border to get in on the excitement of discovering world class wines, enjoying gourmet dining at exquisite world class restaurants and staying in one-of-a-kind boutique inns. So choose one of these recommended hotels for an extraordinary adventure before the rest of the world discovers the Guadalupe Valley.
Hotel Coral & Marina (16) on the Tijuana to Ensenada road just north of Ensenada, km 103, at 3421 Zona Playitas Ensenada. For reservations call direct (01152-646-175-0000) or toll free (800-862-9020) or (877-233-5839). Rate schedule for this 145-room, all suite hotel with ocean-view balconies is ($137-$851). Everything about this premier, modern hotel-resort and marina is first class. The suites are beautifully appointed with many modern conveniences including cable TV, HBO, air conditioning, wireless internet, and international telephone lines. Their spacious Antares Restaurant serves delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner. It overlooks the 382 -slip marina. This full-service marina with a 24-hour dock master can accommodate boats up to 120 ft. in length. They also have 2 lighted tennis courts, Jacuzzi, 24-hour security, ultramodern European-style spa offering massages, facials, steam sauna, and indoor and outdoor swimming pools. Plus, they offer an ocean-view lobby bar and nightclub, up to 600-person convention center, professional catering and two gift shops. If you are searching for a wedding site, they offer full service at two beautiful gardens for 320 people and banquets for 350 people. This resort has it all! Credit Cards: AE, MC, VISA.
**Adobe Guadalupe Vineyards & Inn (18), (01152-646-155-2094) [adobeguadalupe.com]. Accommodations are ($275) a night. It is located on a knoll overlooking the vineyards near the town of Francisco Zarco (see map). Take the main road (southbound) and turn right (West) when you come to the medical clinic of Seguro Social building which is the (social security) office. Then follow the signs down a long dusty road to the main entrance, which is kept secure by an attendant. Your journey will be justly rewarded as this is a stunning 5-Star B & B resort. This impeccable Persian-style hacienda was built by Tru and Donald Miller in 1997, and they spared nothing in its creation. Thus, it’s perfect in every way. When you enter the hacienda’s courtyard you will be greeted by a huge 30-ft. bubbling water fountain. Technically it’s a Bed & Breakfast Inn featuring six rooms, but it is so much more than that. It offers virtually every convenience you could ask for including an inviting swimming pool, wine cave, Jacuzzi, large library filled with hundreds of book the only TV is in this room, a mediation garden and a grand stable (yes it’s grand) with beautiful horses for guests to ride. Breakfast is served in a large open inviting kitchen while lunch (3 courses) and dinner (5 courses) are served in a grand dining room. Prior reservations are required and it’s suggested that they be made months in advance. Credit cards: AE, MC, VISA.
**Encuentro Guadalupe, (4) at Carretera Tecate-Ensenada Km. 75 ($325–$3,500) [grupoencuentro.com.mx] (01152-646-155-2775). This is the most talked about new hotel and restaurant in the Guadalupe Valley.The accommodations are perched on a rugged hillside offering breathtaking views from each separate modular, mini-suite. Suites are offered at ($325) a night. They also have an impressive accommodation that sleeps 14 and cost ($3,500) a night plus tax, which works out to be ($250) a couple. Both venues are interesting for their breathtaking rugged hillside views and unique ultra modern architecture. They have gotten a lot of TV, online and magazine coverage. So go have a look. Credit cards: AE, MC, VISA.
Hacienda Guadalupe Hotel & Restaurant (8), Carretera Tecate-Ensenada Km. 81.5 It is a cross from the Museo de La Vid Y El Vino (01152-646-155-2860) [haciendaguadalupe.com] This 12-room boutique hotel is in the bucolic setting on a hill overlooking the valley. Boutique lodging amenities include a heated pool and Jacuzzi, vineyards, and a lobby lounge. The restaurant features regional and international cuisine and over 70 wines from the Guadalupe Valley.
**Hotel Boutique Valle de Guadalupe & Inn (19), Camino de los Rancho #1, (011-52-646-155-2164) [hoteldelvalledeguadalupe.com]. ($210- $260). Located in the center of a huge vineyard with stunning views in every direction, least of which is the terra cotta colored architecture of the inn itself. A popular dining destination is their Fuego (meaning fire in Spanish) Restaurant and lounge being on the second floor with its sweep- ing views. Featured are 24 rooms and suites named after different wineries. A visit to their
website will undoubtedly capture your eye and imagination for why you’d like to stay here. Credit cards: AE, MC, VISA.
The Annual Vendimia
The Fiestas de la Vendimia is an annual celebration of the wine growing region, which should not be missed. Each winery hosts a spectacular event showcasing what makes them special. And each winery seeks to out do the others with a special
offering, which may be a concert, special food, a dance band, all to the joy of those who attend.
This year’s Vendimia will take place from July 28 to August 20, 2017, with Calendar of Events to be determined in mid-July. The Vendimia wine harvest festival takes place over the course of two weeks in the Valle De Guadalupe and Ensenada, Baja California featuring wine and food from the region. The Festival will commence with the “Muestra del Vino” on August 5, 2016 and will close with the “Concurso de Paellas” (the Festival’s signature Paella Competition) on August 21, 2016. For more information, a schedule of Vendimia parties and tickets, visit [provinoac.org] and/or call (01152-646-178-3038) or (01152-646-178-2949). Their E-mail is email@example.com. Getting tickets can be difficult if you wait too long. So, get them now! Don’t miss this event!