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A Night of Pizza, Beer, Music and Art in Ensenada

A night of pizza, beer and art in Ensenada:  La Stella!

A night of pizza, beer, music and art took place at the end of August during La Stella Session’s first installment at Distrito Barra Pública in Ensenada.

The love for music and design of two enterprising youngsters culminated in an event that showcased local talent for hours.

 

La Stella Pizza and Distrito Barra Pública were the hosts of the night while people gathered at the bar and admired the exhibition of pizza boxes decked by guest visual artists like Acamonchi, Alberto Nájera, Anita Mejía, Cactus, El Juan, Emiliano Barajas, Enrique Alcántar (TR3Z), Esther Gamez, Kathy Pedrín, Kikeino, Roberto Mora and Rodolfo Gutiérrez; the participating bands got set and started to play just outside of the bar.

Reptilianos, Ocean Noise, Hipogrifos and Fading Leds, the local bands that participated in the “La Stella Mixtape 02” compilation, played live for hours for the delight of the audience.

La Stella Mixtape is a project of designer Luis Ariza, we’ll talk about him on another occasion but you can get to know him at La Stella Pizza.

 

For now, visual artists and bands from Tijuana can start pondering their contribution to the second installment of La Stella Sessions that is shaping up to become a tradition of the port.

Photos by Torres Photoworks 

Original Text: Gabriela Vidauri, Binomio 1+4 info@b1mas4.com http://b1mas4.com

Sandiegored.com is designed as the first portal in Spanish that provides information/entertainment and news in SanDiego and the Tijuana / Baja California region. Our main objective is that you find all the information that you need in SanDiegoRed and BECOME  your preferred portal. We are committed to working tirelessly to meet your expectations and deliver the best website in Spanish. Contact SanDiegoRed.com or call (858) 454-511.

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula, supported by a full-service tour operator staffed by Baja locals (our “Baja Travel Savants”). We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotels and vacation rentals, as well as guides, maps and articles about events, sports and activities. We provide bilingual customer support, information and sales seven days a week, 365 days a year.

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Monte Xanic, the new generation of wine in Baja

Hans Backhoff continues the legend started by his father 25 years ago

Some 20 years ago, the wine industry in Mexico was going through one of its toughest crises. The aperture to free trade had left over 20 wine companies virtually unprotected against imported wines, mostly French and Spanish ones. Only the strongest survived — four or five, in all. It was during those times that Monte Xanic was born, looking to introduce premium, high quality wine to the public. Back then, Monte Xanic was the drink with which NAFTA was celebrated; it was also the beverage of choice for the visits of John Paul II as well as Benedict XVI to Mexico. Now it is one the best known Mexican high-quality wine producers in Mexico and in the world.

“When we began, we started with the idea of making things in a different way. The problem was that we knew we could make good wine but we didn’t know if we could sell it,” noted Hans Backhoff.   But they did.  Backhoff noted that their Monte Xanic strategy “worked and we hit it off:  Mexico adopted our wine as its iconic high-status wine. Now, 25 years later, everybody is involved in this new market and the region has over 120 wineries. It’s a movement made not by Monte Xanic alone, but by the entire region. And as a region that is what we are focused on: conquering the world.”

Hans Backhoff, born in 1977, is from the newest generation of producers from the Guadalupe Valley. He’s an enologist, biochemist and has a master’s degree in administration and marketing. He is the current CEO of Monte Xanic, a company started by his father 25 years ago. When he returned to Mexico after completing his studies in France (his thesis was performed in Château Lafite Rothschild, perhaps the most prestigious wine producer in the world), he looked for a job not in Monte Xanic –his own company- but in the rival wineries, where he was turned down for being considered a “spy.” Perhaps all the better for Monte Xanic…  Backhoff is confident in his expertise and talents, and brings them to bear for his family’s business.

Mexico’s wine industry is still in the beginning stages, even though it dates back to 1800. During recent years, however, there has been a transformation in the way society understands wine, a change occurring mainly among young people. “We are living exciting times, the per capita consumption is still very small… half a liter is nothing. What’s interesting is that that half liter has tripled in 10 years and the market is growing two numbers each year,” notes Backhoff.  Now, wine has become a popular topic, something to talk about in a wider sector of the public.

 

There are many other things changing in the wine industry besides the cultural aspects of it. Evidently, there are technological innovations in grapevine cultivation, but there are also other phenomena inconceivable until very recently.

“Two weeks ago we had a tasting through Twitter and we involved 7,000 people; it is the biggest tasting event ever held in Mexico and Latin America. It was open to public, anyone who wanted to join in, could; the only thing they had to do was buy the three wines to be tasted, they could do so in groups or by themselves. We went to Paris, Netherlands, Argentina, USA… in Mexico we were in Ensenada, Mérida, Cancún, Monterrey, Guadalajara, DF… and at every location people would group and film themselves using their computers,” said Backhoff.   “It was really cool, something that had never been done before, we unveiled something very important in the industry, we will see more stuff like that. The important thing is that we were able to communicate everything we wanted to 7,000 people in less than two hours. It was impressive. There are political movements and a ton of things being done through social media, just imagine if the same is done for an industry so low in resources.”

On August 5, Monte Xanic hosted its traditional Concierto del Crepúsculo to celebrate the wine harvest festival. In previous years it was Baja California’s Orchestra the one livening up the concert, but this year Hans stepped forward bringing Raven String Quartet, a very talented all-female band that plays from classical music to contemporary pop. “It is part of the generational transformation we are witnessing. Wine has always been an elitist product, a luxury… but it isn’t like that. We are interested in popularizing it, in having people know it’s not only for the older folks, it’s for the young people too.”

 

“Our concert was for people to learn. Our generation will talk to our children and say, ‘I remember back when there were about 100 wineries in the Valley,’ but that is going to change.  Not only here but throughout the region including Tijuana. It’s part of a bigger movement that is growing every day and we are living it.”

This article was submitted by San Diego Red with additional editorial contributions by Baja.com.

Sandiegored.com is designed as the first portal in Spanish that provides information/entertainment and news in SanDiego and the Tijuana / Baja California region. Our main objective is that you find all the information that you need in SanDiegoRed and BECOME  your preferred portal. We are committed to working tirelessly to meet your expectations and deliver the best website in Spanish. Contact SanDiegoRed.com or call (858) 454-511.

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula, supported by a full-service tour operator staffed by Baja locals (our “Baja Travel Savants”). We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotels and vacation rentals, as well as guides, maps and articles about events, sports and activities. We provide bilingual customer support, information and sales seven days a week, 365 days a year.

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Ensenada: Wine Capital of Latin America?

Museum of Vine and Wine:  A signature facility for Baja California.

Bottle collection displayed on the first floor of the Museum of Grape and Wine in the Guadalupe Valley.

ENSENADA- Just after two months of opening, it has already received more than 20,000 visitors.

Last Friday, Mexico’s president, Felipe Calderón officially inaugurated the Museum of Vine and Wine (Museo de la Vid y el Vino), located in the heart of the Guadalupe Valley, a place dedicated to promoting the region, increasing awareness of the valley’s history within Ensenada and promoting its burgeoning wine industry.

The property, donated by Don Luis Agustín Cetto, extends 2.7 hectares and is adjacent to Highway 3, the Ensenada-Tecate road, so it’s easily accessible to visitors.

The project represents a hugh private and public investment, and it is anticipated that the building itself will become fundamental to helping establish the Ruta del Vino (the Wine Route) as a landmark in Mexico.  Baja California and Ensenada are well on track to being Latin America’s ‘Wine Capital’.

Museum director Gabrial Díaz García de León explained that the property is divided in several areas.

The first floor displays the history, ranging from the first traces of wine in human history to the missions arrival to Baja California. There are also halls dedicated to the “industry, identity and art” of grape and wine in the region.

Inside, there is an important collection of wine bottles and objects used to produce the beverage as well as paintings.

Exhibitions and displays were under the purview of the Autonomous University of Baja California (UABC), the only university with an Enology School in all of Mexico.

In the upper area there’s a space available for events with a panoramic view to the Guadalupe Valley.

Architect Eduardo Arjona, from Ensenada, designed the spectacular modern structure that takes advantage of the vistas that surround the museum in all directions…however, the actual construction took nearly a year. The walls are made from local stone cut by craftsmen from the south of Mexico, who lived in the area for four months. More than 300 people worked to create this emblematic edifice that will remain a hallmark of Mexico’s wine country for decades to come.

Díaz García de León defined the museum as “contemporary and self-sufficient.” From bird’s eye view, the structure is shaped like a V, for ‘vid’ and ‘vino’: grapevine and wine, respectively, in Spanish.

For Juan Tintos Funcke, Tourism Secretariat of Baja California, the museum adds another element to Ensenada’s vast tourism resources and it also stands as a source of pride for residents of the area.

 

The Guadalupe Valley produces around 18 million liters of wine a year, 66 percent of which is exported. Nearly 90 percent of the wine produced in the whole country comes from Baja California.

“We needed a place like this where all the history, background and the connection of the wine industry with Baja California’s history could come together” added Funcke.

Besides the historic content, he emphasized that the museum means a new location for conventions, tasting and gastronomic events, all of which will give a boost to the area.

He recalled last year when the Wine Route was awarded as one Mexico’s most important touristic routes, according to W Radio.

In the inauguration ceremony, president Calderón, accompanied by Baja California’s governor, José Guadalupe Osuna Millán, announced a program in support of the wine industry that will have an initial fund of 50 million Mexican pesos (nearly four million dollars) to help local producers in areas like training, investment projects, research and production.

For Luis Agustín Cetto, the arrival of this corner dedicated to history is an insignia that will be the starting point for thousands of visitors.

“There’s finally an icon of the Wine Route,” said the president of the Museum of Grape and Wine Council. “I hope that it will help the grape growing and wine production of the region even more impetus to prosper.”

The Museum of Vine and Wine is open Tuesday-Sunday, from 9 am to 5 pm.

This article was submitted by San Diego Red with additional editorial contributions by Baja.com.

Sandiegored.com is designed as the first portal in Spanish that provides information/entertainment and news in SanDiego and the Tijuana / Baja California region. Our main objective is that you find all the information that you need in SanDiegoRed and BECOME  your preferred portal. We are committed to working tirelessly to meet your expectations and deliver the best website in Spanish. Contact SanDiegoRed.com or call (858) 454-511.

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula, supported by a full-service tour operator staffed by Baja locals (our “Baja Travel Savants”). We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotels and vacation rentals, as well as guides, maps and articles about events, sports and activities. We provide bilingual customer support, information and sales seven days a week, 365 days a year.

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Mexican Wine and The American Woman: Put a Label on It!

by Jo Ann Knox Martino

“Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle.”

― Paulo CoelhoBrida

 

 This is a quote I live by, and it plays a part in every day of my life as a winemaker in Ensenada’s Valle de Guadalupe.  It is an exciting time for me — and it was especially so as I got ready to put my wines out in front of the public.   The wine – a Zinfandel — was finally bottled and ready.  But what to name it?

Many friends were being helpful by making suggestions: “Sinfandel,” “Oso Zinful,” “Joanna Jones” (which had been my nickname and business name for years – you know, Indiana’s sister), “J Martino,” (which is my family name and was  my brother’s suggestion), “Borrego Negro,” which means ‘Black Sheep’.  Why Black Sheep, you ask?  Perhaps because I am one of the only American women making wine in Valle de Guadalupe.  I thought it was a bit cute and certainly true.

So, I started having fun designing a label and asking friends what they thought of the name “Black Sheep.”  All of the Americans I asked liked it but would Mexicans?  I asked my good friend and tango instructor Humberto what he thought. I wanted to make a decision based on both Mexican and American cultural reactions.

“So you’re calling your wine a black animal?” Humberto asked, startled.  Obviously, it just did not translate. Hmmmm. Back to the drawing board. Suddenly it hit me like a lightning bolt…tango, of course! My other passion. I should marry my two passions together. Wine and tango. What could be better?

After trying out many names with the tango theme, I decided upon “Solo Tango” (“Only Tango”) for the Zinfandel and “Two2Tango” for my blend. Of course these names were well received amongst my fellow tangueros (tango dancers).  But a name is just a name…until it becomes a label!  That’s when my two dear artist friends, Humberto Rivera (yes, the tango instructor) and Francisco Cabello stepped in, creating original artwork that could just as easily be hung in a gallery as placed on a wine bottle!

I proudly presented my wine at our milonga in Rosarito. (Milonga has two definitions: One is a style of tango music and dance and the other is a fiesta where tango is danced. Our tango community hosts a milonga each month and tangueros from the other municipalities, Tijuana and Ensenada, come join us for a night of festivity and dance. Recently we were lucky to have a lovely Argentinian woman, Monica, join our group. She sings all of the traditional Tango music. Once a year, Humberto throws an anniversary milonga which will be coming up in August. This will be our 5th year and it will be held at Las Rocas Hotel.  It will be a special Tango Spectacular with performances by accomplished dancers and musicians and open to the public to come enjoy and participate if they choose. Who would have thought our small group which formed over five years ago would still be dancing.)

With their tango-oriented labels, the wines were welcomed at the milonga.  For me it was a moment of celebration:  I couldn’t help but think that, like grape vines, the seeds of our tango/wine partnership were planted years before when Francisco Cabello said to me, “I paint tango. One day I will dance it.”  He does, indeed.  Now, my friends and partners dance with me — and all of that is represented in the two labels that represent my wines.

Just as Paulo Coelho meant, experiencing life at all of its levels is the only way you will know which part you want to just sip and which part you want to indulge in fully.  For me, an American woman making wine in Mexico, I am drinking the whole bottle.

 

Jo Ann Knox Martino is a former film producer, now winemaker, living in Baja’s wine country.  Stay posted to read her occasional blogs about an American  woman-winemaker living in Baja.

Going wine tasting in Mexico’s wine country?  Call Baja.com at our toll-free number to find out where to stay and what to taste!

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula, supported by a full-service tour operator staffed by Baja locals (our “Baja Travel Savants”). We offer Baja travelers expert advice about localrestaurants, hotels and vacation rentals, as well as guides, maps and articles about events, sports and activities. We provide bilingual customer support, information and sales seven days a week, 365 days a year.  For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

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The Brew that is True: Baja’s New Take on Cerveza

By Ashley Sokol

Agua Mala beers, not complete without their jellyfish logo.

Suddenly, Mexican beer is tasting different. The cerveza offerings coming out of Baja are turning the perception of Mexican beer on its head.  Not only that, these new beers and brewers reflect Mexico’s heightened awareness of environmental issues and desire to be “green.”

In the past five years, craft brewing in Baja has exploded into a vital business.  In Ensenada, alone, what was once a handful of artisan brewers has become more than 100. Most of these are still working in the home-brew stage, but some are creating honest nano-breweries (less than 43 gallons) and others are on their ways to creating microbreweries.

One such brewery is Cerveceria Agua Mala. Spearheading the Baja brew movement, Nathaniel Schmidt started like most other brewers — in the kitchen, until being kicked out by his wife. This might have been the best thing that ever happened to him. He started to grow and produce some of the best beers in Baja, everything from a crisp lager to an assertively hoppy IPA. The name Agua Mala is a play on words in Spanish, meaning jellyfish or bad water. Based on unbiased reviews, it is anything but!

As Carlos Cohen of Cerveceria Marinera puts it, “The key to good beer is to have a desirable product and to always be consistent.”

This goal of consistency is true for most trades, but it is very difficult to achieve in the nano-brewing industry, especially in Baja. One of the hurdles the Baja brewers face is having to import almost all of their ingredients and equipment.

According to Agua Mala’s Schmidt, who currently has to drive to San Diego, California from Ensenada each time he needs products, “It’s difficult to be ‘green’ when you have to drive two hours each way for all of your raw materials.”  His dream is to eventually create a beer that is 100 percent organic and locally sourced.  He even wants to mastermind a gluten-free beer.    Schmidt notes that he hopes to build his microbrewery in 2013, making it completely environmentally friendly, utilizing solar energy, and repurposing water used in the beer production process for the family garden as well as using waste grain products for composting.

Another issue to maintaining consistency is that brewing is a quantity business; it costs less to brew large batches of beer than to brew small amounts.  To do that requires a large investment in larger equipment, so it’s a vicious circle.  As Cohen points out, “It’s harder to produce a consistent product when you are trying to recreate it one small batch at a time.” Even so, Cerveceria Marinera seems to have done a fine job on creating consistent quality in their beers (try their honey ale if you can find it).

Mexican taxes are also a factor for beer sellers. Forty percent of the purchase price goes straight to the government, and the permits to produce and sell beer are very hard to get and expensive. Even with all of these obstacles, great beers are still in the making.

As Roberto Albarran from Border Psycho brewery in Tijuana says, “We started brewing for our love of beer and food.” Border Psycho currently produces 50 BBL’s (brewers barrels), which is equivalent to 1500 gallons of delicious craft brew on a small three-barrel system, which is no small feat.

Cerveceria Fauna from Mexicali is not yet on the market, but much like the other brewers, they are meticulous about their recipes and want to make sure they produce a consistent and exceptional product. They are focusing mostly on Belgian style brews – the expectation is that we can anticipate great things to comefrom this brewery.

Where does one get to try these great examples of fermented grain you might ask?  Check it out!  July is Beer Brewing Month in Tijuana — read about it here.

Ensenada has an excellent Baja Beer Fest that occurs once a year usually in the month of March. This past year, more than 40 small breweries participated.  If you are looking for something a little closer to home and sooner on the calendar, you are sure to get your fill this month. Tijuana will be having two beer events simultaneously on July 13-14. One will be held at the Caliente Hippodrome and is sponsored by the Tijuana brewery and the other will be held on Revolution Avenue and is sponsored by the ACABC (association for craft brewers on Baja California). Both promise to have great beers, food and music; you to decide where to imbibe.

The only sad note to this beer revelry is that none of these beers are currently available in the U.S., so I recommend you choose your beers wisely as you can only take home about three bottles per person across the border.

Where can you find these beers in their local habitat?

Here is where you might find some of northern Baja’s favorite beers, in restaurants and pubs throughout the region.  For more information on any of these, visit the Ensenada and Tijuana restaurants director.

Agua Mala: Ophelia’s, Corazon de Tierra, Laja, Flor de Calabaza, Wendlandt, La Contra, Pelicanos Gastropub, Beerbox La Paz, Muelle Tres

Marinera: Laja, Beerbox La Paz, Distrito bar, Pelicanos Gastropub, Flor de Calabaza, La Cava de Marcelo, Wendlant

Border Psycho: BeerBox TJ, la Tasca, Wendlandt, La Tasquiota, Distrito, Pelicanos Gastropub.

Fauna: currently at a Baja Beer Fest near you.

So, if you’re looking for something familiar, go ahead and have a Corona.  But if you want a little extra personality in your pint, try something different south of the Border. Be one of the first to find out about Baja’s new take on  cerveza.

Many of the local brewers are happy to offer tours and personal tasting by appointment.  Contact info for the breweries mentioned:

Cerveceria Agua Mala: Nathaniel@aguamala.com.mx

Cerveceria Marinera: Cerveceriamarinera@gmail.com

Cerveceria Border Psycho: Psychobrew@gmail.com

Cerveceria Fauna: Nahual@fororeptiles.org

Brew up some fun of your own and visit Baja’s beer country!  Don’t miss any of the July festivities of Beer Brewing Month in Tijuana.  And for more information on artisan beer in Baja Sur, check out the Baja Brewing Company on Baja.com.

 

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Bravo! A Vintage success story in Mexico’s Wine Country

by Carla White

We were hoping to have lunch at Miguel Angel Guerrero’s amazing new restaurant El Almazara right in the heart of the wine valley…but as Americans are wont to be, we were too early.  With an hour to while away, we decided to poke around the Valle de Guadalupe, one of our favorite past-times.  We drove through the dusty but bustling little burg of Francisco Zarco, and then thought that maybe we’d go see what was new and exciting over in nearby El Porvenir.  We hadn’t planned on stopping, but there it was and it looked so inviting:  the JC Bravo tasting room right at the corner of Emiliano Zapata in the heart of town.

JC (Juan Carlos) Bravo’s story is one of legend in the wine valley:  It began with some old vines and grapes that, some years ago, really didn’t seem all that valuable.  JC, a high school teacher by profession, supplied others with his fruit as a side business.  When the sleepy wine Ensenada wine industry began to awaken, JC had the idea that perhaps he could make a bit more money by creating his own wine.  The question was, how?

That’s when Hugo D’Acosta– the region’s unofficial guru of all things wine – stepped into the picture.  He was aware of JC’s grapes and their quality, and he decided to become Juan Carlos’ mentor. D’Acosta had just started La Escuelita, the little wine school in El Porvenir which has subsequently ‘graduated’ many of Ensenada’s top vintners.  He encouraged JC to attend the school, and  with tutelage and hands-on instruction, JC learned how to use his land and transform his grapes through aging and fermentation into some of the valley’s most interesting wines.

The Harley tour stops for a wine tasting at JC Bravo

In 2001, JC Bravo released his first wine, a 100 percent Carignan, a varietal originated in the Rhone Valley of France.   This is the winery’s signature wine, and with its burst of berry and spices, it is one that is a great accompaniment to cheeses, meats and heartier fare.  He also makes a Palomino that when chilled, fills the mouth with a mellow citrus taste…a perfect summer choice!

JC works with his brother in the wine-making venture, and the Bravos have also begun making cheeses, olive oils and marmalades – a most delicious orange concoction that brings to mind (don’t ask why) warm winds and fruit orchards in Spain.

We never did get to El Almazara, spending time in the tasting room and chatting with a group of Harley Davidson riders who were touring the wine country.  When we finally left, we told Martin and Juan Carlos that we would be back soon…and gave them a goodbye ‘Bravo!’ for the road.

Want to get a taste of Mexico’s wine country?  Go wine tasting!  For more information about Baja’s wine country, visit Baja.com. 

 

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Something Fishy is on in Ensenada

By Carla White

Images by Karina Gutierrez

My eyes bugged out of my head when I stared, face-to-face, at that big Huachinango…oh, wait a minute.  The big guy was actually staring glassy-eyed at me.  Fish get in your face sometimes…they are like that, especially when they had to leave their kelp beds unexpectedly.

But still…they all had their mouths hanging open when I walked by.  Well, what do you expect from a port city where fishing is one of the major industries?  Great seafood, that’s what.  From street vendors, to fine restaurants, to trucks emblazoned with the words camarones frescos (fresh shrimp), the bounty of the sea is everywhere in Ensenada.

A little appetizer tonight...and not too pricey!

El Mercado Negro

No doubt about it, this is a sensory Ensenada experience not to be missed (unless you take issue with hundreds of  beady little black eyes staring blankly at you). El Mercado Negro (the Black Market) is off of Blvd. Costero, near the triangle that is formed by Costero, Calle de la Marina and Blvd. Teniente Azueta.

On approach, you’ll be hawked by waitresses and waiters flagging you down with menus from different taco bars.* Continue stoically on towards the entrance of the fish market.  Comprised of two long hallways, each corridor is lined with spaces for fishermen selling different kinds of seafood. The choices are vast: mounds of plump-looking shrimp; abalone (in season); swordfish, tuna and more.  You can bargain, but what you pay for a pound of swordfish will be a fraction of what you would pay in the States.  They’ll weigh your fish in kilos, lump your fish purchases into a bag, and you’re good to go**…but be sure to ask for extra hielo (ice) to keep your fish fresh.***

*These taco stands are good, especially the one of the southern corner of the street, right across from the entrance to the mall/movie complex.  

**Be mentally ready to do fast calculations.  And bring pesos.

***Wear close-toed shoes.  Consider rolling up your pants’ hems.

Shrimp tacos

De Garo  — Pescado, Hierbas Finas Y Mariscos

De Garo’s is where many high-end restaurants and savvy consumers, and the editor of this article, shop for the catch of the day.  On Av. Miramar No. 666-1, up near the original Santa Tomas winery and restaurant Embotelladora Vieja,Edgar Hernández Zúñiga has established a business that is renowned for offering up only the freshest fish caught by reputable local fishermen.  A nice touch here is that they filet the fish on site and package them in individual containers, sealed fairly air-tightly.  They will tell you the best way to cook your fish, and they also have lots of other goodies – ceviches, organic vegetables, spices and patés (want to impress your neighbors? Try the tuna paté).

 

 

TIPS ON BUYING FRESH FISH & SHRIMP

From Alain Genchi, owner Barra Azul restaurant

“Everything about eating fish—raw or cooked –  is about its freshness.  This is the joy of living in Ensenada, where we can have the freshest that there is!”

Barra Azul on Calle 11...best seafood (off the tourist drag) in town!

Check the eyesClear, bright eyes are the sign of a very fresh fish.

Look at the skinShiny skin is a good sign. Be wary if the skin looks patchy, or if it does not seem firm.  In fact, if you can, press the flesh to make sure it is full, not mushy.

Smell the fishIf you think a fish smells bad, don’t buy it.  A fish should smell like it is fresh from the water, or just a little briny, like salty sea water.  Pungent is not a good word when it comes to fish!

Fish gills:  The color of the gills, those flaps near its mouth, should be bright red.  If it is a dull, darker color, it might not be fresh.

ShrimpThe first sign of shrimp going bad is its head, which might darken and sag.  There should be no black spots (melanosis) on the shrimp.  Shrimp should only smell like saltwater.

So, if you aren’t ready to hop on a boat and catch your own, visiting the colorful fish markets is the best way to find the freshest pescados.  It’s a photo opportunity and a dinner waiting to happen!  For more information about Ensenada, where to stay and play, visit Baja.com

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula, supported by a full-service tour operator staffed by Baja locals (our “Baja Travel Savants”). We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurants, hotels and vacation rentals, as well as guides, maps and articles about events, sports and activities. We provide bilingual customer support, information and sales seven days a week, 365 days a year.

 

 

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Mexican Wine and the American Woman

By Jo Ann Knox Martino

Here I sit in the Valle de Guadalupe in Baja, California, looking out at the beautiful vineyards of Liceaga winery. Who would have thought I’d end up living in the wine valley of Baja and making wine – in fact, making really good wine?  I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and when we would go for weekends to the Napa Valley, I would fantasize about living in the country and having a vineyard.

Jo Ann's Zinfandel and Nebbiolo wines, created in Baja

First, I had to have a career in the film industry, get married and divorced, move to Baja, open a successful art gallery and then close it, dance a lot of tango, and…well, other stories for other blogs.  Let’s jump ahead to 2009.

That’s when I decided to go to La Escuelita, Hugo D’Acosta’s innovative small wine school in El Porvenir, Baja. He started the school approximately 10 years ago, to teach interested people the art of winemaking. I was lucky enough to get accepted (which would be difficult, today, as the program now has a waiting list!) and took the short course to learn my new craft.

I had already been managing a ranch for a few years and now, with my new education in enology, I was ready to make wine with Nebbiolo grapes from three-year-old vines on that property.  I was so excited when it came time to harvest – the grapes had reached the right sugar level, and we planned to pick them on a Monday.

But disaster: Over the weekend, ravenous birds had swooped into the vineyards and devoured almost the entire crop. (We have since learned to net the vines to avoid this happening again.) What to do? Here I was, ready to make my wine and no grapes!

Thomas Egli, the La Escuelita instructor and winemaker, suggested I buy some from one of D’Acosta’s vineyards; I decided on Zinfandel. I added the small amount of Nebbiolo we were able to harvest to a half-ton of Zinfandel grapes. (I was terrified it would be a sweet wine but have since learned that not all Zins have that sweetness to them. As a matter of fact, Zinfandel can be a bigger, dryer wine with a nice fruitiness to it.)

I was coached and helped through the crushing, fermentation and pressing of the wine.  Finally, after ‘punching down’ the wine and constantly checking sugar levels, we did indeed get it pressed.  The next question: How would it be received?

The birds had almost caused an irrevocable accident…but what a lucky accident it turned out to be for me!  I entered my wine into a blind-tasting at the invitation of the winemaker at La Casa Vieja. I did it just for the fun and experience…and imagine how thrilled I was when my wine took first place. Not only first place, but it won by a landslide! I felt like a little girl on Christmas Eve…or maybe a little girl whose dreams were coming true.

The next year, I did get a harvest from the Nebbiolo vineyard. I made it at La Escuelita. Alberto Rubio, from Mogor Badan winery nearby, was running the winemaking process at the school that year. He helped me with the process of making a smooth Nebbiolo.

After 18 months in the barrel I have now bottled two barrels of my new creation…and I proudly presented it and my 2011 Zinfandel at the wonderful Guateque. The Guateque is a festival held every year for the alumnae of La Escuelita and it is a semi-private affair for students, their friends and families.  I am pleased to report that both my wines were well received there.

So, thanks to some birds, some hand-holding by my mentors at La Escuelita, and to my wonderful Baja friends, my childhood dream has come true.  Now, as an American woman who has successfully created wine in Mexico’s wine country, I am working on my next dream:  presenting my wines in my very own winery.  Stay tuned!

Jo Ann Knox Martino is a former film producer, now winemaker, living in Baja’s wine country.  Stay posted to read her occasional blogs about an American  woman-winemaker living in Baja.

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La Cava de Don Carlos: An Uptown Ensenada Wine Experience

By Carla White

Recently, we had visitors from Orange County, California — visitors who had not visited our little corner of Baja for several years.  We wanted to do everything possible to be sure that this little two-night getaway would be fun for them and filled with the sights, scents, sounds and flavors that make Ensenada a true traveler’s paradise.  Having boasted ad nauseum about the wines of the region, it was a top priority for us to showcase some of Baja’s finest; however, with only one day to tour, we knew we didn’t have time to meander through the beautiful Valle de Guadalupe, tasting wine at our favorite cavas.  We were bemoaning this fact as we headed back to the car, parked just off of Lopez Mateos,  and came upon La Cava de Don Carlos.

La Cava de Don Carlos Dining Room

Actually, it was our friend Doug who pointed to a spot at the corner of Lopez Mateos and Alvarado and said, “This looks really inviting and warm…let’s go in here.”  I was hesitant because, previously, the spot – which is called Carlos Importes and was founded in 1936  — had been solely a store of fabrics, craft works and pewter, ceramics, Spanish fans and more.  Most of it remains as such but about a third of the shop has been converted in a charming wine cave called La Cava de Don Carlos, which represents wines, cheeses, breads, olive oils and other products from the region.

According to Elsa Patricia V. Tavarez, the granddaughter of Carlos and Elsa who began the store, their business has been passed down through generations and her family has been in the Ensenada area for more than 200 years.  Today, as Ensenada has seen intensifying interest in its gourmet products, Patricia and her family are adapting the store’s mission and wares to help support local artisans, whether they specialize in food, wine or crafts.

The wine cave is open every day of the week, generally starting at 10 a.m., and closing at 10 p.m. on Sunday and Monday-Thursday.  On Friday and Saturday, the tasting area is open until midnight.  In European style, it is open to the street, so that patrons can sip, munch on olives and artisan bread, and watch the passing parade.  On any given day, one of the cava’s young hosts – Carmen, Mario or Oswaldo, all of whom are studying either wine or tourism – greets patrons and explains about the tastings that are offered.

We tried the US$6 tasting that included (although tasting menus can change) a Fumé Blanc by LA Cetto; a Rosé (Deseo, a winery in Ojos Negros); a red varietal Tinto de la Hacienda by La Lomita winery, and a Cabernet/Zinfandel by Bibayoff.  The US$8 tasting would have included three different reds, at varying levels in the price and value spetrum. To buy any of the wines we tasted would have been approximately US$9 for the Fumé Blanc; approximately US$12.50 for the Rosé; US$17.50 for the Tinto varietal, which was excellent; and US$18.50 for the Cabernet-Zinfandel.  Across the board, we felt that the US$6 tasting was extremely reasonable and gave an interesting sampling of a broad cross-section of wines.

“We have been open three months,” said Elsa Patricia, “and we plan to have an event a month, including maybe some blind tastings where our customers get to taste and then comment to winemakers about their individual wines.”  She also noted that there will be several big events over the summer.

“This is a great spot for people who might not have the chance to get to the wine valley,” she explained.  “We represent 27 wineries and more than 250 wines…people can get to know what Ensenada does best!”

The Cava de Don Carlos is located in the main shopping area, at #8801 Lopez Mateos.  Email lacavadedoncarlos@hotmail.com, or call on cell (044-646-183-9577).

(And by the way, our friends adored the cava, the visit, dinner at Ollie’s Pizza near Rosarito, breakfast at La Villa del Valle, and everything, except the wait at the border when they were going home.  Thanks for asking!)

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Getting Schooled on Wine in Valle de Guadalupe

By Carla White

“Wine is sunlight, held together by water.”  –Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)

The escuelita, or “little school,” is located in tiny El Porvenir in Ensenada’s Valle de Guadalupe. Mexico’s wine guru Hugo d’Acosta created the nonprofit La Escuelita in 2004–officially called Union de Productores del Valle de Guadalupe de RL de CV or Estacion de Oficios del Porvenir. The goal of the school is to help aspiring winemakers realize their dreams of hand-crafting some of Mexico’s finest wines.

Mural by Carlos de la torre

The school is managed by Thomas Egli, a swiss enologist, who annually selects a small group of students and teaches them how to use techniques, equipment and their senses and aesthetics to create their own individual wines.  Integral to his program is guiding students toward a deeper understanding of how the earth and the elements become one with the human being in the creation of wine – and, ultimately, how the wine itself becomes a symbol of that harmony.

The wine ‘class,’ which is generally held in August, usually comprises about 25 students, most with some Spanish-language knowledge.  At a cost of approximately $100, students receive instruction, grapes, the use of equipment, and assistance in creating their wines using both traditional techniques and modern technology.  For extra fees, the potential winemakers can purchase quantities of higher-end grape varietals to create their personal barrel of wine, and even store it at La Escuelita.  At all times of the year, La Escuelita remains an active place where wine-makers go for consultation and even to re-energize their own passion for the wine-making process. Often, during the famed Vendimia grape harvest festival held each August in Baja’s wine country, La Escuelita hosts an event showcasing its graduates and its wines.

The school itself is a complex of sheds and corrugated iron buildings, immediately noticeable for its great mural by local artist Carlos de la Torre painted on the side of a building. The mural shows workers dumping grapes into crushers. There is also a wall rather craftily created from old wine bottles.  In fact, there are numerous design clues – fragmented barrels, wooden stakes, wine bottle glass – that indicate that the compound was created with wine in mind.   Renowned local architect Alejandro D’Acosta made calculated use of materials associated with oenology and winemaking in order to transform what was once an olive oil factory into the wine school.  Happily, the school has even revived the making of olive oil; however, that is clearly not La Escuelita’s primary mission.

Today, some of Baja’s top winemakers count themselves as graduates of La Escuelita, including Phil Gregory (Vena Cava wine), Joaquin Prieto (Tres Valles), Pau Pijoan (Vinas Pijoan), Jo Ann Knox (Solo Tango), Roberto Lafarga (Vinos Lafarga), and Eva Gotero, Yvette Vaillard and Laura MacGregor (Tres Mujeres).

Tours of  La Escuelita are by appointment only.  To find out more about the school, email info@estacionporvenir.org. Read more about wine and wineries of the Valle de Guadalupe and get a taste of wine Mexico’s wine country is all about.

Do you have any Baja wine-making experiences to share?  How about just a wine experience? Tell us about it in the comments!

Jo Ann Knox, bottling at La Escuelita

Barrel tasting at la Escuelita in EJ Porvenir, Valle de Guadalupe

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