Mexico is often associated with tequila and cerveza, but wine is quickly taking the lead as the drink of choice. Valle de Guadalupe may be the best kept secret among wine connoisseurs. Located between Rosarito Beach and Ensenada in Baja Mexico are several family run wineries that offer unique wine blends at reasonable prices. Restaurants, hotels, shops, hiking trails and hot springs in the area make this a perfect day escape. My friend Janet and I recently visited the Ruta del Vino (Wine Ruta) and made some wonderful discoveries.
Make your first stop at Le Vid; the one and only wine tasting shop in downtown Rosarito. Located across from Fox Studios on the free road, Le Vid is a must for Mexican wine virgins. The shop carries many of the wines located in Valle de Guadalupe along with new releases and a pleasant variety of organic jams, jellies and the most delicious olive oil from the region. For a reasonable $5 dollars (often waived if you buy some wine), you can sample the best wines the region has to offer accompanied by delicious olives, bread and oil. Jorge and Norma offer pleasant conversation, insight into wines and restaurants and provide complimentary maps of the Wine Ruta.
Next, head to the Wine Ruta–a 14-mile-long route through the Guadalupe Valley located off Highway 3-and visit with a Russian family that relocated to the Valle several years ago and run Bibayoff. They offer strong reds in their 2000 Zinfandel and 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon. Bibayoff is located about six miles off the Wine Ruta on a dirt road. My Toyota Celica braved the trip but a larger vehicle will lend more comfort to the journey. Upon arrival, you are greeted by a trio of friendly dogs, clean baños (very important after such a journey), and a friendly staff in the tasting room. Although we were told appointments were necessary, we showed up on a Saturday afternoon about 4 p.m. and were handed a glass. Tastings are complimentary and the pours generous.
Bibayoff is taking the leap into whites, although it is a test wine with no name. Janet and I tasted the white, I did not care for it but she loved it and purchased a bottle. We both split a case of the Bibayoff Zinfandel and were pleased to find that the winery price is about $10 dollars less a bottle than the largely inflated price in Rosarito. The hospitality continued when, upon leaving, our complimentary logo stemware was filled to the rim.
A well-established winery near Bibayoff is Vina de Liceaga. They offer complimentary wine tastings and mature wines. Our favorites were the 2006 Chardonnay and 2005 Castillo de las Minas made from the Grenache grape. Wines are reasonably priced at the $15 dollar mark. Be warned, this winery is on the bus tour route. We arrived just before a mass of 40 people entered and overwhelmed the one person working the tasting room. We sipped, we bought and left quickly!
Our pick for this trip was a visit to a relatively new, family run winery La Casa Vieja…the first on the Wine Ruta across from Vina de Liceaga. The owner’s father, a Mexican, has owned the land for over fifty years. With only six barrels in production, they promise to be a top contender in the years to come. We each purchased a bottle of the Mision, a complex, yet young red and a bottle of the Temparillo, a wonderful new addition to the wine scene from the Martin Vino Tinto winery that Vieja is carrying.
As equally refreshing as the wine is the lack of commercialism. No logo. No labels. The wine maker wrote the name of the wine on pieces of masking tape. We were told to drink these right away (my thought exactly!). A wonderful gallery and shop with local crafts, organic jams, butter, and soaps completes the experience. I was thrilled to find my olive oil for $3 less a bottle than at Le Vid!
As with any wine trip, I usually crave a big plate of pasta and pesto. In Mexico your restaurant choices are as diverse as the wine selections. A top pick for lunch is Mustafa offering a lively atmosphere with Moroccan inspired dishes. Many restaurants offer quail and ostrich with organically grown veggies. Unlike Napa or Sonoma, don’t expect to find a place to fill your picnic basket or sample cheeses. If you want this experience, stop at one of the grocery stores in Ensenada or Rosarito or stock up at Trader Joes before you cross the border. The desert landscape does not lend itself well to picnics but you can always choose a winery you like, park the car, and open a bottle.
Head further into the Valle to Château Camou. An exquisite winery with equally impressive wine and the prices to match. Oak barrels are stacked to the ceiling and if you are lucky, one of your tastings will come directly from the barrel. Appointments are strongly encouraged.
Further towards the opposite end of the Wine Ruta is the lady of the valley, Dona Lupe. Her winery screams organic and at times is a bit much even for those of us who believe organic is better. Her jams, jellies and olive oil with garlic are superb. Her wines are unique and probably best left to an equally unique palette.
Afterwards, head to L.A. Cetto-a highly commercialized winery in Mexico run by Italians. They do make very good wine, and their Chardonnay recently earned a gold medal in France. If you do not wish to make the trip to the winery, they have a very good tasting room located on the main road entering Ensenada. The tasting room also sells wonderful olive oil and overpriced logo wear. I don’t know about you but I would rather spend my money on wine than wear their logo! You can pick up their wine in the local markets ranging from $8-$30 dollars a bottle. Most restaurants have a few selections on their wine list as well.
Depending on your final destination and once you have reached your fill of wine country, head to Manzanilla in Ensenada or Susannas in Rosarito Beach for dinner.
What & Where:
You will notice below not all the wineries have addresses. We have provided limited directions to some and phone numbers for others.The best way to navigate the wineries and Valle is with a map of the wine ruta. Click here for a map of the Ruta del Vino or be sure to pick one up at Le Vid before you start your day.
Le Vid (located in Rosarito Beach)
Mustafa (off Highway 3 going towards Tecate)
L.A. Cetto (off Highway 3 near Km 73.5, you’ll see the L.A. Cetto winery billboard. Turn right and follow the well-maintained dirt road for two miles)
Chateau Camou (chateau-camou.com.mx 646-177-2221
Dona Lupe (donalupe.com; 646-155-2323)
Vina de Liceaga (vinosliceaga.com; 646-174-6769)
La Casa Vieja (lacasaviejabaja.com; 646-155-3153)
Manzanilla (manzanilla.com; 646-175-7073
Susannas (susannasinrosarito.com; 661-613-1187)
For additional information contact Baja California Tourism (800-225-2786)
Rosarito: From San Diego, cross the border at Tijuana, stay in the second lane from the right until you pass the first off ramp to Tijuana, then get in the far right lane. Follow the signs that say "Rosarito Beach, Ensenada Scenic Route". When you come down the big hill, take the first off ramp on the right, and follow the "Rosarito Beach, Ensenada Scenic Route" then get in the left lane. You will pass an off-ramp saying "Tijuana Playas" on the right. Staying to the left will put you on the toll road. Just after the second toll booth, will be the Rosarito Beach off-ramp. It is about 15 miles from the boarder.
Ensenada: Continue on the toll road past Rosarito. You will pass a third toll booth to the end of the toll-road at San Miguel. After you pass the last tollbooth it’s about six miles to Ensenada proper. About one mile before you get there you’ll come to a fork in the road, stay to the "right" and this will take you in the front end of town. At the first signal, you will be on Boulevard Costero. The drive is about 1 1/2 hours from the border.
Useful Information: If you find a wine you must have remember when purchasing large quantities do not accept the first price offered, negotiate, bring pesos, and consider making the drive to the Wine Ruta. It is a wonderful experience and you will have a better opportunity to bargain on prices, meet the winemakers and get a feel for a unique wine region unlike those we are familiar with in the United States.
If you plan on taking wine to the United States, the published limit is two bottles per person. Of course, there are other options. Drink it all in Mexico, ship it, or my choice, hide the bottles in your dirty underwear and hope Border Control doesn’t check your car!
Mexico Country Code used when calling from the U.S. is 52