Dec 20, 2017
Just four hours' drive from Los Angeles, the region of Valle de Guadalupe in Mexico is gearing up to be the hottest holiday spot for food and wine lovers.
If you were asked to name the most interesting new wine nation in the world right now, you’d be forgiven if Mexico wasn’t your first guess.
To be fair, Mexican wine is still something of a novelty in Mexico itself. Yet only four hours’ drive from Los Angeles (depending on traffic) is Valle de Guadalupe, a cluster of vineyards at the epicentre of a wine renaissance, as well as arguably the world’s most exciting food scene.
Inland from the Baja California port town of Ensenada, Valle de Guadalupe is a chequerboard of properties gathered around a loop of roughly 40 kilometres. The area is connected by a maze of dirt roads and the rustic feel of the back country adds to the charm, giving the impression you’ve stumbled upon a well-kept secret.
Valle de Guadalupe produces fine reds and whites, with the minerals in the soil contributing to the distinctive terroir. The wines from Finca La Carrodilla, Barón Balch’é (+52 646 155 2141) and Vena Cava are highly rated; the latter winery is uniquely constructed from upturned salvaged boats. All these vineyards and many more can be enjoyed on a private excursion with a local or California-based tour company. Some, including Baja Vino, will take you on a personal tour across the border from San Diego.
With wine, of course, comes food and the standard of cuisine in Valle de Guadalupe – indeed, the whole of Northern Baja – is astonishing. Hidden in the organic vegetable garden at Vena Cava is Corazón de Tierra, listed as one of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants. Headed by chef Diego Hernández, the eatery’s vibrant locavore ethos is emblematic of the region (but it’s merely an amuse-bouche to a few days of bacchanalian excess).
Deckman’s, helmed by American chef Drew Deckman, is slightly less polished but perhaps even more memorable for it. Cooking predominantly in an outdoor woodfired kitchen, the self-described “ingredient facilitator” turns out seasonal dishes from a menu strictly dictated by the availability of produce from local farms and fisheries. The result is some of the best food in North America, revolving around the notion of “honouring the ingredient”.
Valle de Guadalupe’s tourism industry is exploding in kind, with extravagant resorts like Encuentro Guadalupe – a luxury eco retreat of Modernist hillside pavilions complemented by a destination restaurant – seemingly appearing every year. Will 2018 be a good or bad vintage for the wines of Valle de Guadalupe? Who knows. One thing’s for sure: it will be the last time they were a well-kept secret.