(All photos for this entry are posted here)
My newest sister, Kim, has been taking wine classes at MiraCosta College. Wines of the world, California wines, you name it wines. Each semester they have a field trip to some wineries. Temecula, central coast, etc. This time it was Baja, and she asked Anna and I if we wanted to go. As we had never been to Guadalupe Valley (in San Antonio de las Minas) or seen any of the Mexican wine industry, we happily agreed.
It was an interesting trip. We boarded the bus at Kings Inn in mission valley – man, that place is a real slice of time. The field trip group was mostly middle to late aged folks that were pretty happy about wine. It didn’t take long for people to start passing around bottles of vineo in the bus with fruit, bread, cheese, etc. This was at 9 am. A wee bit earlier than I usually start. It was a lot of fun though. It felt a little bit like school trips taken as a kid, but with more alcohol and grey hair.
I always enjoy driving down the coast of Baja. Passing by the skeletons of a chapels, grandiose entryways with nothing but dirt lots behind them, Foxploration, the naked lady house at Puerto Nuevo (we were told there was a full sized house by the same guy in TJ), and the giant tuna farms near Ensenada. I wonder what part of Baja attracts such an eclectic mix.
At Ensenada we turn off the road towards Tecate and the bus grunts up the hill. This is the first time I have been in this part of Baja, but it all seems very familiar. The scattered rock hills and the vegetation is exactly the same as east San Diego/Ramona area. There probably isn’t as many Tecate beer signs in Ramona though. We pass by 4 restaurants and stop at the first winery. For the life of me, I can’t not remember the name of the place. It is a small place, and we crowded into the tasting room. The first white was decent (I bought a bottle) but the rest wasn’t so great. A bit too young and muddy for me. Everyone hits the bus and we rumble off, past the Russian community, to the next spot.
Monte Xanic is one of the bigger wineries in the valley, and quite modern. First up, we have a tour of the wine storage area. They blasted out 2500 truck loads of granite out of the side of the hill that the winery sits on to build a store room for the barrels. Once blasted out, they put an insulated roof and front wall on the hole to make a great storage area. They have left the rock faces intact on the inside of the building, making the whole thing very impressive to look at. The rock and insulation helps them keep the temp around 13c year round, except for 2 months when they have to run the AC. The wine is piped down by gravity from the winery and filled in barrels in the store room.
Next up we got a tour of the winery itself and learned about the different labels and blends they produce. Then it was on to the tasting. Their premium line was pretty good, but the rest was just average for me. We could only bring back a limited number of bottles (1L alcohol per person), and nothing grabbed us here, so we didn’t buy.
Back in the bus we rumbled up the road. Next up on the tour was Bodega de las Misiones – I know they have a different name now, but I’m at a loss. This was one of the first big wineries in the area (70’s) and had changed hands a couple times (now owned by a French company). The interesting thing about this place was the extent of it’s underground storage. There was long underground hallway filled with bottles, and one main room with barrels. It was really interesting to explore, and felt a little like catacombs, but in a good, historic way. Not a bad, dead body kind of way. Hah. The wine here was decent, but again, nothing standout, so we clutched our change purses tight.
It was about two in the afternoon when we finally rolled up to LA Cetto Winery for lunch. It was a really great experience. It seemed to be a familly operation – I was served by a kid in cowboy boots and an anime shirt. Lunch was at a fantastic location overlooking the winery, vines, olive trees, and the rest of the valley. A really spectacular view. The food was also great. Squab, carne asada, beans, rice, chips, and hot salsa. What more could you ask for? How about some wine? Well, we also had some really nice wine with the meal. There was a petite syrah and a sweeter white wine (can’t remember the type) that went very well with the meal. After exploring the area (this place has a bull ring!) we were back on the bus to head to the tasting room.
I was quite impressed with LA Cetto, they had the best wines of the four we visited. Their prices were also quite good – the petite syrah was $7, and we splurged on one of their higher end wines for $20. They also have some nice olive trees – we picked up a few bottles of tasty extra virgin olive oil and a jar of olives.
The bus ride back to the US was definitely a bit more down tempo than the ride into Baja. It was hardly unexpected, but my body didn’t quite enjoy the amount of wine I had ingested. I was never inebriated, and made sure to drink water, but I guess the sulfites wore me down. I was dragging by the time we hit the border lines at eight. An hour and a half wait in the bus line later, the border agent let Anna and I through with 4 bottles of wine (supposed to only be 1L per person). Some of the other people had to toss bottles they had bought on the assumption they could pay duty for extra items. It turns out you can pay duty on everything except alcohol. Or so the agents said that particular day. It seems to depend on who is working. Something to keep in mind when you go tasting down south.
It was a pretty good day. For $80 I had bus transport for 12 hours down and around Baja, went tasting to four wineries (with commentary by the teacher), and had a great lunch. Not a bad deal. Even though this was a touristy visit, Baja encourages me to explore more. I need to make it over to the Sea of Cortez, or perhaps hunt for pictographs…