Just a two hour drive from the South Bay there is an incredibly fertile valley that produces some of the finest wines imaginable. Breathtaking views abound at every turn from tall mountains to rolling hills covered with vineyards year round. Wineries of every price point dot the landscape as far as you can see. In this valley you can go wine tasting, dine at extravagant restaurants, stay in chic hotels, or picnic in a winery. At first blush you might think I’m talking about Napa or Sonoma, but the South Bay I’m referring to is in San Diego and this wine country is in Baja California, Mexico.
When you first think of things to drink in Baja, I’m sure you picture a cold, frosty Corona lager or a fine tequila, but Baja California Norte produces some of the finest wines in Mexico. Check out our visit to Baja California’s Wine Country- Valle de Guadalupe!
Where’s Baja California’s Wine Country?
The Valle de Guadalupe sits at an elevation of about 1000 ft. in a mountainous area about 13 miles from the Ensenada coast in Baja California Norte (BCN), Mexico. The valley benefits from a meteorological condition called “upwelling” where temperatures can be well above 100º during the day but cool by night due to marine air coming in from the coast. These are nearly identical conditions to California’s Napa and Sonoma valleys and contributes to the flavor and acidity of the grapes.
The easiest way to access Valle de Guadalupe is from north of Ensenada, BCN on MEX 3, also known as Ruta del Vino, which winds its way through this mountain valley. You can access MEX 3 via MEX 1 near Ensenada or you can cross the US/ Mexico border at Tecate and join MEX 3 just south of the city. Either way, it’s an incredible drive!
Exploring The Wineries!
We opted to drive through Tecate and hit the Ruta del Vino from the north, and I’m really glad we did. The high desert terrain dotted with boulders gave way to fertile fields and cattle ranches as we descended into Valle de Guadalupe. Once in the valley we were shocked at seeing vineyards everywhere!
We pulled off the carreterra at kilometer marker 73.5 and onto a dirt access road into the first of the wineries, L.A. Cetto. The L.A. Cetto winery produce wines from grapes with origins from Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Petite Verdot), the Rhone Valley (Syrah, Viognier), Burgundy (Chardonnay), the Loire Valley (Chennin Blanc), Italy (Zinfandel), and Languedoc (Petite Sirah). They have wines from the low-end range (around $7 US) to the quite expensive ($40 US). There’s a short tour of the wine-making facility and free tastings in their store. We bought a nice Fume Blanc and put it in the fridge freezer to cool down.
Just down the dirt road from L.A. Cetto, was a small, intimate winery called La Casa de Doña Lupe. This winery is a family run enterprise that has produced wines for the past four decades. The winery refuses to use chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides of any kind, but won’t say they are organic because they don’t know what their neighbors are spraying nearby. We tasted four or five reds for free and I wasn’t blown away by any of them, they are a bit on the sweet side for my taste. The restaurant on site has great pizzas and other food items. I suggest sticking around for that!
Our next stop was Chateau Camou located near the village of Francisco Zarco just off MEX 3. The road to the vineyard was filled with deep, incredibly muddy holes and we took the opportunity to splash around in the Land Cruiser on our way to the tasting room. Even when we’re supposed to be doing something swanky, we can’t help getting muddy! The wine tasting at Chateau Camou was not free as the other wineries were. We shelled out our $10 USD tasting fee and got to taste some really incredible wines. We picked up a bottle of El Gran Vino Tinto, a French style wine grown and blended with sixty-four percent Cabernet Sauvignon, twenty-one percent Cabernet Franc and fifteen percent Merlot. I’ve had a lot of wine in my life and this wine was on par with some of the best.
Our final stop of the day was the historic Bibayoff Vinos winery located at Km. 9.5 Highway Francisco Zarco-El Tigre. The winery was started in the early 1900s by Russian Molokan immigrants and much of that rich Russian history remains on the property and in their processes. The on-site museum houses many artifacts brought to the region by those early settlers and shows a bit of the history of Russian winemaking. The free wine tasting had us trying Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Zinfandel, Zinfandel, Chenin Blanc, Nebbiolo, Colombard, and Moscatel. After the tasting we didn’t want to drive anymore so we asked the proprietor if we could camp there for the evening. For $5 USD per person, we set up in the orchard near the main house in between the vineyard and the tasting room. We took a long stroll through the vineyard, picked tangerines from the orchard and cooked dinner and tried some of our new wines to the sounds of coyotes howling nearby. It was the perfect end to an incredible day and one that I highly recommend.
Have you been to Baja California’s Wine Country? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!