Despite being one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the Americas, Mexico’s Valle de Guadalupe has somehow largely remained quiet on the international radar. However, with now over 60 wineries, an ever-growing number of luxury boutique hotels, and dozens of world-class restaurants, Baja’s wine country is gaining revered status. Here’s everything you need to know before visiting Baja California’s up-and-coming wine region.
While it’s possible to visit without your own car, it’s useful to have one, particularly if you plan to stop at a couple of wineries – there are plenty to choose from here, but they are pretty spread out, and public transport within the valley can be a little tricky. If you’re traveling in a group, hiring a car for a couple of days probably works out cheaper than the day tours anyway.
The vast majority of people who don’t have their own wheels choose to join an organized tour. Most day tours include return transportation from your hotel in either Ensenada or Tijuana, a guided tour around a winery with tastings included (usually to the biggest wine exporter in the region, L.A. Cetto), and a lunch at the winery. For tours like these, you can expect to pay from $100 per person.
If you don’t fancy splashing out on a day tour and don’t have your own car (or you would rather have a guided tour of a winery to yourself), then it is possible to get there by public transport – it just requires a little more effort. There are regular local buses that leave daily for the valley from Ensenada’s main bus terminal. If you’re visiting L.A. Cetto (probably the easiest one if you’re traveling by public bus), then ask the driver to drop you off at the Valley’s main petrol station (if you tell them you’re visiting L.A. Cetto, they will know where to drop you off). From here, it’s a scenic 45-minute walk to the winery.
With over 60 wineries in the area to choose from, it can be hard to know which one to go for. If you’re strapped for time or on a tight budget, L.A. Cetto (the region’s most established and, surprisingly, cheapest winery to visit) is a great place to start. Having welcomed tourists here for years, their tours are extremely well-organized and with its special wine-tasting rooms, on-site restaurant and shop, it is informative whether you are an experienced wine buff or a newbie to the wine-tasting world. If you fancy taking a bottle home with you, the wine here is also very good value in comparison to nearby vineyards. No booking required, just turn up.
Having said that, if you do have the time and access to your own transportation, exploring the smaller wineries gives you the opportunity to really get to know the region, as well as taste some of Mexico’s most exclusive wines. A visit to a smaller, lesser known winery also has the benefit of fewer crowds and a more personal, authentic wine-tasting experience. Many of these wineries also include a beautiful farm-to-table lunch with vineyard views.
The Valle de Guadalupe has seen a huge influx of super trendy, luxury ecolodges in recent years, due to its stunning surroundings and off-the-grid location. If your budget allows, staying the night in one of the stunning boutique hotels here (some of which also have their own vineyards) is definitely worth it. Not only will you wake up to beautiful views, but most of the hotels here also organize personalized wine-tasting tours, as well as horseback rides, hot-air balloon flights, and guided bike and trekking tours around the valley. Adobe Guadalupe, Encuentro Guadalupe, and Hotel Boutique Valle Guadalupe are some of the best.
For some reason, a large portion of the restaurants and wineries in the valley have decided that Tuesday is their day off. So, to avoid being met by a “closed” sign, it’s probably best to bypass Tuesdays altogether. Having said that, L.A. Cetto usually remains open on Tuesdays, but always double-check before you make the journey.
With miles of fertile soil growing the freshest ingredients (as well as the best fish market on the peninsula just 22km away), world-renowned chefs, such as Javier Plascencia and Diego Hernandez, are flocking to the region. This means only one thing: the culinary scene in Valle de Guadalupe is fast becoming one of the best in Baja California – and maybe even Mexico. While you’re here, be sure to try Corazón de Tierra, La Cocina de Doña Esthela, and Deckman’s en El Mogor, where hearty farm-to-table food with a creative twist is king.
Soon to be celebrating its 30th anniversary, Vendimia is a week-long summer wine festival that takes place every year in August. The festivities include live music, lectures, gala dinners and, of course, plenty of complimentary wine. If you’re here around this time, it’s a party not to be missed. Other festivals throughout the year include the Valle Wine and Food Festival (October/November) and Festival de Las Conchas y El Vino Nuevo (April). Take note, though: accommodation during these dates should be booked well in advance.
While it’s great to visit all year round, April-May (spring) and October-November (autumn) are the best times to enjoy Mexico’s wine region. During these months, the intense desert heat dies down and, instead, clear skies and cool breezes grace the valley. It’s also shoulder season for tourists, meaning crowds will be fewer and hotels and top restaurants easier to book. If that wasn’t enough, April and October also see the celebration of two major festivals: Festival de Las Conchas y El Vino Nuevo and the Valle Wine and Food Festival.