Thursday, August 7, 2014

Claudius Viña y Bodega: The Best Winery in Rosarito

Julio Benito Claudius Viña y Bodega Rosarito Baja California Mexico
Julio Benito surrounded by his barrels of wine.
We stand as a group in the barrel room of Claudius Viña y Bodega, listening.  We’ve already walked through the only winery in Rosarito Beach, scrutinizing the shining stainless steel of the de-stemmer and fermenters.  But now we have stopped and all eyes are on Julio Benito Martin as he talks about his wine.  He seems ready to share, but maybe a little uncomfortable in front of his rapt audience.  He describes the entire process, from vine to bottle, pausing occasionally, unsure if he needs to say more.  But then the questions start flying, and as he answers, he relaxes and the passion starts to shine through.  He’s proud of what he’s doing, of what his adopted home of Baja California is doing in fact.  And he can’t wait to share the results of that pride and passion with us.

Claudius Viña y Bodega Rosarito Baja California Mexico
Behind these white walls is a world of wine.
Julio is originally from Segovia in Spain.  His family has been making wine for four or five generations.  He lived in San Diego in the 80s, but has since made Rosarito his home.  He enjoyed stating that Claudius Viña y Bodega is the biggest and best winery in Rosarito.  He isn’t lying, because it is also the only winery in Rosarito.  Claudius Viña y Bodega is located away from the water in an industrial area.  You wouldn’t even guess a nondescript wrought iron door surrounded by white stucco hid a winery just inside.

While there is a Claudius winery, there isn’t a Claudius vineyard.  Julio has purchased 150 acres of land south of Santo Tomas in Baja’s wine region, 100 of which he plans to plant with grape vines, and the rest which will be used to build a hotel and run an agricultural project.  Currently he sources his grapes from multiple vineyards throughout the Valle de Guadalupe.  When his vines are ready, that isn’t going to change.  While many Baja wineries specialize in blends, Claudius Viña y Bodega will always specialize in varietals, but a blend of the same grape from different vineyards.  Julio’s goal in doing so is to craft an expression of the best of that year for each varietal he creates.  Julio has his favorite vineyards that grow grapes that meet his high standards, so he will continue to obtain his grapes from them, but also add his own into the mix.  Claudius Viña y Bodega only started selling wine eight months ago, but Julio has already put in the time, as the first wine was bottled in 2010.  The winery produced 300 cases in 2010, 2,000 cases in 2011, 7,000 cases in 2012, and 9,000 cases in 2013.

On our tour of Rosarito’s only winery we learned what makes Claudius Viña y Bodega unique.  One aspect that is very important is the constant temperature control.  Maintaining a consistent temperature extends the maceration process, keeps the yeast from growing prematurely, and helps deepen the color.  Temperature control also aids barrel time as changes in air pressure can affect wine as it ages.  Claudius wines are fermented longer, for a total of 30 days.  The de-stemmer is special too.  Because it uses a roller instead of a paddle, the grapes are treated more gently.  Only perfectly round grapes make the cut, which is important to avoid early fermentation.  Grapes that have been damaged begin fermenting earlier.  The winery has a separate room where the grapes can be chilled to 20 to 30 degrees in just two hours.  Claudius wine is aged in French oak barrels for 12 months before the wine is moved into steel tanks to temper.

Rosada de Ganacha Claudius Viña y Bodega Rosarito Baja California Mexico
Claudius' Rosada de Garnacha.
After learning about the wine-making process we moved into the tasting room to taste the wine.  We started with the Granache rosé (Rosada de Garnacha).  The rosé is dry and would stand up to meat well.  The 2011 Tempranillo is peppery and stimulates the palate.  Julio’s favorite is the 2011 Merlot.  The Merlot was the most fragrant with a smooth, refined taste.  The Merlot was my second-favorite, but my favorite was the 2011 Cabernet. It was mellow but very flavorful.  Even though it wasn’t ready yet, we also got to taste the 2012 Nebbiolo.  It was only bottled three months ago so it was still rough, but the intense flavor shone through.  The roughness will mellow and Julio believes in five years it will be perfect.

Visitors to Claudius Viña y Bodega can taste wine, take a tour of Rosarito’s only winery, and eat in the restaurant in the back.  Exciting things are happening in the wine world of Baja, and it’s great to see that world expanding outside of the valleys and into the towns.  How many times can you categorically say you visited the best winery in a city?  You can in Rosarito.

Thank you to Claudius Viña y Bodega for hosting our wine tasting and making this post possible.  As always, all opinions are my own.

Katherine Belarmino has been traveling for over ten years on a quest to see as much of the world as possible, experience new cultures, and sample other cuisines and libations. She also writes the travel blog Travel the World, which journals her world travels with her husband Romeo and seeks to encourage others to take the time to travel.