With little effort, wine lovers can enjoy an amazing weekend escape to Baja Mexico’s wine region of Valle de Guadalupe, or as it is commonly known “Valle.” This wine region in Mexico rivals Napa Valley in wine quality and dining options. Located just two hours south of San Diego in Baja California, Mexico, you will find this lesser-known Pacific coast wine region. This region marked by arid weather, moderate temperatures rugged mountains, and tranquil valleys is a prime location for growing grapes and a first-rate escape for wine and food lovers.
**Disclaimer: This was a hosted trip. All opinions are my own. I strive to convey my most authentic sentiments without bias.
In recent years, Valle has become synonymous with both. Some of the top chefs from San Diego have brought their talents to the region with alfresco restaurants featuring full open-air kitchens and Baja Med Cuisine.
Vineyards old and new dot the landscape along Mexico’s Route 3, the main thoroughfare in and out of the Valle de Guadalupe. Since the late 1990s, there has been an explosion of new wineries in the region. Currently, there are over 120 vineyards in Valle. Needless to say, there is no way to fit them all in during a weekend stay or even a week. You will surely want to come back to Valle over and over.
A trip along Valle’s wine and food trail makes for a relaxed and romantic getaway in Baja. My visit had a frenzied schedule but despite the packed itinerary the couple of days I spent here felt peaceful. It’s just that kind of place.
Wineries Both Old and New
Santo Tomas: A Good Place to Start
If you are traveling from the northeast on Route 3 Bodegas de Santo Tomas is an ideal winery for your first stop. This is the largest and most commercialized of the wineries we visited with three vineyards throughout Baja.
However, I highly recommend it as a starting point, especially for anyone new to winemaking or tasting as it is a great learning opportunity. Their tour is quite informative and not intimidating. As a non-wine drinker myself, I would consider my knowledge limited, yet I was able to understand the process as it was explained, and enjoyed the tour.
If you time your visit between late August and early October you may be lucky enough to catch the harvest. If so you can see grapes being sorted and processed. This is a rare treat!
The final portion of Santos’ tour really sets them apart from the other wineries. At this time, your guide asks you to step into a pitch-black room. Despite not being able to see you can sense that it is a large space. While standing in total darkness, they guide you through a sensory experience. I don’t want to give too much away, because I think it might influence your perception. It is quite unexpected.
In addition to wine, Santos also offers tastings of olive oil and chocolate. Now they are speaking my language. Neither the olive oil nor the chocolate production occurs at Santo but both are ideal pairings with wine.
The combination of the two is supposed to complement one another. While the chocolates, made by La Suiza, have names like merlot and chardonnay, they contain no wine. The name reflects the wine with which it pairs well.
Tastings at Baron Balche take place in their cellar tasting room. They were one of the first in the Valle to move production entirely below ground. This helps with keeping a consistent temperature throughout the process.
Baron Balche is one of the oldest wineries in Valle, second only to Santos Tomas. While they are not the largest of the wineries in the Valle, they do produce 20,000 cases per year and they have wines in the entry, mid-level, and premium categories.
AlXimia: The Most Unique Winery in Valle
From the road, AlXimia appears to be an alien spaceship that landed among the rows of grape vines. This architectural spectacle is part of the master plan behind AlXimia. The 3-story extraterrestrial structure’s design uses gravity to streamline the winemaking process.
The grapes come in through the upper level where workers prepare them for fermentation. The unfermented grape juice flows to tanks on the main level. Here the aging process begins. Finally, it travels into barrels stored on the lowest level, which is below ground where it is aged and ultimately bottled.
AlXimia’s tasting room is located on the main floor which is at ground level. It opens to all the floors. The open concept makes viewing and understanding the process easy.
According to AlXimia’s co-owner, Alvaro Alvarez Parilla, the winery draws its name from alchemy, the predecessor to chemistry. Parilla discusses the winemaking process as it relates to the elements of earth, water, air, and fire and concepts central to the medieval sciences.
While this family-owned winery may apply the philosophies of alchemy, nothing seems left to chance or magic. The partnership made up of a mathematician, an astronomer, an educator, a chemist, and a businessperson, thought out every detail.
Amazing Baja Med Cuisine and More in Valle
Enjoy a Meal and the View at Malva
After our tour and tasting at Santo, we were off to lunch at Malva, Chef Roberto Alcocer’s award-winning restaurant. This fully open-air establishment sits perched on a hillside overlooking the valley and beyond, toward the mountains in the distance, Malva is a little piece of heaven and an excellent example of farm-to-table Baja Med cuisine. Here is a nice description of Baja Med Cuisine.
One could not ask for a more spectacular view or fresher food. Many of the herbs and vegetables used in the meal preparation grow on-site. In fact, while taking pictures I saw one of the cooks clipping flowering herbs from the garden. Shortly thereafter, those same flowers were on my plate. Dishes include locally sourced seafood from the nearby coast and meats from local farms.
We had a former chef on the trip with us. She pronounced the oysters here the best she ever ate. They nearly brought tears to her eyes. I, however, despite loving oysters am allergic, so, Chef Robert had a swordfish appetizer brought out for me. Aware of my allergy he surrounded the dish with a ring of cornmeal that was intended to protect me from the oysters. Whether effective or not is questionable but the extra effort was appreciated.
I could have spent the entire afternoon at Malva enjoying the view, listening to music, and chatting with Chef Roberto. However, our 2-day schedule would not allow it.
Slow-Food at Deckman’s
If Malva sounds interesting to you then, Deckman’s might be another great option especially if you are more of a carnivore. Both Malva and Deckman’s operate on a similar philosophy. I would call Deckman’s an award-winning, alfresco farm-to-table Chophouse but the menu is not limited to meat. The menu also features fresh sustainable seafood from the Baja peninsula.
Slow food graces the menu at this outdoor eatery with a massive open-air kitchen. Deckman’s is all about the ingredients and true sustainability. All ingredients used in preparation either come from their ranch or are locally sourced. They do not even serve bottled water or soda. They collect rainwater for use in irrigation and recycle glass, plastic, and cans. In every way, Deckman’s is the antithesis of fast food.
Bar Bura at Cuatro Cuatros
Bar Bura is the gem of Cuatro Cuatros. This is a bar/restaurant located on a high cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Getting there is a bit of an adventure on a winding dirt road with steep drops. But once there, the views are nothing short of breathtaking. So spectacular that there are even views from the bathroom stalls.
You could call the seating arrangement at Bar Bura a bit unconventional. Nothing more than hay bales draped in white cloth and embellished with accent pillows set around low tables. I suppose you could call it minimal.
Like many of the restaurants in Ensenada and Valle de Guadalupe, Bar Bura serves up Baja Med cuisine. And like most other dining options they have an octopus dish that is considered a specialty.
Pollos el Retorno
Let me begin by saying, I, unfortunately, have not had the opportunity to eat here. In fact, we stumbled upon it quite accidentally. However, if the smell tells us anything about the taste of food, this place has got to be amazing.
This roadside rotisserie serves up chicken cooked on a spit over an open fire. Sizzling chicken fat drips onto vegetables roasting below. Judging by the amount of poultry roasting that morning, I have to believe this place does quite a bit of business.
Pollos el Retorno is located along the main route in and out of Valle de Guadalupe (Route 3) almost directly across the street from the entrance to Maglen Eco-Resort. I’ll cover this in the accommodations section.
Casa de Piedra and Conchas de Piedra
You will find both amazing food and wine at Casa de Piedra, home to Conchas de Piedra which presented a problem when deciding whether to list this with food or wine. This partnership combines the winemaking passion of winemaker/owner, Hugo D’Acoast with those of Michelin Star recipient Chef Drew Deckman’s Conchas de Piedra.
A’Costa who is considered something of a guru in the Valle has been instrumental in the growth of winemaking in the region. Talk to anyone about wine in the area and invariably his name comes up. He has educated and mentored a number of winemakers on the craft. Our tasting included their Piedra del Sol Espimosa, a sparkling wine, as well as Contraste, a project unique to Casa de Piedra.
They make two varieties of Contraste, one a Continental, the other an Intercontinental wine. The Continental variety is a cooperative between a vineyard in Napa Valley California and themselves. The Intercontinental works with a vineyard in France.
Plan a by-appointment-only wine tasting at Casa de Piedra, then stroll up the hill for lunch at Conchas de Piedra, an upscale oyster bar, overlooking the winery.
You can expect some of the freshest seafood around at Conchas de Piedra. As you would imagine, the menu is heavy with oysters. I opted for the mussels which I enjoy very much. This is saying a lot, as I do not normally care for them. They were served with an avocado mousse in a lemon rind, coriander, and parsley broth. Delicious!!
Campestre at Vina de Frannes
This is one of those rare places that have both indoor and outdoor seating options. But regardless of where you decide to sit, you will have front-row seating for taking in the beauty of Valle. Campestre with its floor-to-ceiling windows provides an open inviting space.
But sitting outdoors seems like the only option. The deck area is just steps from the vineyard and makes you feel like you’re a part of the landscape.
Vina de Frannes offers an inventive menu including a tuna starter, roast pork leg, basil ice cream (yes, you read that correctly), and an alcohol-laden (and yummy) Tiramisu. Naturally, they can recommend wine pairings with your meal.
Additionally, Vina de Frannes grows its own olives, like many other wineries in the region. If you’ve never had an olive oil sampling, I suggest this is something you ought to try. You will likely find that the oil is much more complex than you might have thought.
Exceptional Accommodations in VdG
Adobe de Guadalupe: Like Staying at the Home of an Old Friend
As you make your way down the dirt road leading to Adobe de Guadalupe, you will notice several angels scattered among the rows of grapes. As you move closer to the inn, you will spot the blue domes that reach toward the heavens. It was at this point that I became immediately aware that I was about to experience someplace special. You will likely feel it too.
This authentic hacienda, in addition to being a boutique hotel, is a working family-owned winery and olive grove. Also on-site are stables for the Aztec Sporthorses that the owner breeds. Some of the horses are available for riding.
The tasting room at Adobe de Guadalupe is part of a cavernous barn-like structure that doubles as storage. Upon entry, rows of wine barrels stacked high and racks of filled bottles greet you. This is not a dark storage area. The space is brightly lit and inviting. Music plays adding to the ambiance.
Wine tastings are included in the room rate, as is a full made-to-order breakfast. A tasting alone cost roughly $50 for two people.
You are about to start seeing a theme. Remember those angels? All the wines produced here are named after archangels. This is a tribute to the owners’ son who they lost to a tragic car accident when he was just a young man. This very personal tragedy precipitated the owner’s move to the Valle, starting the winery and the healing process.
There is an onsite outdoor restaurant. All common areas are open to guests; including the vast main courtyard, pool, and hot tub, as well as, the living room and dining areas.
Staying here is like staying at an old friend’s home. There are six spacious guest rooms. Like the wines each named after one of the archangels. The décor of each room is similar but not identical. All are appointed with bold shades often associated with Mexico; blues, reds, and turquoise with terracotta floors creating a private oasis. Each room opens onto a shared central courtyard area with a large fountain and flowering plants thus extending the refuge into the outdoors.
Maglen: An Eco-friendly Resort
Maglen Group offers three amazing resorts in one astounding location, Encinal, Tesela, and Las Villas. The resort is located off Route 3, at Km 90.8, making it easy to find.
Despite being on one property each hotel has a different feel. You will find the best way to move about this large site is by golf cart.
Encinal offers a meeting space on this end of the property. Additionally, you will find an open-air theatre used for live performances built into the natural landscape. Next, Tesela situated further up on the hillside offers accommodations in the form of individual cubes. These rustic modular-type rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows and a deck area offer stunning views of the valley. Tesela is all about being in union with nature. As lovely as the accommodations are you will have trouble staying indoors. You will want to be swinging on a hammock sipping a glass of local wine.
Finally, Las Villas sits atop a hill and is surrounded by a mature natural landscape accented with artistic statuary. This is the most luxurious of the three properties but also the most family-friendly. You will find simple, duplex, and nuptial suites. Like the other properties, all are distinctively decorated. The décor is warm and inviting with a natural feel.
In addition to a pool and playground, you will find event space, including a large room with the focal point being their wine cave. Plus, there are two restaurants on-site, HaChe at Las Villas and Cantera on the lower end near Encinal.
Glamp at Cuatro Cuatros
Cuatro Cuatros offers a different kind of stay. This is glamping at its finest. Situated on a massive sprawling 144-acre property, Cuatro Cuatros offers luxury accommodations, an open-air restaurant, multiple bars, and of course wine tasting experiences.
Cabanas are located in the valley near the winery and elevated to afford splendid views of the vineyard from their terrace. They have full baths, a mini-bar, a fireplace, and air conditioning. Rates start around $200 US per night and there are only 19 units.
Bonus: Learn More with a Visit to the Wine Museum
If you have time, visit the Museo de la Vid y el Vino. The museum is in Valle de Guadalupe but it is a bit out of the way. However, it is a convenient stop if you are headed to Tecate either to cross back into the US or to continue on.
This combination of event center and museum space serve many functions. The entire lower level is the museum dedicated to the history of winemaking including the introduction of vineyards to the New World. On display are some of the tools of the trade both past and present. In addition, they present rotating exhibits that relate to wine and winemaking.
It is worth mentioning that all the information within the museum is in Spanish, However, you can glean quite a bit through images and artifacts.
While much of the activity in Valle centers around food and wine, the region is not limited to that. On your visit, you might want to do some biking or horseback riding. Maybe you will give Ziplining a go. If timed right, perhaps you will be able to attend one of the many festivals hosted in the area. However you decide to spend your time, I’m sure Valle will leave a lasting impression.