The Wines of Baja: Discovering Surprising Quality
Despite being a wine region you may have heard little to nothing about, Mexico actually has a long history of viticulture and winemaking, with the oldest winery in North America Casa Madero established in 1597.
Mexico's history with wine can be traced back to Spanish Conquistadors who found wild grapevines and water springs instead of the gold they were searching for. Soon after, missions were constructed and vines brought over from Europe that adapted very well to this "new world" climate. Quickly they multiplied to a point where the Spanish Crown, fearing too much competition and loss of control, banned wine production in the Americas unless made by the church. Luckily for us, many of those missionaries refused to follow the new stricter rules and carried on their planting and winemaking.
Modern Mexican wine is still at the wild frontier of the wine world. The grapes it produces are a jumble of French, Spanish and Italian varieties that can often be found together in interesting blends that will be hard to encounter anywhere else. Although vineyards are located in hot and dry semi-arid conditions, there are a number of unique geographic conditions that allow premium wine to be made.
Baja California is located at the southern end of the California current, a cool south-moving flow of water that hugs the coastline of North America. The Valle De Parras has vineyards located at almost 5,000 ft in elevation that provide constant direct sunlight which thickens grape skins and makes powerful, rich wine, and creates more dramatic temperature swings that help retain natural acidity in the grapes.
Many of Mexico's largest wineries can be found close to Ensenada and if you do find yourself near the Valle de Guadalupe in July and August, make sure to attend the Fiestas de la Vendimia (Wine harvest festival) and enjoy the Mexican showcase of local cuisine.