AHA! BAJA!

By: Stacie Hunt – Sommelier
Contributor’s website: Splash Pros
It’s time to break out the full-body wetsuit. The ocean temp is cooling and the year’s best surf conditions are heating up.
What does this have to do with wine? Well, while it’s cooling off here, south of the border it’s heating up in the wine region of northern Baja. There’s tasty vino to be discovered, cuisine that will knock your wetsuit booties off, art that will arouse your senses; along with beaches, valleys, restaurants, elegant country inns and the welcoming warmth of passionate people pursuing their dreams of winemaking.
 Once you savor the juicy, rich wines of the Baja region, you’ll exclaim:
“Yo quiero mas Baja wine!”
The wines of the Valle de Guadalupe (Guadalupe Valley) produce 90% of the wines in Mexico. It’s located about 2 1/2 hour’s drive from Los Angeles, along coastline that rivals the Amalfi.  Approaching the city limits of Ensenada, turn left onto the “Ruta de Vino” / H3, a smoothly paved highway. Thirty minutes later, the scene gives way to rolling vineyards, citrus and olive orchards, with slopes of lavender.
This once sleepy Ag area is poised to break out as the most exciting extension of the famed California Wine Trail.
 Many of the wineries are especially welcoming to women travelers and my favorite inn in the valley, La Villa del Valle, will create special itineraries for the wines, art, architecture and extraordinary food of the region. 
This is extreme wine-tasting to be sure. The Valley is rustic and rural, but sophistication floats through the air along with aromas of lavender, rosemary and fermenting wine. There are over 50 operating wineries of varying size, from a few hundred cases to worldwide distribution. The area’s personality is fresh and unjaded. Drive into a winery and be welcomed as a family member. After initial introductions, bread, olive oil and bottles will be opened for tasting and conversation.
Meet Fernando Valmar, of Bodegas Valmar, one of the originals in the region and was once located in the countryside — until urban sprawl met his front door. Now, he finds himself with a trendy urban winery in downtown Ensenada! His humor, passion for his wines and genuine optimism make a stop there a treat. Wines ($20-$50)
At El Mogor-Badan, Natalia Badan, a winemaker of French-Swiss ancestry heads up the Ensenada Art Foundation and grows organic fruits and vegetables, sought after by Chefs from San Diego to LA. Every Saturday from 11AM until empty, she presents her produce on tables outside her stylish home. In summer, you can snap up a bottle of her homemade marinara sauce. Once, I drove into her farm for just that. Upon approach a guy on a motorcycle was vrooming away. Tucked into his side pouches were the last six bottles of sauce – for his restaurant in San Diego.  A true diplomat, Natalia wouldn’t reveal the name. In the valley, she is the only producer of Chasselas, an aromatic white from Switzerland that’s found expression in the warmth and sea breezes that caress this valley.
Next driveway north, wander up to Tres Mujeres. If no one’s in sight, knock on the painted, French blue door of her petite villa and introduce yourself to Yvette, one of the Tres Mujeres (women), vineyard owners and winemakers.  She’ll lead you into her small cellar, dug out of the hillside and pull corks. Each of the three women winemakers takes the same grapes from the same vineyards and makes their own blends.  If you decide to purchase any of the wines ($20), the winemaker will personally write the label in gold ink onto the bottle and sign it for you!
Go international and picnic at L.A. Cetto. Taste dozens of crafted wines ($10-$60 per bottle), salumi, breads and from their orchards olives and stock up on fragrant olive oil ($8 per bottle).
The bummer: Each California resident can bring (legally) one-two bottles of wine across the border. However, there’s no limit to the olives, bread and olive oil that you can bring home.
Next, more on the wineries and I’ll get your hunger on with the creative “Baja Med” cuisine from in this vibrant region – and where you’ll find the wines and cuisine, in LA and SD.
Contributor’s website: Splash Productions
 
(images: #1 – Credit Tash Rahbar, contributor’s website, #2 –   Credit Tash Rahbar, contributor’s website
 #3 –   Credit, Rafael Miramontes, #4  –  Credit, Starchefs.com, #5  – Credit, Trip Advisor,  #6  – Credit, vinoclubsma.com)
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