A weekend guide to one of the hottest up-and-coming wine regions. Go now before it blows up.
Wine may not be the first drink that jumps to mind when you think of Mexico. However, the country’s wine industry has quietly been gaining in popularity in recent years. Mexican wine quality is on the rise and the Valle de Guadalupe, one of the country’s top wine regions, has developed into a travel destination complete with lovely boutique hotels, world-class dining, and tasting rooms aplenty.
Just an hour south of Tijuana, the Valle de Guadalupe is an accessible weekend wine country getaway from LA or San Diego. It’s developing quickly but is still under the radar and offers great value as a weekend trip.
On the drive down from Tijuana, a stop in this famous “lobster village” is a must. It’s en route to Valle de Guadalupe, a ton of fun, and you can eat platters of lobster tacos for less than you might pay for a hamburger in San Francisco. While the village is full of restaurants, we recommend Restaurant Villa Ortega for the lobster quality and seaside location. An alternative option is Sandra’s Restaurant, if looking for a smaller venue and equally great food, albeit without an ocean view.
Turn up an unassuming driveway and proceed through orchards and old pepper trees to get to El Mogor for an afternoon tasting at this winery and organic garden. Proprietor Natalia Badan lovingly stewards her property and encourages sustainable development of this fast-growing tourist destination. Just over 1,000 bottles of the Mogor-Badan red are produced each year at this authentic and truly small-production winery.
Insider tip: a lot of wineries in the region close by 4 or 5pm so check the hours before you go.
After your wine tasting, stay on the property for an outdoor dinner at Deckman’s. Wisps of mesquite wood smoke and meats grilling on the open fire, along with fairy lights and rustic tables, create a thrilling backdrop for the excellent food and wines on offer. Award-winning Chef Drew Deckman grew up in the US and spent ten years cooking with masters around Europe before making his permanent home in Baja. A vocal supporter of the Slow Food movement, his sustainable and locally-sourced menu is designed to honor the Baja’s sky, sea and earth.
Insider tip: While there are excellent options from land to sea, the bone marrow and steak showcase the real care with which meat here is sourced and prepared.
Before lunch just up the hill, taste the wines of Vena Cava and enjoy the vibes at one of the hippest wineries in the valley. Meander through barrels back to the tasting cave, which has an overturned boat for a roof as well as a food truck and pond for lounging outside. Vena Cava offers a whole range of wines, including a couple different tasting options. Enjoy their juicy reds as you work up an appetite for lunch!
Chef Diego Hernández whips up inventive, modern Mexican cuisine that has landed him on the list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants. Prepare to leisurely sip mezcal and dine on a series of small plates in this retro-living-room sort of restaurant. The restaurant uses ingredients grown sustainably on its farm, along with animals sourced whole from neighbors.
Insider tip: order a carajillo, a traditional Mexican cocktail of coffee and liquor, with your dessert.
If you want to take a break from the culinary delights of the Valle de Guadalupe, plenty of other activities abound. Agua de Vid has an eco spa, Adobe Guadalupe offers horseback riding, or you can relax at your hotel and enjoy the beautiful setting. There are also endeavors such as hot air balloon rides, hikes, and ziplining if you’re looking for more adventure.
Opened in 2017 at the Bruma winery, Fauna is one of this up-and-coming region’s new hotspots. Chef David Castro Hussong previously cooked at legendary restaurants such as Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Eleven Madison Park but has now turned his attention to crafting elevated tasting menus and playing on Mexican classics. Both the restaurant and food are as visually stunning (and Insta-ready) as they are tasty. Chef Hussong leads a young, creative team in cooking a menu that changes daily and doesn’t cease to thrill. Truly one of the best meals to be found in Baja. In fact, la Guía México Gastronómico just named Fauna their 2020 restaurant of the year!
Insider tip: While the wine list is superb, don’t miss the amazing cocktails.
Winemaker Hugo d’Acosta is a central figure in the Mexican winemaking renaissance, which began in the 1990’s when large brandy producers such as Domecq vastly reduced production (and therefore bulk grape purchases). While many grape farmers moved into other agricultural pursuits, some began making their own wines. D’Acosta makes excellent wines at Casa de Piedra and has also created “la escuelita” (the little school) to help other small growers transition into winemaking.
Espuma de Piedra Blanc de Noirs is a lovely sparkling wine made in the champagne method, rich with notes of red fruit, iron, brioche, and florals. One can also taste a three-year vertical of the red wine Vino de Piedra, which is made of a blend of Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon. These wines are small production and more expensive than some of their neighbors but are lovely and offer you the chance to learn about the history of the region.
Insider tip: if you visit the restaurant next door, Conchas de Piedra, you can enjoy raw oysters with your bubbly.
Another must-visit if you’re in northern Baja is the street food stand La Guerrerense. Located on a corner of seaside town Ensenada, the stand has been around for more than fifty years and has attracted a number of celebrities for its award-winning tostadas. In fact, Anthony Bourdain featured the stand on his show No Reservations and the owner Doña Sabina Bandera, was called the “Queen of Ceviche” by Saveur magazine. Make sure you sample the bounty of homemade salsas on your tostada!
After lunch in Ensenada, make your way to the stunningly-located Bar Bura for sunset. You’ll be handed a mini Corona before boarding a minibus from the main entrance (the property also includes a winery, hotel and hiking trails) up to this hilltop perch. The cocktails are good and they’ve got nibbles if you’re hungry, but the real draw here is the spectacular view over the Pacific Ocean — a perfect way to cap off your weekend.
Insider tip: while they’ve got heat lamps, bring a jacket to keep out the evening chill. Also, reservations are highly recommended during high season.
Contemplacion Boutique Hotel: A darling boutique hotel started by a friendly couple who are frequently around the property entertaining friends and making sure guests are comfortable. Each room is its own little stone cabin and there’s a wonderful central pavilion with a firepit, restaurant, armchairs, and yoga pavilion.
La Villa del Valle: Adjacent to Vena Cava winery and Corazón de Tierra is a gorgeous six-room hotel perched atop a hill overlooking the Valle de Guadalupe. Wander through olive groves and lavender fields or cool off in the pool as you enjoy the panoramic views.
Agua de Vid: this rustic-industrial hotel has 24 rooms nestled amongst the vineyards, as well as a restaurant, a set of hostel glamping rooms, a rooftop lounge, and an eco spa if you want to experience a temazcal or relax with a massage.
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