Mexico’s Thriving Valle de Guadalupe Wine Country
In part 4 of our Design Destination Mexico series, a food writer takes us to Baja's booming wine region.
Valle de Guadalupe
Imagine hopping in your car, traveling just 90 minutes south of the San Diego border, arriving in Baja California’s booming wine region: Valle de Guadalupe. My husband Antonio and I pen lifeandfoodblog.com and recently took this serene drive, leading us to scenery I deem ‘magical.’
We began our trip by crossing the border into Mexico, around 9 a.m. Before we were fully en route to Mexico’s wine country, we made it a point to stop at Tacos Fito’s in Tijuana for some of the best birria (stewed beef) tacos in the city. It’s a good thing we didn’t blink because from the first moment that the taquero grabbed the crisped-up tortilla and piled it high with meat, the salsa was already flying through the air just in time to land perfectly on top of the garnished taco. Squirting fresh lime on it, we enjoyed breakfast bliss.
With content stomachs, it was time to get back on the road. Views of the Pacific Ocean greeted us on our right-hand side as far as the eye could see. It was a straight shot down scenic Highway 1D, before we headed inland toward the “Ruta del Vino” wine route. We knew the majority of wineries open by 11 a.m. and we had made reservations (highly recommended) for our tastings.
First stop of the day: Finca La Carrodilla, the first certified organic vineyard in the region where wine is made using biodynamic farming methods. This winery stands by its agricultural sustainability philosophy, which is shown through stunning gardens and the livestock that resides there. Lush greenery covers the rooftop decked out with picnic tables for group seating—ideal for celebratory gatherings. Pops of bright pink bougainvillea and an array of cacti and other succulent plants were eye-catching. We could have sat there for hours, but it was time to move on to our next stop. We left with a bottle of the winery’s Canto de Luna, a blend of cabernet sauvignon, tempranillo and Syrah, to enjoy back at home.
As we ventured down a dusty road, toward the heart of Valle de Guadalupe, we visited Vena Cava, a winery adjacent to La Villa del Valle country retreat and award-winning restaurant Corazón de Tierra led by chef Diego Hernandez. Phil and Eileen Gregory are the visionaries behind La Villa del Valle group, who are some of the most heartwarming and friendly hosts in the region. This one-of-a-kind winery, designed by local architect Alejandro D’Acosta, will stand out in our memories. Reclaimed fishing boats, flipped upside down, and a variety of other repurposed maritime-themed materials top the tasting room. Phil prides himself on the quality of his wines, which includes one of my favorite regional sparkling rosé wines, the Vena Cava Extra Brut Rosé. Feeling a bit peckish, we decide to grab a light lunch and sit underneath the intricate black canopy at Troika, a food truck that sits on the property. They serve up regional favorite bites like octopus tostadas and lechón (crispy pig skin) tacos.
Later, we checked in to one of the eight rooms of Casa 8 at Bruma—another gem designed by D’Acosta. The suites in this bed and breakfast boast floor-to-ceiling windows with picturesque views of the surrounding valley. The rooms are separate and private yet attached to the main house, which is a communal area that holds a tiled kitchen, sitting area and “honor bar.” During the warmer months of the year, a pool offers a spot for refreshing dips. Connected with the environment, the resort has an organic style and uses recycled materials. Natural rock, sourced from the area, was used for walls.
We head to our room and freshen up before going to dinner at chef Javier Plascencia’s, Finca Altozano. (As with most wineries and restaurants in the area, reservations are strongly recommended.) As we pull into the parking lot, the sounds of goats and sheep welcome us. We make our way to our seats at one of the rustic wooden tables, and I’m in awe as we catch glimpses of the sun setting over the distant hillside. This is nature’s paradise.
Finca Altozano offers a variety of local craft beers and regional wines. I chose the cucumber agua fresca, an optimal thirst quencher, which I highly recommend. Because the restaurant is known for family-style dishes, that’s how we order. Before we know it, the table is full of dishes ranging from grilled octopus, charred Brussels sprouts, grilled local quail and wood-fired beef tacos topped with pickled onions. The bread is baked at the panadería (bakery) onsite. (Tip: The bread is also available for purchase.) It was incredibly hard to resist dipping the fresh bread into each of their house-made salsas that come to the table. (I discovered that although the white sauce looked similar to sour cream, it packed a spicy bite.)
The next morning we woke up refreshed, and enjoyed some al fresco coffee and breakfast—included with our hotel stay—on the property. Bruma offers horseback riding, private yoga lessons, massages, and hiking trails.
For the second half of the day, we enjoyed some more of the fruits of the labor from the region, and decided to get our seafood and bubbly fix at Conchas de Piedra by chef Drew Deckman. There is nothing more idyllic than washing down some local oysters with Casa de Piedra’s Espuma de Piedra Mexican sparkling wine.
On our way back to the hotel, we made one final winery visit to Lechuza winery, where we met up with our good friends and winemakers, Kristin and Adam Shute. Their ranch is so peaceful, and sitting at one of their tables for a while, taking sips of their rosé, chardonnay or amantes red blend is what dreams are made of. (If you go, don’t forget to make a stop in their store to check out the lovely artisanal goods for sale.)
We had reservations at the hotel property’s renowned restaurant, Fauna, for one last hurrah and dinner while we were in the Valle de Guadalupe. Talk about a stunner! Long communal tables and an open-kitchen concept highlight this restaurant.
Chef David Castro Hussong created an experimental menu, which is an eight-course meal dictated by what is in season. It was exceptional and should not be missed. We tuck in for the evening, as we know that we will be heading out early the following morning.
We enjoy breakfast on Bruma’s property once again before heading back up the coast toward the border. Our amazing trip, with such close proximity to San Diego, had come to an end. It was now time to head home with our Baja goodies and memories in tow. Our road trip just scratched the surface of the expansive offerings of places to eat, drink and stay in the area. A return visit will definitely happen in the near future.
The Details: Where to Eat, Drink and Be Merry
Francisco Javier Mina 1513, 22010 Zona Urbana Río, Tijuana, Baja California
Open daily until 1:30 p.m.
Finca La Carrodilla
Parcela 99 Z-1 P-14 S/N, Ejido El Porvenir Del, Francisco Zarco, Ensenada, Baja California
Reservations: (+52) 646-156-8952, fincalacarrodilla.mx
Open Wednesday-Sunday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Rancho San Marcos, Toros Pintos S/N, Ejido Francisco Zarco C.P 22750, Valle de Guadalupe, Ensenada, Baja California
Reservations (+52) 646-156-8053, venacavawine.com
Open daily 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
22760 Valle de Guadalupe, Ensenada, Baja California
Reservations (+52) 646-116-8031, bruma.mx
Carretera Tecate, Ensenada Km 83, Ejido Francisco Zarco, Valle de Guadalupe, 22750 Ensenada, Baja California
Reservations: (+52) 646-156-8045, fincaltozano.com
Open Tuesday-Thursday 1-9 p.m., Friday-Saturday 1-10 p.m. and Sunday noon-8 p.m.
Reservations (+52) 646-103-6403, faunarestaurante.mx
Open Sunday-Wednesday 1-9 p.m. and Thursday-Saturday 1-10 p.m.
Conchas de Piedra
Carretera Tecate, Ensenada Km 93.5, San Antonio de las Minas, Baja California
Reservations: (+52) 646-162-8306, facebook.com/conchasdepiedra
Open Thursday-Sunday 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Carretera Tecate, Ensenda Km 82.5, Valle de Guadalupe, Ensenada, Baja California
Reservations: (+52) 646-156-8053, vinoslechuza.com
Open Thursday-Monday 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Home to over 65 vineyards, Valle de Guadalupe produces 90 percent of the wines in Mexico.
For travelers without the Secure Electromic Network for Traveleres Rapid Inspection (SENTRI) and/or Global Entry, Sundays and holiday weekends are the busiest time at the U.S.-Mexico border crossing. Be sure to take that into account when booking travel plans.
If you are planning on traveling to the vineyards during the summer, August is Vendimia season (harvest festivals) and most definitely the busiest time of the year. Booking accommodations well in advance is highly encouraged.
One liter of alcohol per person can cross back into the United States.
Read the full four-part series on Mexico travel and explore design, history, food and art in Los Cabos, Guanajuato, Valle de Guadalupe and Oaxaca.