The adventurous wine-lover should head to Baja California, Mexico’s preeminent wine-making region.
There’s something about watching tumbleweeds roll through vineyards that induces you appreciate a good wine.
It seems strange to be sipping former Mexican President Felipe Calderns favorite artisan meritage while watching jack rabbits and roadrunners frolic from the terrace of Bodegas y Viedos San Rafael, a small, family-run winery atop a dusty mound in Baja California, Mexico’s northernmost and westernmost nation.
It’s 80 degrees, the sunlight is shining and theres music playing in the background.
On the horizon, farms, mountains, and an empty, two-lane road go as far as the eye can see. Ludwig Hussong explains why he came back to the wine region after attending culinary trained in Napa. The reason? The wine is good and the potential for his hometown is huge.
Mexican wine is on the up and up following a trending preoccupation with other Mexican products like tequila, mezcal, and sotol.
It also follows the efforts of American and Mexican chefs to bring to light the country’s contributions to the food world beyond tortas and black beans.
I had driven only two hours from San Diego to the northern valleys of San Rafael, Santo Toms, San Vicente and Guadeloupethe center of Baja’s wine countrywith an open mind.
Drive into the quiet, 14 -mile span in Valle de Guadeloupe where wineries are hidden at the end of a half-mile trail of dust, and where horses roam through olive groves, and its hard to believe its from where about 70 percent of Mexico’s wine comes.
Oenophiles are noticing their quality, even calling the region a burgeoning Napa Valley. But its got its own laidback vibe of a wine destination thats still figuring things out.
Mexico gets this reputation of being the Wild West. Tequila and mezcal are the most synonymous with the reputation Mexico had, explains Marie Elena Martinez of why wine is the apparently last frontier of Mexican cuisine.
Martinez is the founder of Baja Meets New York, which brought several Baja Mexican chefs to New York last year for pairing dinners with Baja Mexican winesNew Yorks first exposure to them. Baja is a region beautiful in ingredient. Wine is a natural fit.
The wines are beautiful but theyre different. Theyre induced with traditional ways but untraditional blending, so you get a wide berth of flavors , notes, and textures, Martinez tells.
Its this lack of rules, regulations, or pressure to render high-quantity crowd-pleasers thats attracting new and established winemakers alike to Baja.
A few years ago Chuck Wagner, proprietor of Napas Caymus Vineyards, opened a winery and started building wine in Baja.
This year, Henri Lurton of Bordeauxs Chteau Brane-Cantenac started building wine here in the valley. But google this fact and their efforts still seem fairly under the radar.
In other words, wine collectors, itd be a good idea to get your hands on these bottles now.
But youll probably have to travel to Baja to get them, except for a couple of online stores that might be able to ship to your nation, or by asking your local stores and restaurants to get in touch with the few importers.
It turns out that because northern Baja has a Mediterranean-like growing climate, rare varietals in California, like Barbera, Tempranillo, and Chenin Blanc, grow beautifully here.
The region also renders a multitude of high-quality artisan olive oilsand cheeses.
The Ascolano olive oil made by Bodegas de Santo Toms, one of the regions largest producers, even won the gold medal at Milans International Olive Oil Competition last year.
The regions largest producer, L.A. Cetto, has more than 100 awards under its belt, including 20 international awards for Cabernet Sauvignon and eight gold medals for Petite Syrah. Four Casa Pedro Domecq varietals have snagged awards in the International Wine and Spirits Competition in Seville, Spain.
When I tell large producer, that entails only over 100,000 occurrences annually. Of Bajas 150 -plus wineries, only a few of them create more than that.
In total, Baja induces only under 1.5 million total occurrences, according to the Mexican Wine Council. Sales were up 6 to 10 percenth in 2015. To set it in view, California wineries created over 269 million occurrences in 2014, according to the Wine Institute.
Winemaking in the quaint, undeveloped region of Baja Mexico is mostly about pastimes running wild.
Take the $75 -a-bottle meritage, named, appropriately, Passion. The Hussong family( which also owns Hussongs Canina, Bajas oldest bar, and which claims to have invented the Margarita) began building it for fun in 2000that is until a family friend entered it in the 2005 Grandes Tintos Mexicanos Da Siete Contest( Great Mexican Reds ), where it snagged a gold. The winery induces several thousand occurrences annually among its nine labels.
Eileen Gregory, who moved to Valle de Guadeloupe over ten years ago from Los Angeles with her family to start the winery Vena Cava, is forecast that of the 30,000 bottles she renders annually , no more than 500 occurrences gale up in the United States.
Her business began as a passion project but quickly blossomed into a full-scale hospitality operation with a boutique hotel called Villa de Valle, fine dining restaurant called Corazn de Tierra, and a food truck, Troika.
Vena Cava is partnering with other vintners to construct importer relationships. Her wines can be found at San Diegos Wine Bark and LMA Distributors, which ship, but are detected largely at restaurants, including New Yorks acclaimed Cosme.
Despite more favorable taxation if they export, its easy to understand why Mexican wine producers havent.
The Baja valleys can hardly keep up with domestic demand. Wine consumption has doubled in the past 10 years, though Mexicans drink double the amount of imported wine that they do domestic. Baja wine producers ship largely to Mexico City, Monterrey, and Cancn.
It’s no astound that Mexicos wine reputation has been downplayed, given its history. In 1699, Spain banned Mexico from creating wine because it posed a competitive threat to the peninsular wines.
Bodegas de Santo Toms was the first Mexican winery to operate, in 1888. After a century of increased wine production, in the 1980 s, the Mexican government removed trade barriers that had maintained imported wines out, which threatened to shutter small Mexican wineries.
But ultimately, the move put pressure on them to make better quality wines to compete with foreign imports.
We try to build people feel comfortable, Adela Gil, whose parent made a living selling grapes to larger companies, tells me.
She learned to build wine at La Escuelita, a winemaking school run by by Hugo DAcosta, a fellow winery proprietor and pillar of the winemaking community.
We sip a 2009 Rosado( ros) under her label, Viedos Villarino, while dipping fresh bread into house-made, basil-infused olive oil.
Many of the wineries’ handcrafted wine and olive oil mixes, like these, are savoured at La CavaAntigua Ruta del Vino, one of the many rustic, charming and small household cellars open only by appointment off the wine country’s main artery, Mexico 1.
Several vineyards double as bed and breakfasts, and this co-op also operates a hostel, Posada de La Grulla, nearby.
Baja chefs are doing their component to forge the style for the Mexican wine world, cooking in a style they call Baja Med for its heavy emphasis on fresh seafood( thank you, Pacific Oceanand Sea of Cortez ).
Over a tasting that evening at Almazara, one of several new local favorites that is located on a family vineyard, cook Miguel Angel Guerrero tells us about how he hunted the oysters, octopus, duck, and lamb on our plates himself.
We sip a local Merlot. Guerrero, a former lawyer, wears a small Mexican flag on one side of his collar, a Baja patch on the other.
He tells, in casual Baja fashion, that God devoted the region an abundance of natural resources. The people only do something great with them.
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