The oldest winery on Baja’s Wine Route dates back to the late 19th century. Nowadays, the growing region has over 50 producers of all sizes. Here’s a look at the wine country and three of its wineries.
The Baja California Wine Country in the northwest corner of Mexico is comprised of three valleys: Guadalupe, Calafia and San Antonio de las Minas. This coastal, largely rural region has a long tradition of wine making – the oldest winery opened in 1888 – and keeps growing, slowly gaining international recognition. There are currently over 50 wine producers, ranging from small, family-owned shops to large-scale operations.
Visiting the area reminded me of wine tasting in Sonoma, California, thanks to the landscape and presence of boutique wineries. The main difference (and concern) was the number of bottles I could take home and the overall availability of the wines outside Baja.
Generally, travelers entering the US can bring one liter of alcohol per person duty-free, which translates to one 750 ml bottle of wine. Also, many of the wines are hard to find elsewhere. While they have been distributed in Mexico and even Europe, it hasn’t been the case with the US and Canada until recently, due to trade policies. Even now, they are not easily found.
Despite the fact that you are likely to taste more wine that you could bring with you, Ruta del Vino (Wine Route) is well-worth a visit. The mountainous setting is serene, the atmosphere laid-back and welcoming, and the wines excellent.
I had mostly reds (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, blends) and many were served with cheese and/or bread with olive oil. There were no crowds, I didn’t feel rushed, and the winemakers were easy to talk to – in English and Spanish. In addition to wineries, the valley has quality restaurants and lodging, museums, art galleries, and natural sites.
I stopped at these three wineries in the town of San Antonio de las Minas. They differed in size and atmosphere, but all provided a quality experience.
The artisan winery was founded in 1999 and draws inspiration from the region’s history. The names of their wines (four types of red and one white) come from the language of the Kiliwa, an indigenous people of northern Baja California (e.g. kuwal means red and kojaa wine). Labels have images of spiders and snakes from the area, and outside the tasting room are statues of the same, made of wine barrels and metal parts.
Our wine tasting was preceded by a tour of the wine cellar, which you enter through a narrow stone staircase. The tasting room is cozy and features bottles hanging from the ceiling.
Jetting Around’s choice: 2010 Jalá (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Grenache Noir)
Established in 1983, this larger winery has a spacious tasting room, an outdoor patio, and a forest of shade trees. You enter the property through white-washed stone gate and proceed to the main entrance through a gravel driveway.
Liceaga specializes in red wine, mainly Merlot- and Cabernet-heavy blends, as well as a line of grappa (a type of brandy) named Aqua de Vid. The winery also hosts events, such as cheese festivals and dinner events with live music.
Jetting Around’s choice: 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon
The winery is located in an adobe ranch home from the 1800′s, hence the name (meaning “the old house” in Spanish). Casa Vieja has been producing wine since 2006 and features a wine bar, restaurant, and shaded patio. There’s also a gift shop selling jewelry, textiles and natural body care products. Art events throughout the year showcase local talent.
It is easy to relax in the snug tasting room, which is painted orange and has simple light wood furniture. You may be greeted by a parrot and asked by the owner to pin your hometown on a map hanging in the corner. White and red wine is served with excellent cheese, olives, bread and olive oil.
Jetting Around’s choice: El Chango Viejo 2011
GETTING THERE & LINKS
- The area is only about 70 miles from the US border near San Diego and there are guided tours available.
- You could combine your visit with a stay in Ensenada, a port town about a half hour’s drive from the valley. It is easily accessible by bus from Tijuana/US border, and renting a taxi in Ensenada to the wine country costs around 450 pesos ($35), round trip.
- More information is available on Discover Baja California.
Sources consulted: Discover Baja California, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Moon Travel Guides
Which wine countries have you visited? What was your experiences like?