Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Winery Tour Through Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe

A popular destination in Mexico’s Baja peninsula is the Valle de Guadalupe, one of Baja’s wine regions.  The wineries are easy to reach from San Diego, Tijuana, Rosarito, and Ensenada, so while the Valle de Guadalupe is a travel destination unto itself, it can also be visited on a one-day winery tour, which is what we did when we enjoyed an Ensenada weekend getaway

Finca La Carrodilla

Finca La Carrodilla is one of the Valle de Guadalupe’s newer wineries, having only been open to the public for less than a year.  Owner Fernando Pérez Castro purchased the property in 2012.  With the property came vines which are now 35 years old. 

What makes Finca La Carrodilla unique is that they practice ecological viticulture, creating organic wines.  Chickens help move the earth and eat the bugs.  The ground is tilled using an animal-drawn plow.  They even follow the biodynamic farming calendar. 

There are two types of stainless steel fermenting tanks used at Finca La Carrodilla.  Two are from Argentina and are the standard cylindrical shape which they use for white wine.  The other eight, acquired from Italy, Spain, and France, are unique because of their sloped sides.  The shape allows for more color and flavor. 

Visitors to Finca La Carrodilla can take a tour of the winery and see where the grapes are crushed, the fermenting area, the barrel room, and a room set aside for special occasions.  Wine tasting can be done either in the tasting room or outside on the winery’s lush rooftop garden which overlooks the vineyards and vegetable garden.

The labels on the wine bottles represent the stages of the day.  Our first taste of Finca La Carrodilla’s wines was of the Chenin Blanc with the sunrise on the label.  The Chenin Blanc is bittersweet, perfect for sipping on a hot day.  They also have Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tempranillo.  My favorite by far was the Tempranillo, which is aged for 12 months in oak.  We also tasted the Canto de Luna, a blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tempranillo, aged three months in American oak and three months in French oak.  Finca La Carrodilla also makes a special edition wine, a blend of equal parts Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, made in the old way.  Machines take no part in the wine-making process and the wine is fermented in special small containers.

Hacienda La Lomita

Hacienda La Lomita is the older sister to Finca La Carrodilla.  The winery has been open for five years and the owners originally bought the 11-hectare property for their summer home. 

Like Finca La Carrodilla, visitors to Hacienda La Lomita can take a tour of the winery in addition to tasting the wines.  As both wineries are owned by the same people, there are some similarities, such as the use of slope-sided fermentation tanks and the creation of a special-edition wine.  The winery also has some design similarities to another Baja winery, AlXimia

We tasted five of Hacienda La Lomita’s wines.  Blank Space is a Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc blend which is fruity but dry.  Cursi is a Grenache rosé which is also dry with an aroma of fruit.  Discreto Encanto is a young wine, a blend of Shiraz, Tempranillo, Grenache, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.  We ended our tasting with Pagano, a 100% Grenache, and Sacro, a blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 60% Merlot. 

Vena Cava

We first tasted Vena Cava’s wines at San Diego’s ¡LATIN FOOD FEST!  I loved the wine, but I really wanted to see the winery of which I had heard so much.  Vena Cava is one of the more well-known of the Valle de Guadalupe wineries and is usually described first as the winery under the upside-down boat.

Vena Cava’s architecture is almost as much of a draw as its wine.  The building was made with reused industrial materials that blend with the environment.  The building materials include boats from the port of Ensenada.  The walls are a mix of soil and cement.  The wine tasting room is dim, humid, and chilly, the perfect atmosphere for wine.  The ceiling is an upside-down boat with circular holes that let in natural light.  Light enters the room through what look like bottle bottoms but are actually magnifying glasses.  Tasters stand around a long glass table as one of Vena Cava’s employees pours the wine.

Winemaker Phil Gregory believes wine should be easy to drink.  As one taster said, “wine should be complex, not complicated,” which perfectly describes Vena Cava’s wines.  The Sauvignon Blanc was dry and refreshing with mild acidity.  We had tasted Vena Cava’s Cabernet Sauvignon before but learned a little more about the wine-making process during our tasting.  The wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, but the grapes come from different vineyards.  Phil Gregory keeps the grapes from the different vineyards in separate barrels for 13 months.  He then analyzes them and creates a balanced blend.  We also tasted Vena Cava’s Big Blend, a blend of equal parts Petite Syrah, Syrah, Grenache, and Cabernet Sauvignon.  The aroma was that of plums, dark fruits, and cinnamon, and it was gentle on the palate.  The Big Blend is one of Vena Cava’s most popular wines.

Visitors to Vena Cava can make an afternoon of it.  Outside the winery are shaded picnic tables with a view of the valley and Vena Cava’s water feature, a small lake with a boat moored in the center.

The Valle de Guadalupe’s wineries can be visited independently, but it was nice to take a Baja winery tour and leave the driving in the hands of our Hotel Coral & Marina wine tour guide so we could sit back and enjoy the ride and the wine.

Thank you to Hotel Coral & Marina for hosting our weekend in Ensenada 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.