Just Don’t Call It the Next Napa
Chasselas in Valle de Guadalupe
Please don’t call it the “next Napa.” Valle de Guadalupe is a gem unto itself. People always like to claim to have discovered the next big thing, especially when it comes to food or drink. The Valle is unique in its location, culture, and wine. I have been hearing so many good things about this place that I finally made my way down there.
I met fellow chefs Iker Castillo and Claudia Sandoval in Tijuana with plans to drive down to Valle de Guadalupe to experience this small piece of Baja gold. Driving down the coast, we were witness to a landscape resembling central California but devoid of major development. The coast along Baja’s Route 1 was a throwback in time to when California was in its infancy, untouched, undeveloped, but by no means underwhelming.
We stopped in Ensenada to check out Sabina Banderas’ famous tostadas. La Guerrerense food cart sits in the heart of this fishing tourist town. With all of the hype this small establishment has attained over the years from the media, in particular Anthony Bourdain, I was a bit skeptical that it could meet my expectations. Much to my surprise, her tostadas were unbelievably fresh, full of flavor, texture and as authentic as Sabina’s smile. The Sea Snail Tostada alone made this side trip worthwhile.
When we arrived in the Valle, we were welcomed with a soft ocean breeze and warm climate reminiscent of Southern France. The wines in the region are a product of porous soil; warm, sunny days; and cool, coastal nights. Our primary goal was to visit the vineyard of El Mogor. It is a winery owned by a Swiss family, the Badans, who immigrated to the Valle in the 1940s. We sat with our gracious host Natalia under a veranda with sweeping views of the vineyard and the surrounding valley, as she shared stories of her growing up on the land in her thick French accent. We savored each sip of the tasting as if we were kings traveling from afar. Of the wines we tasted, by far my favorite was the Chasselas, a light, crisp, and fruity varietal.
The overall feeling we got was one of excitement and delight. We all felt like we had been transported to some small vineyard in Cote du Rhone, when in fact we were 90 minutes from downtown San Diego. I will not say that the Valle is the next Napa, for that would be a disservice to this beautiful region of Mexico. Rather, I will call it what it is, a truly magical place in the corazon of Baja.