Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico

Trip Start Apr 11, 2010
Trip End May 20, 2010

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Flag of Mexico  , Baja California,
Sunday, April 18, 2010

From Tecate I headed south on Mexico Route 3 through the Valle de Las Palmas and rolling hills and low mountain ranges. After less than a day in Mexico I already concluded there are two types of Mexican drivers.  First there are those with nice cars (often big pickup trucks and SUVs) who drive like bats out of hell, act like they own the road, and are quite willing to blow everyone else off of it, little different from their equivalents in the U.S. except for the absence of McCain-Palin bumper stickers.  The second type of driver in Mexico is the ones in aged clunkers held together with lots of duct tape and chicken wire, who usually have at least six passengers, drive along at a snail's pace, and stop at intersections even if there are no traffic signals or stop signs.

The Valle de Guadalupe is Mexico's answer to Napa, the only significant wine producing region in a nation of mostly beer and tequila drinkers.  Guadalupe's landscape is similar to many areas of California except the valleys and hillsides aren't filled with ticky-tacky faux-Spanish suburban houses with red tile roofs.  The Mediterranean climate, cool Pacific breezes, and mix of sunshine and coastal fogs make it comparable to central California's Santa Ynez and Edna Valleys for growing high quality wine grapes.

My first stop was L.A. Cetto, one of the valley's larger wineries.  The winery was founded by Italian immigrants to Tijuana whose name it still bears but is now part of the Spanish Friexenet corporate empire.  Taking the half hour winery tour entitles you to a fairly extensive free tasting of the line of wines, most of which are quite affordable and surprisingly good, especially their Petite Syrah.

A short stretch farther down the same dirt road is Casa de Dona Lope, an all-organic artisanal food shop with wine tastings and plenty of free samples.  I felt guilty about trying to make lunch out of the freebies so ordered a Pizza Mexicana, one topped with locally produced olives, onions, chorizo, and queso de cabra.

I did most of my wine shopping for Cabo at L.A. Cetto but continued on through the afternoon to some of the posher establishments that don't give tours but charge about $3 to $7 to hang out in their tasting rooms for a few pours.  Casa Pedro Domecq, Monte Xanic, and Chateau Camou all have good ranges of both reds and whites, but what became evident to me is that the Guadalupe Valley's Cabernet's and Merlot's are its real stars.  It was interesting to taste five or six slightly different Cabernet's and Cab blends from the same producer side-by-side for subtle differences in flavor, but the elite of their selections were a bit out of my price range.

Perhaps my most unique tasting experience was at family-owned Vina de Liceaga at the southern end of the valley near the town of San Antonio de Las Minas.  Vina de Liceaga is best known for its long-oak-aged Merlots, which I must say were quite yummy.  However, Liceaga also makes several grappas which were part of a tasting flight.  To me grappa, a distillation of the must of pits and skins left over after the juice is pressed out of the grapes, has always all just been firewater that's about as flavorsome as kerosene.   Liceaga's sweet Moscato grape grappa, though, is full of fruity floral aromas that cut the harshness.  Ummmm,, hyacinth......  This could be a really pleasant digestif!

Part of the Valle de Guadalupe was settled by a breakaway Russian Christian sect known as Molokans.  Most of the valley's Molokans dispersed in 1938 when the Mexican government seized foreign-owned lands, but a few remnants of the community remain.  One of those is Vinos Bibayoff, a farm owned by Russian-Mexicans that makes and sells some wine, runs a small restaurant, and operates a one-room museum of Molokan Russian culture and history in the valley.  They also allow camping on their farm and the Bibayoff's place became my home for the night, along with all the oranges I'd care to pick.

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