Planning a Road Trip through the Wine Country of Baja Mexico
South of the border, there is a whole new wine country to explore in Baja California. The Valle de Guadalupe, about two hours south of San Diego and 43 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border, is home to over 100 wineries, as well as charming restaurants, hotels and museums. Exploring is an all-day affair. You can also stay overnight in the Valle or the port town of Ensenada, about 45 miles south of the valley.
The Valle, also called the town of Francisco Zarco, is a 15-mile long, 5-mile wide green valley in northern Mexico. A a sprawling region full of ranches and vineyards, it is about 2/3 the size of Napa and produces 90 percent of Mexico's wine. The Valle is surrounded by rolling, boulder-covered hills, higher than those in Napa. The average elevation is 1100 feet, much higher than the city of Napa. For comparison, one of the highest points in Napa County is Hood Mountain at 2750 feet. Like Napa, the Valle has cool, damp winters and dry, hot summers. Yet the Valle is a bit hotter. The average temperature ranges between 100ºF on summer afternoons and 60ºF on winter nights. The weather is variable, typically with wind, clouds, and rain in the winter and sun in the summer.
What to do
The easiest way to plan your trip is to review the wineries and restaurants in the area before your trip. Notable wineries include L.A. Cetto, Decantos Vinicola, Santo Tomás, Lomita, and Monte Xanic. The wineries are scattered all across the valley.
Some properties, like Las Nubes Bodegas y Vinedos, are tucked into the hills. Certain wineries have a particular focus, like Finca la Carrodilla, which emphasizes organic and sustainable agriculture. The tourism agency Discover Baja California has created a wine road, Ruta del Vino, that you can follow. This road leaves off many of the smaller wineries. To locate these, you may want to hire a guide or take a tour through a Mexican or American company.
There are many great restaurants in the valley. La Villa de Valle, Deckman's, Corazón de Tierra, and Laja come highly recommended. The cuisine is typically Mexican. It incorporates many homegrown ingredients such as locally-produced olive oil, squash, onions, tomatoes, and greens.
Many restaurants make their own tortillas. They also create their own unique salsas that blend citrus fruits and chilies. You should see incorporation of wild game like quail as well as seafood like oysters, scallops, octopus and shrimp from Ensenada. Since the region is a big favorite for parties, you may find large-scale dishes like whole lamb and grilled pig on the weekends.
Some of the hotels include Encuentro Guadalupe, an eco-resort, Casa Mayoral, CuatroCuatros, Finca Koochaege, and Rancho María Teresa. Many of the hotels have only a few rooms. You should book in advance, especially during wedding season.
Museums in the area include the Museo Comunitario Ruso del Valle de Guadalupe, which preserves the Russian culture of the region. The museum contains many artifacts and is in the process of developing exhibits in English. The Museo Histórico Comunitario, affiliated with Mexico's INAH, National Institute of Anthropology and History, is just across the street. It contains information about the indigenous Kumiai culture of the region as well as more history about the Russian immigrants. Museo de la Vid y Vino is another museum in the area, devoted to the history of wine-making. If you're traveling with children, there's a small zoo, the Zoológico Parque del Niño Jersey.
The best time to come to the valley is during Las Fiestas de la Vendimia, the harvest festival. The festival takes place over the course of three weeks between early to late August. It consists of dinners, wine tastings, classical music concerts, dancing, riding exhibitions, and Catholic masses to celebrate the harvest. Check the Provino website, the organization that puts on the festival, for the 2017 dates. Consider booking reservations in advance, as tickets sell out quickly.
Plan to cross the border with California in Tecate, and drive or be driven along Highway 3 until you reach Valle de Guadalupe. You are required to have car insurance for Mexico. A U.S. car insurance policy does not cover you in Mexico. The Mexpro Mexico Insurance Professionals provide Mexican insurance from multiple A-rated insurers. If you need Mexico insurance, make sure to purchase it before you leave the U.S.