In the last few years, California's up-and-coming wine regions have been steadily moving further and further south. First it was Santa Barbara and the Santa Ynez Valley. Then came the wineries of Malibu, and Temecula, near San Diego.
Now, California's must-visit wine region isn't in California at all: it's in Baja California, 90 minutes below the Mexican border, in Valle de Guadalupe. And it has legions of in-the-know wine lovers heading there - especially for the Valle Food & Wine Festival, happening October 6-8, 2018.
Valle de Guadalupe has been referred to as the Napa Valley of Mexico, and for good reason. Its 1000 foot elevation and Mediterranean microclimate create ideal conditions for growing red wine grapes, particularly varietals that don't fare well in Alta California, and the wines being produced by the region's wineries are worth serious consideration, even by seasoned oenophiles. Its fine dining restaurants, offering sophisticated food at a fraction of what you'd pay in America, are becoming so popular that their chefs are quickly ascending to celebrity status.
But what makes the Valle so interesting is the total lack of pretense in its offerings. Envision Napa, but with no traffic, no "wine train," no celebrity names on bottles. To visit this area is to spend a weekend in a state of low-key bliss, as long as your idea of a perfect Saturday involves good, inexpensive wine and friendly vineyard dogs.
The Bordeaux-style wines produced by Monte Xanic, the region's oldest winery, work just as well as the Italian varietals going into the Nebbiolo and Brunello from Villa Montefiori just a few miles away. Viņas de Garza, with its terraced tasting room overlooking the vineyard, specializes in red blends like the Tinto de Mogorcito, a Cabernet/Merlot blend; and Colina Norte, made from Tempranillo, Carignan and Grenache.
Vena Cava, an organic winery ripe for Instagramming, touts itself as the "hippest winery in Mexico," and has an outdoor wine bar and a food truck on the premises. Their rules-do-not apply attitude is present in their wine blends - Big Blend is made from Cabernet, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel and Grenache - and in the winery itself. Vena Cava's wine cave is made from repurposed, salvaged boats.
The French Laundry of Valle de Guadalupe is Fauna, helmed by chef David Castro Hussong, which drew attention from the likes of The New York Times when it opened last year. At 27 years old, Hussong is already being hailed as a star chef on the rise for his experimental tasting menus.
Drew Deckman is always mentioned third in the list of Valle chefs to watch, but is the only Michelin-starred one of the bunch. His restaurant, Deckman's en el Mogor, is a sustainable eatery. All food is prepared in an outdoor kitchen, and all of the wine, vegetables, eggs, olive oil and more come directly from the Mogor Estate where the restaurant operates. There, simplicity is key: heaping plates of just-harvested vegetables are served roasted with roots and skin intact, cheeses are all made in the Valle and squid ink ceviche is garnished with flowers picked outside the dining room.
They'll all be cooking locally grown ingredients in the rustic Valle tradition, using mostly open flame grills and smokers. And then there's the wine: 25 vineyards from Valle de Guadalupe will be pouring at Saturday's main event, which also includes live music, a Baja artisan marketplace and craft cocktails. Sunday is a more casual food truck festival: De La Calle Al Valle (from the street to the valley).
It's an exciting weekend, to be sure, but maybe it's not the best time to make your first visit. Maybe you'd rather go the weekend after, when the crowds have dispersed, and there are winemakers filling your glass who will talk to you for as long as you'd like about all the exciting things happening in Baja's wine scene. Or maybe you'd just rather sit there and sip, taking in the sunshine and the vine-covered mountains surrounding you. And that's just fine, too.Original article