When most Americans think of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, they imagine vast expanses of sun-bleached, dot-painted scrubland — country flown over en route to a boozy, ground-up weekend in Cabo.
But just an hour south of the border, centered in the Guadalupe Valley, is Mexico’s wine country — one of North America’s most vibrant (and overlooked) foodie destinations.
Visitors come for the wines but fall in love with the Baja cuisine, warm hospitality, and laid-back pace. Although it has been called the “Tuscany of Mexico” and “the next Napa”, it has a flavor all its own, more in keeping with wine regions like Paso Robles or the Anderson Valley of Mendocino than with glitz. from Napa or Tuscany.
To get the most out of a visit to Guadalupe Valley, choose a hotel as your home base and ask for a recommendation from a driver who will take you to the caves during your stay. Prices are very reasonable, but make tasting reservations in advance through a winery’s website.
The most central hotel is El Cielo (rooms from $350 a night), which has 95 rooms, a large winery (with a guided tour through the vines and cellar that covers the entire winemaking process), multiple restaurants, event spaces, and a pool overlooking The valley. The staff are incredibly warm and the property is immaculate.
Architecture buffs will want to check out the chic Casa 8 and Casa Montaña in Bruma (rooms from $395 a night).
Bruma offers beautiful rooms on a sprawling property adjacent to their winery and the rightly lauded restaurant, Fauna, which showcases the richness of Baja cuisine a la carte or in a luxurious prix fixe.
For a low-key stay, try Contemplation Hotel Boutique (rooms from $200 a night), which includes 12 cabins and a manicured garden overlooking the valley with seating areas designed for maximum relaxation.
Eventually, you’ll want to step out of the serenity of your hotel.
Head to Cavas del Mogor to taste their boutique wines like “Arrebol”, a rosé made from old vine Grenache, before dining at the on-site sustainability-focused open-air restaurant, Deckman’s, run by Chef Drew Deckman and his wife, Paulina.
Another great wine pairing is Phil Gregory’s Vena Cava Winery and partner food truck Troika.
Enjoy the “Phil’s Blend” in one of the most remarkable buildings in the valley: a structure designed by Alejandro D’Acosta, made from old fishing boats and other salvaged materials.
Follow your tasting with oysters and quail from Troika.
As in many New World wine regions, the last half of the 20th century saw the uprooting of historic vines in favor of more “marketable” international grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo or Merlot.
Luckily, there are a few winemakers in Baja California, like Humberto Toscano of La Casa Vieja and Noel Téllez of Bichi in nearby Tecate, who keep the tradition alive.
The two winemakers intervene very little in the winemaking process and are among the few who still work with old vines from Misión and Palomino (among others). Some of the vines on the historic Toscano family estate are estimated to be over 125 years old and have never seen the use of chemicals. Meanwhile, Téllez is looking for heritage vineyards to bolster the biodynamic grapes he grows in Bichi.
While neither offers traditional tastings, those curious can still research these wines in the United States through importer José Pastor Selections.
Given Baja’s improved offerings, it should come as no surprise that fine dining restaurants like Enrique Olvera’s Pujol (in Mexico City) or Cosme (in New York) feature Mexican wines on their bloated lists these days.
“It wasn’t that long ago that most people didn’t know that grapes were grown in Mexico,” said Yana Volfson, beverage director at Cosme. “I think we can say that today Mexican wine is finally part of a global conversation.”
Sure, you could go to Italy or France for something tried and true. But the beauty of a developing wine region is that every bottle is a discovery.