VALLE DE GUADALUPE, Ensenada – One hour south of San Diego, particularly in August, there is a magical place that for more than 120 years has captured the soul of the earth.
It’s called “The Wine Route,” a highway northeast of Ensenada that connects the valleys of Guadalupe, San Antonio de las Minas and Calafia, the agricultural area where nearly 250 growers nurture grapes for wine.
Those valleys and in San Vicente and the Santo Tomás Valley --
south of Ensenada – produce 126 million liters of wine annually, 90 percent of the table wines produced in Mexico, according to the regional winegrowers association.
The bucolic landscape is beautiful year round, however, growers begin harvesting the grapes in August, an occasion for a month’s worth of celebration, called “la vendimia.”
It becomes a continuous party centered on wine. There are wine competitions, dances, great banquets, concerts, bullfights and guided tours through cellars and vineyards.
The vineyards of Santo Tomás, founded in 1888, and LA Cetto, founded in 1930, are the oldest in the region. Their wines are even sold in countries with a rich history in winemaking, such as France and Italy.
However, the region also has other producers that have reached international stature, more modest houses and even boutique and family-owned wineries. Some offer a sampling of their wines accompanied by exceptional food.
“What characterizes these wines is the marine breeze. We don’t have much water here, but we can boast about the climates that we do have: the great marine breeze that envelopes the valleys. This fortifies our grapes. And there’s the personal touch that each grower gives his grapes,” explained José Abraham Gómez Gutiérrez, director of the School of Winemaking and Gastronomy at Baja California Autonomous University, Ensenada campus.
You don’t have to be a specialist in wines nor have a fortune to taste these wines. There are wines for all pocketbooks and tastes. August is perhaps the best month to visit this place: The weather is warm, occasionally cooled by sea breezes, and the landscape of yellowing, dry hills contrasts with green fields and olive trees.
The aroma recalls an idealized and perfect past.
Secure, comfortable trip
More than one day is needed to explore “la ruta del vino,” which begins about 70 miles south of San Diego. Experts recommend at least one week.
The road is very secure. The best option for a traveler who is coming from Tijuana is to take the toll road to Ensenada, also called the scenic road. The cost is around $2.20. This road is patrolled by federal police and by military at each toll both.
The wine route is free, easy to drive and modern; the main road has four lanes, and the area has a police station, a medical clinic and a permanent Red Cross station.
There’s a variety of restaurants along the route that recommend the best combinations of food and wine, and a series of small bed and breakfast hotels.
Visitors can travel alone, as couples or in families along the route. Reservations are recommended for guided visits and tours.