Guide to Valle de Guadalupe, one of Mexico’s best wine regions

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Mexico’s premier wine region has over 100 wineries and a 188-year history of viticulture

Monte Xanic is one of the oldest wineries in Valle de Guadalupe — Photo courtesy of Beth Reiber

For Tru and Don Miller, divine providence led them to Mexico’s Guadalupe Valley 25 years ago. Interested in starting a winery, the couple had discussed with their son the possibilities of Napa or Sonoma. But their son, who not only loved wine but also Mexico and its patron saint Our Lady of Guadalupe, tragically died in a car accident.

“Two things, wine and Guadalupe, reminded me of my son and brought me here,” Tru Miller recalled on a recent sunny morning in the courtyard of his Adobe Guadalupe Vineyards and Inn, which offers tastings of wine, six guest rooms, an outdoor swimming pool and Azteca horses for walks in the vineyards. “25 years ago, there was nothing here, only three vineyards in the region and a village of Russians and Mexicans. This land, with only cows and watermelons, belonged to a Russian who wanted to sell.

Adobe Guadalupe Vineyards and Inn celebrates its 25th anniversary this year — Photo courtesy of Beth Reiber

Today, Valle de Guadalupe, located in northern Baja about 90 miles from San Diego and 25 miles from Ensenada, is the undisputed queen of Mexican wines. Along with neighboring Valle de Ojos Negros, Valle de Santo Tomas and Valle de San Vicente, the region has more than 100 wineries and produces 90% of Mexico’s wine. Valle de Guadalupe, however, is the heart of wine country, with the most wineries, accommodations, and restaurants. Also here is the Museo de la Vid y el Vino, a museum dedicated to Baja winemaking. Its attached tourist kiosk offers maps and information on wineries, restaurants and more.

Mexican viticulture, the growing and harvesting of grapes, dates back centuries with the arrival of Spanish conquistadors and Jesuit and Dominican missionaries. In northern Baja, wine production intensified in 1791 at a Valle de Santo Tomas Mission, followed in 1834 by the Valle de Guadalupe North Mission of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Viticulture came to a halt in the mid-19th century, however, after the Reformation War in Mexico led to the confiscation of church property and the abandonment of vineyards. This might have been the end of the Baja wine story if not for a group of religious pacifists known as the Molokans, who had fled Tsarist Russia and settled in the Valley of Guadalupe. in 1904, restoring the vineyards and selling to the local population.

Then again, perhaps winemaking in the Guadalupe Valley was inevitable. Its arid, desert climate and proximity to the Pacific Ocean allow for hot days and cool nights, ideal for growing grapes. Its decomposed granite soil ensures good drainage and stresses the vines, necessary for viticulture. Red grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Tempranillo, Syrah, Grenache, Nebbiolo and Mourvedre grow particularly well. Valle de Ojos, which has a slightly higher elevation, is better suited to whites like Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier, but the region also produces reds.

Casa Frida has a tasting room, restaurants, covered outdoor seating, and a rooftop barCasa Frida has a tasting room, restaurants, covered outdoor seating, and a rooftop bar — Photo courtesy of Beth Reiber

Wineries are as varied as the people who own and operate them. Many are boutique operations, producing only three or four different wines often only available locally or locally. Some are wineries (using exclusively grapes from their own vineyards), while others buy from regional producers. Some focus on varietals (made from a single grape), but blends are also very popular. Most are Mexican-owned, but there are many stories of international visitors who stayed to open wineries. Some require reservations (tastings average US$20), while others accept walk-ins. French oak is the barrel of choice for aging red wines and most grapes are harvested by hand, usually around August.

There are only two paved roads through Valle de Guadalupe, making the trip to most wineries a slow adventure on rutted dirt roads (fortunately, signs point the way). Surrounded by rock-strewn mountains, the valley is criss-crossed by neat rows of vineyards and groves of olive trees, interspersed with scrub, oaks and, in cultivated areas, palms, fruit trees and agaves. A few dusty villages offer basic necessities, with the requisite lanky dogs dozing in the streets.

Two of the oldest wineries are LA Cetto, founded in 1928 by an Italian immigrant and passed down from generation to generation, and Monte Xanic, established in 1987 by five friends and an undisputed leader in award-winning wines. You won’t pass Monte Xanic’s guarded entrance gate without a reservation, which includes a tour of its facilities and tastings on a covered hillside patio with stunning views of a palm-fringed man-made lake, vineyards and distant hills.

One of the many outdoor spaces to enjoy the view at Finca AltozanoOne of many outdoor spaces to enjoy the view at Finca Altozano — Photo courtesy of Beth Reiber

Solar Fortun is a second-generation winery now under the management of brothers Javier and Santiago Lopez (the latter studied wine at UC Davis in California). Secluded at the end of a bumpy dirt road, it offers outdoor tastings under the shade of tall oak trees, as well as a playground for the youngest. Vena Cava is a winery founded in 2005 by transplants Eileen and Phil Gregory and bills itself as “Mexico’s trendiest winery”. This is largely due to its eye-catching winery and tasting rooms built from salvaged fishing boats and other recycled materials and organic wines.

You can also taste wine without participating in a tasting. Bodegas Magoni – which produced wines for 15 years for family and friends before going public in 2013 – offers tastings, and heading to sheltered tables under the umbrella of a century-old oak tree and sharing a bottle gives the feeling of still being part of a family. Casa Frida, which pays homage to artist Frida Kahlo with its electric blue walls and artwork, offers tastings, but most people come for a meal at one of its two restaurants or for a drink on the outdoor terrace or the rooftop bar.

Many wineries offer food, including Adobe Guadalupe and Vena Cava, both with excellent food trucks, and Solar Fortun with an outdoor grill. Book ahead for Finca Altozano, which serves fresh seafood and steaks in a dreamy setting overlooking the valley, its garden, winding paths and goat pen.

Several wineries also offer accommodations, including hotels, cottages, and even glamping.

Encuentro Guadalupe is one of many wineries offering tastings, food, and accommodationsEncuentro Guadalupe is one of many wineries offering tastings, food and accommodation — Photo courtesy of Beth Reiber

But while Valle de Guadalupe still exudes a rustic, low-key vibe, word has gotten around. Banyan Tree Valle de Guadalupe Resort, Spa and Winery will open in 2023 as a 30-villa luxury resort. A new airport is planned for Valle de Ojos Negros. In the fall of 2022, some 1,000 wine professionals from over 40 countries will travel to Ensenada for the 43rd World Congress of Vine and Wine.

Betting on the future, Tru Miller of Adobe Guadalupe recently purchased nearly 200 acres in Valle de Ojos Negros to grow white grapes. “It’s nice that there’s a huge amount of land in Ojos Negros,” she said, adding that there are only four wineries there. “Because it will be necessary.”

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