Baja Fresh: A Guide to Mexico's Burgeoning Wine Region
The chefs and vintners working in the Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico’s evolving wine trail in Baja California, are laid-back but serious in their way of cooking and drinking.
There’s a hunk of warm rustic bread on the table, next to a cruet of fragrant local olive oil. There’s a stack of just-made flour tortillas with pots of four different salsas. There’s a bottle of earthy Tempranillo from a winery down the road. We’re eating Kumiai oysters pulled from the Pacific about 20 miles away and golden-crisp tacos filled with stewed, spiced lamb birria. Bread and tortillas, oysters and tacos, good red wine…
“Where else in the world could you have all this at the same time?” brags chef Javier Plascencia, who owns this indoor-outdoor restaurant, Finca Altozano, overlooking the vineyards and fields of the Valle de Guadalupe in Baja California.
The Valle de Guadalupe—about 50 miles southeast of the U.S. border and a 40-minute drive inland from the raffish port town of Ensenada—is Mexico’s premier wine country. Sometimes called “the new Napa Valley,” it has also become in recent years a major destination for food lovers from both sides of the line, not least for its campestres, or “rustics,” casual open-air restaurants where the cooking is done over wood fires, the ingredients are almost entirely local and organic, and the cuisine is a seamless integration of Spanish, Italian, and Mexican influences known as Baja Mediterranean.
What the valley doesn’t have are Napa-style trophy mansions or over-the-top fantasyland wineries modeled after French châteaux. Apart from a couple of two-lane thoroughfares, almost all the roads are rutted dirt—even the ones leading to the best restaurants and inns. In some places, the landscape looks lush with grapevines; in others, it offers the rocky, barren views of coastal Greece or inland Sicily. And the locals like it this way: They may take pride in being compared to Napa for the excellence of their wines, but they are pretty much unanimous in wanting to resist the incursions of a Napa-style tourist culture.
When I first visited the valley ten years ago, the prominent local winemaker Hugo D’Acosta told me that there were 14 wineries in operation, with four more on the way. On my most recent trip, I counted signs for 58, but some guidebooks estimate that there are more than 100.
Here, the best way to explore the area.