Just two hours south of San Diego and 30 minutes from Ensenada, the Valle de Guadalupe provides a fabulous weekend escape for wine lovers.
It’s not just the “wine country” that acts like a magnet. The state of Baja California also is famous for the new “Baja Med” gastronomic concept, the result of a blend of Mexican, Mediterranean and Oriental cuisine influences. The concept has been driven by local chefs, who now are recognized all over the world.
Interested in experiencing Baja Med cuisine? Then you must visit Mision 19, owned by Chef Javier Plascencia, and sample some tostaditas de minilla with blue-fin tuna and curdled sauces, a tiradito of beef tongue, or seared wild tuna. Manzanilla del Benito Molina is another iconic restaurant in the city of Ensenada, where you can taste the best oysters and clams in any of their different varieties.
While dining in is one option, you also may opt to engage in a gastronomic safari, which begins with the small food carts situated at some street corners. One of the most representative is La Guerrerense, located on the corner of First Street and Alvarado. Sabina Bandera, its owner, offers 14 types of ceviche with unique ingredients, such as sea urchin or sea cucumber with sauces she prepares in her cart.
Many of the restaurants offer abalone tiradito, one of the most traditional dishes. To better enjoy it, you must accompany it with a good white wine from the Guadalupe Valley region.
The Valle de Guadalupe produces 90% of all of the wine that comes from Mexico. Although the valley has been producing wine for nearly 100 years, just in the last decade has the region experienced the incredible growth that has turned it into an up-and-comer on the global scene. It’s now the epicenter of northern Baja for boutique wineries, gourmet restaurants and chic hotels.
Many liken the Guadalupe Valley to California’s Sonoma County as it was decades ago. The atmosphere is simultaneously relaxed and sophisticated. You can drive for miles on a dirt road to get to a gourmet restaurant where you’ll enjoy a six-course meal with wine pairings. There now are more than 50 wineries in the valley, with more opening every year.
While many wineries and restaurants in the Guadalupe Valley are open all year long, the summer is really when the valley comes to life. Seasonal campestre (country) restaurants open up from June to October. Many have outdoor seating, providing sweeping views of the vineyards and valley as you enjoy your wine and artisanal, locally-sourced food.
If you’re not comfortable traversing Mexico’s roads (especially those dirt ones) on your own… or you simply balk at paying the extra insurance needed for driving there… Baja Test Kitchen and Baja Winery Tours offer custom-designed culinary tours to the Valle de Guadalupe and surrounding areas. The unique tasting tours are designed for foodies, and feature everything from hole-in-the-wall taco stands to elegant five-star eateries — as well as world-renowned wineries, of course.
Each August, the Valle de Guadalupe Fiestas de la Vendimia (Wine Harvest Festival) takes place. The festival encompasses a series of elite parties and events held mostly at individual wineries. Galas, dinners, wine tastings and grand parties celebrate the harvest season for the grapes and showcase the local cuisine and wine.
There are a few larger events, hosted by the Provino (the organization that puts on the festival), where many of the wineries are present and thousands of people join together to drink wine, eat local cuisine and enjoy life. Those events include the Muestra del Vino (wine tasting event) that kicks off the Vendimia, and the Concurso de Paella (Paella contest) that closes the Vendimia.
Tickets for most events tend to be very expensive, but there are a few less expensive and free ones as well. Hotels should be booked early, as the valley fills up quickly during Vendimia. Ensenada and Rosarito offer lodging options if the Valle de Guadalupe is booked.
Fish and seafood provide the basis for Baja California’s new cuisine, but meat and poultry, as well as French and Italian fare, also have contributed to achieve this unique gastronomic blend.
Bring your own culinary safari to a close in San Antonio de Las Minas, famous for its apple pie made from green apples, cinnamon, sugar and cheese. It’s a treat that will bring a smile to your face, and initiate the planning of your next trip to Baja.