The only thing I like better than buying wine is drinking it. However, that being said, the search for the next great wine region is always on my mind. The culmination of my quest may have been reached as I recently toured and purchased in the Valle de Guadalupe. No, this fertile land is not in France, Italy, or even the U.S., but south of our American borders. Mexico, once a country that was only known for its tequila and mescal, has come of age in terms of wine. So much so that it represents 10 percent of the country's alcoholic purchases and is becoming a healthy export business.
Although not overly commercialized, most of the vineyards have tasting rooms. Don't expect to see limos or tour buses carrying wine-tasting parties from site to site. Instead, one drives down bumpy dirt roads until coming across a sign or building that indicates wine is available. Once we entered establishments, we found each to be warm and receptive. The bottling rooms were as sterile and modern as any facility that I have seen in other parts of the world. Tours of the operations are offered in most; however, if you opt for one, be prepared to wait, as time is not quite as much of the essence as it is in the States.
Great-tasting red and white wines can be had for a fraction of the cost you would find elsewhere. There is no haggling, but fair prices are in abundance. I experienced one of the most refreshing dark roses that has ever touched my lips at a winery called Adobe Guadalupe. Down the road, the vineyard Monte Xanic delighted with a Cabernet Syrah blend that made us take notice. Bottles we purchased ranged from $30 to $40. A bit higher than one would expect, but far less than trying to buy them retail or when out for dinner. Do keep in mind that if you are visiting from California, a limitation of three bottles per couple is enforced when reentering the U.S. However, if you are from any other state, then one may import a case at a time. Bulk pricing varied per vineyard, but all did participate. Most vintners were happy to sell you additional wine paraphernalia, ranging from glassware to T-shirts. American dollars are accepted as well as Mexican pesos.
Ruta del Vino, (the route of the vines), begins and ends in the north central region of Baja California. The best way to reach the valley is by Mexican Highway 3. It runs from Tecate, Mexico, to Ensenada, Mexico. Approximately 35 miles south of the California border, the region begins to unfold with winery after winery. At the turn of the century, there were only a dozen; now, just over a decade later, the number is approaching 60. With a temperate climate and ocean breezes, the area is ideal for wine growing.
If you choose to go shopping in the Valle de Guadalupe, remember two things. One, drinking and driving is no more tolerated in Mexico than anywhere else. Secondly, regardless of the cost of the wine, it is a bargain when combined with the experience and taste of the region.