Mexico’s Valles de Ensenada fan out from the city of Ensenada in Baja California Norte and produce the majority of the wine made in the country. Figures range from 75-90%, which isn’t surprising since over one hundred wineries call these valleys home. The Valles de Ensenada is comprised of several distinct valleys; Guadalupe, Santo Toma, San Vicente, La Grulla, and Ojos Negros, with a few large production facilities and many, many small wineries. The largest and best known valley is the Valle de Guadalupe.
We recently visited Baja California Sur and wanted to sample wines from the north during our stay. We didn’t have enough time to drive to the Valle de Guadalupe, roughly 650 miles (over 1000 km) away, so we asked a couple wineries to ship bottles to our home base in Loreto. Our goal was to drink Mexican wines in a similar climate to where they were grown and produced. In our experience, wines always taste their best this way!
Grapevines, brought by both the Jesuits and Franciscans, were planted and cultivated in the Valles de Ensedana as early as the late 1600s. Grapes and wine were an important part of missionary life as these religious orders built missions and forced the indigenous peoples to convert to Catholicism. By 1849, about a century and a half after the arrival of the first missionaries, all the region’s missions and vineyards had been abandoned. Thirty years later, Baja California’s first winery, Bodegas de Santo Tomas, purchased the Mission Santo Tomas de Aquinos property and launched the start of Mexico’s commercial wine industry.
Near the beginning of the twentieth century, a group of religious Russian pacifists fleeing the war found their way to the Valle de Guadalupe. For three decades, they settled in the Valle de Guadalupe, growing grapes and wheat and introduced the region to Mediterranean staples of olives, oil, cheese, and bread. While many were driven away by a change in Mexican leadership that confiscated their land, their presence had a lasting effect on the area. Today, wine lovers can find restaurants offering a mix of dishes from Mexico, as well as Italy, Greece, and Russia.
Valle de Guadalupe was named after Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, the last mission to be built in the region. With mountains to both the north and south, the valley is situated about 15 miles (24km) inland from the Pacific Ocean, and a quick drive from Ensenada. The climate and soil contribute to the unique, arid terroir found in the east-west-oriented valley. With an average of 1100 feet (335 meters) above sea level, summer days can be as high as 110˚F (43˚C) but coastal breezes help to lower the valley temperatures in the evenings. With an average annual rainfall of just 3-4″ (7-20cm), grape growers must rely on irrigation to water their vines. Soil composition near the foot of the mountains is primarily red clay, sandy soil is nearest the valley’s dry river bed, and granite soil is most common between the mountains and where the river once ran.
I have no doubt you know how important food is in Mexican culture so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the wineries of the Valles de Ensenada are producing food-friendly, approachable wines. Culture combined with terroir and history all contribute to a wine region that locals and winelovers around the globe embrace and celebrate. Please stay tuned to read our tasting notes on Baja wines, starting tomorrow!
Have you visited Baja’s wine region or tasted Baja wines? Tell us in the comments!
Michele Francisco, a founder and regular contributor to Winerabble, a blog primarily about Pacific Northwest wines, is living the dream in Portland, Oregon. Her passion leads some to believe she's got wine running through her veins. Contact Michele at firstname.lastname@example.org & be sure to visit her online portfolio at www.michelefrancisco.com.