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Escape to Baja’s Wine Country, Valle de Guadalupe

Escape to Baja’s Wine Country, Valle de Guadalupe

by W. Scott Koenig

Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe, just outside of Ensenada and 90 minutes from the border, has a history of farming and viticulture that dates back to the early 20th century. Then, Russian immigrants fleeing religious persecution from czarist Russia were granted farmland by the Mexican government. Wines from Baja now grace the menus of restaurants all over Mexico (we had our first bottle in Cuernavaca) and are becoming more available in the U.S.

Recently, the region has garnered accolades for its wine, food and natural beauty from national publications The Wine Enthusiast and Conde Nast Traveler. To tour “The Valle”, one steps into a time machine and is transported back to regional and cultural traditions, and then fast forwarded to new restaurants and vineyards that are working to propel and assure the region’s future.

Valle de Guadalupe

Baja’s Wine Country, just outside of Ensenada, is a great day trip from Southern California.

El Gringo has rolled through Valle de Guadalupe several times now, with each trip providing a different set of wineries, cuisine, people and experiences. The very first time was on an organized tour provided by the Los Rocas resort in Rosarito Beach. My señorita and I found this to be a great introduction to the region, as well as a lot of fun experiencing it with others who were also new to the scene (in our case, a family of friendly visitors from Mexico City). Additionally, many of the Valle’s smaller boutique wineries require appointments for tastings. And a well-connected tour operator is key to getting past those large, beautiful and ornate wrought iron gates.

We’d been talking about conducting similar tours ourselves, and with friends in town from Colorado wanting to visit Baja, we seized the opportunity to arrange our inaugural “Escape to Baja Wine Country” outing. Putting out a last minute invitation to a handful of other friends, we quickly filled the 10 passenger van that would be provided by our guide and driver, Alain Pressier. We met Alain in Tijuana after a quick foot crossing over the border (parking our cars in an inexpensive lot on the U.S. side in San Ysidro). On the itinerary: breakfast on the coast, followed by tours and tastings at three wineries (Tres Valles, Adobe Guadalupe and Vinos Malagon) and concluding with dinner at Javier Plascencia’s Valle de Guadalupe farm-to-table restaurant, Finca Altozano.

Valle de Guadalupe

Finca Altozano. Dinner with a view.

Our first stop was just south of Rosarito Beach in La Mision for a “full breakfast” at Poco Cielo (Little Heaven). Poco Cielo is right next door to the famous La Fonda Hotel & Restaurant, and affords the same cliff top view of the majestic and blue Pacific Ocean. A “Little Heaven” indeed!. We enjoyed our coffees, drinks and breakfasts (El Gringo had a queso and chorizo omelet…delicioso!). In addition to the restaurant, Poco Cielo is also a hotel and offers affordable ocean view rooms (El Gringo will have to stay sometime and I’ll let you know how it is!).

Valle de Guadalupe

The tour starts with a full breakfast at Poco Cileo, a “Little Heaven” in La Mision.

Valle de Guadalupe

The view from Poco Cielo’s restaurant patio. It’s a beautiful day!

After about 40 additional minutes on the road (90 minutes driving time total from the border at San Diego), we came over the mountains and dropped into Valle de Guadalupe. After recent rains, the typically semi arid region was beautifully painted with smatterings of light moss green across the valley and on the hillsides. Our first stop was at Tres Valles, one of the few wineries owned and operated by natives in nearby Ensenada. Established in 1999, the winery has several tasty reds and whites, most named in the indigenous Kiliwa language (i.e. KOJAA, which means “wine”). Additionally, the vineyards labels bear images of native animals, such as the lizard, spider and snake. Cool rebar and wine barrel animal sculptures are placed around the property as well, in an excellent display of rustic artistry. Edmundo poured our tastings and provided an excellent commentary on the various blends we were trying.

Valle de Guadalupe

First stop for the tour: Ensenda’s own Tres Valles Vitivinicola.

Valle de Guadalupe

Tres Valles name their wines in the indigenous Kiliwa language.

Valle de Guadalupe

The varietals of Tres Valles. A giant spider looms in the background.

Next up was Adobe Guadalupe, owned by Americans Don and Tru Miller. The couple built Adobe Guadalupe (a vineyard and six room B&B) after a vision Tru experienced in Notre Dame Cathedral after the passing of their son (who had an interest in Mexican viticulture). Today, the vineyard produces a number of excellent wines, all named after archangels in their son’s spirit. The Middle Eastern, open architecture of the vineyard buildings and the hotel take advantage of the open spaces and frame the valley’s landscape. The wines were hearty and inspired, and we enjoyed the grounds as well as the vineyard’s five amicable and very relaxed dogs. El Gringo’s señorita made a note to book us a room here sometime in the not too distant future.

Valle de Guadalupe

Welcome to Adobe Guadalupe, set on beautiful grounds.

Valle de Guadalupe

Pours of the rosé at Adobe Guadalupe.

Valle de Guadalupe

Enjoying the day, and the wine, at Adobe Guadalupe.

Valle de Guadalupe

The B&B courtyard at Adobe Guadalupe.

Our final tasting of the day was at Vinos Malagon, a VERY early vineyard established in the early 1900s by expatriated Russians. When they say that one of their vines is considered an “old vine”, we believe it! In 2000, Jose Luis Malagon purchased the ranch and structured the current wine operations. The gloriously beaming and super friendly Anna Rosa poured our tastings and had arranged a platter of amazing cheeses and crackers for us to enjoy with their wines. Both wine and food were great, and we were treated to an unexpected surprise for a wine tasting…a sampling of their reposado tequila, Whistling Donkey (smooth, spicy and with a hint of vanilla. El Gringo brought one back for his 1 liter border allotment).

Valle de Guadalupe

Tour Guide Alain Pressier lines up a tasting of Vinos Malagon’s Whistling Donkey tequila.

Our final stop was at Javier Plascencia’s Finca Altozano, a farm-to-table restaurant with comfortable outdoor seating atop a hill with a vast view of the Valle as your dining companion. It was a good thing that Alain had kept the restaurant current on our timing as we were running just a touch late (El Gringo was on Mexican Time). The restaurant was bustling and full of happy customers enjoying the food, wine, views and large wine barrels on the edge of the restaurant’s periphery. These barrels have steps to the top and seats for friends to gather and enjoy the Valle views.

Valle de Guadalupe

Guests at Finca Altozano enjoy a little playfulness in the giant wine barrels on the property.

Valle de Guadalupe

The busy and friendly staff at Finca Altozano keep the good stuff flying.

Valle de Guadalupe

Finca Altozano provides a rustic outdoor setting and amazing food.

We were seated at a very cool, long, rustic table with an excellent view of the valley. We ordered beers and wines and contemplated the myriad food choices. Ultimately, Ursula and I ordered a surf and turf feast: Ahi Tostadas and Grilled Pulpo (octopus) representing the surf, and Borrego (Lamb) de Rancho Cortes and Birria de Borrega fronting for turf. There was no contest…it was ALL perfectly prepared, presented and enjoyed. El Gringo washed his food down with a Fune’s Blanco, the Tijuana-based craft brewer’s take on a Belgian Ale (very good, BTW).

Valle de Guadalupe

Surf. The super fresh Ahi Tostada at Finca Altozano.

Valle de Guadalupe

Turf. The Borrego (Lamb) de Rancho Cortes a la Caja China at Finca Altozano.

Satiated, satisfied and sun-kissed, we loaded up and pointed the van north back to the border. Overall, the day was a GREAT success, and we were happy to introduce a great group of friends to the Baja Wine Country. (El Gringo and his colleagues are excited at the opportunity to provide monthly tours to Valle de Guadalupe to friends, family and others coming this spring! Look here and on his Facebook and Twitter pages for more information).

 

W. Scott Koenig (El Gringo) has travelled extensively throughout Mexico since the mid-1990s — from the streets of Tijuana to the beaches of the Yucatan Peninsula to the country’s Spanish Colonial heartland. His blog, www.AGringoInMexico.com, reports on Mexican travel, destinations, culture, events and cuisine. He also blogs extensively for Baja.com and has been published in the Baja Times (Baja’s largest English language newspaper) and Destino magazine in Los Cabos. Additionally, he is the founder and creative director of Koenig Creative LLC in San Diego, a full service design and marketing agency.

 

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.  We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

 

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Captain Hook’s Gallery: Cruising for Calico Bass

Captain Hook’s Gallery: Cruising for Calico Bass

When spring is on the horizon, many anglers along the northern Baja Pacific Coast take full advantage of the increasingly sunny, calm days by drifting near inshore kelp beds in pursuit of calico bass. Technically named “kelp bass,” this colorful, checkerboard patterned fish is a member of the family Serranidae (sea basses), and is also a close relative to the barred sand bass. These and other smaller members of the tropical grouper family are generally referred to as cabrilla in Baja California.

Captain Hook's Gallery

Capt. Kelly Catian of K&M Sportfishing shows off a trophy size calico that fell for a well-presented swimbait just off the coast of Bahia San Quintin.

The calico, Paralabrax clathratus, is a prime target of Pacific anglers because of its great fighting spirit, as well as for the quality table fare that it provides. Although most likely to weigh between one and four pounds, these fish can occasionally reach a weight of 12 to 13 pounds when living in a natural, kelp bed habitat.

The coastal region between Playas Tijuana and San Quintin is fortunate to be blessed with thick concentrations of kelp, which are home to the calico bass, one of our area’s most prized gamefish. Members of this species will viciously attack a well-presented live anchovy, sardine or plastic artificial, and have a reputation for hiding behind the cover of kelp strands, and then ambushing unsuspecting prey as it swims by.

Captain Hook's Gallery

MC Swimbaits, one of the most popular brands in both California and Baja California, produces plastic swimbaits in a wide variety of sizes and colors to correspond with changing weather conditions, fishing venues and forage preferences of the targeted species.

When fishing for calicos near kelp beds using artificial plastic baits, try starting out with colors that incorporate brown and golden hues with hologram or metal flake. It is believed that these colors most closely emulate the appearance of juvenile kelp bass, which are regularly cannibalized by larger members of their own species.

During warm summer months, calicos will often boil near surface bait schools, and bigger fish can even be taken using blue and white “surface iron” jigs that might normally be used to catch species such as yellowtail, or big barracuda. Whether using plastic or iron lures, a long rod is often another key ingredient for success, as it allows you to cast farther and get more leverage on the fish.

The colder the water temperatures, however, the more likely it is that your lure will be attacked as it flutters down through the water column. While it is possible to catch calicos throughout the year, the best action takes place in spring and continues on through late summer.

Captain Hook's Gallery

A Baja panga offers a near perfect platform for targeting calico bass, as demonstrated by Punta Banda angler “Calico” Brian Foley and Capt. Beto Zamora. Image: Vonny’s Sportfishing Fleet

Because they are both territorial and delicious, calico bass populations have diminished drastically during recent decades, particularly in Southern California waters. Unless Baja’s coastal anglers practice great restraint, the same thing could happen here. But one simple practice could change that: When you catch a kelp bass over five pounds, it is very important to release it unharmed.

It is a known fact that large, female calicos are able to contribute millions more juveniles to help rebuild the population than can smaller bass. Fish that weigh between one to three pounds provide delicious fillets, and can be enjoyed without making as much of a negative impact on resources. Of course, responsible anglers never keep more fish than they can readily use. And if properly respected, this relatively slow growing species can offer both outstanding “catch & release” action and occasional table fare for future generations to enjoy as well.

 
Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.  We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

 

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Captain Hook’s Gallery: Baja’s Pacific Barracuda

Captain Hook’s Gallery: Baja’s Pacific Barracuda

It was the last day of his vacation in Ensenada before heading back to the blistering July heat of Phoenix, Arizona, and Rob had made the decision the night before to spend it on a sportfishing boat.

Although it was only 7:45 a.m, the summer sun had already torn its way through a thin, gray layer of marine mist when the skipper encountered flocks of hungry seagulls and pelicans on the way to Islas Todos Santos, just offshore. The birds were intently circling, and diving frantically into a small section of ocean that had erupted into a chaotic froth of fleeing sardines, as well as predator species that were crashing through the deep blue surface while attempting to eat them.

Baja's Pacific Barracuda

Pacific barracuda may be taken off the Baja coast during warm water months, although heir razor sharp teeth can cut through an angler’s line in a heartbeat. Image: MarineBio

As the boat carefully slid up to the feeding frenzy, anglers onboard quickly began tossing live baits and lures at the boils. Rob had already tied on his trusty Krocodile spoon, and was one of the first to get his jig in the water. Before he had a chance to crank the reel’s handle more that a few rotations, his pole was nearly yanked from his hands by a fish that attacked his bright, fluttering lure with the speed of lightning and the force of an angry bull.

“Fresh one!!” Rob called out enthusiastically, remembering something that he had heard once a few years before while aboard a commercial sportfisher in Southern California. The fish bent his medium weight spinning rod nearly in half, as line continued to peel off his reel. Eventually, the fish began to tire, and Rob was able to turn its head and regain control of the battle.

“What is it?” Another visiting angler asked while peering attentively over Rob’s shoulder.  “Do you think it’s a BIG yellowtail?” At that very moment, the fish came to color below the boat. The flash of its long, silvery body made it immediately identifiable.

“Oh, no!” shouted the kibitzing fisherman for all to hear. “It’s a damn SLIMER! …The guy caught a BARRACUDA, not a yellowtail!!” His voice was dripping with sarcasm.

The big fish appeared to be almost three feet long as it was gaffed and brought over the rail, but Rob was no longer smiling. When the deckhand who was holding his catch asked for his bag number, he shook his head and declined with a simple “No quiero.” This was a big error, because Rob had just made the common mistake of allowing someone else’s perception of reality to ruin what had been, in fact, a wonderful event.  No matter whether you call them slimers, snakes, or by their most considerate nickname, California wahoo, the barracuda remains one of the most maligned gamefish that swims in our waters.

Baja's Pacific Barracuda

Pacific barracuda offer great sport when hooked, and when properly handled also provide tasty table fare. Image: Gary Graham

Pacific barracuda (Sphyraena argentea) are a pelagic species that is usually found in Ensenada Bay during the summer months. Although they prefer live bait, they can also be taken on chrome spoons, top-water poppers and surface iron in a blue and chrome combination. This barracuda has a slim body design, and rarely exceeds a weight of 10 pounds.  They can offer an excellent fight on light to medium tackle, and grow to a maximum length of about four feet.  Not to be confused with the Great barracuda that lives in tropical waters, the Pacific barracuda can be distinguished from those found in the Sea of Cortez by its silvery sides and a lack of broad bars or spots.

Most Pacific barracuda are taken with live bait fished at or near the surface; however, they will take an assortment of trolled artificial lures. If you see a very large barracuda, in the 10 pound range, chances are it’s a female. Positive identification can be made because the female has a charcoal black edge on the pelvic and anal fins, whereas the male fins are edged in yellow or olive. Three pound barracuda are common, but generally they are large enough to put up a good fight. Caution should be taken when you land a barracuda to avoid their needle sharp teeth.

The good news, which is often overlooked, is that Pacific barracuda can be excellent table fare when properly prepared and cooked fresh. Although it is not usually feasible to execute while on a commercial sportfisher, it is very important to remove the gills, entrails, and to bleed out this fish as soon as possible after it has been caught, and then place it immediately under ice. Prior to cooking, thoroughly scale the whole barracuda and slice it crosswise into steaks. Place the steaks into a large bowl and marinate them in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours in your favorite oil and vinegar based Italian salad dressing. Then grill over smoldering mesquite, turn once until they’re fully cooked, and get ready for a surprisingly tasty meal.

Remember, if you can’t eat that barracuda on the day that it was caught, they are also extremely good when smoked and served with crackers and whipped cream cheese!

 

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.  We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

 

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Baja Skinny: A Local Answers Frequently Asked Questions About Ensenada

Baja Skinny: A Local Answers Frequently Asked Questions About Ensenada

Located less than 100 miles south of the International Border at San Ysidro, the Mediterranean-like seaport of Ensenada is situated at the end of a picturesque highway on the Pacific Coast of Baja California Norte. Ensenada’s proximity to the border has for many years made it a natural choice for stateside visitors looking for a convenient and reasonably priced Baja getaway. Here you can enjoy the best of both worlds, from bucolic natural beauty to world-class wining and dining, as well as the other sophisticated pleasures found in this modern city located near the gateway to populous southern California.

But despite its close proximity to the U.S., many folks still have questions about visiting the Ensenada area. So in order to clear up any confusion, we’ve provided answers to the most frequently asked questions.

Baja Skinny

Ensenada at night.

Do I need to get a visa in order to travel to Ensenada?

If you are staying less than 72 hours, you do not. The area between Tijuana and Punta Colonet is a tourist zone that does not generally require any additional documentation to visit within that time frame. Of course, you should always have a valid passport in your possession, but that is required by the Department of Border Protection in order to cross the border coming back into the U.S., not by the Republic of Mexico.

Will my cellphone work in Baja California Norte?

These days, many of the larger carriers feature international calling privileges in their monthly service packages. If yours does not, chances are that you may still be able to place a call to places north of the border using your phone; but make sure that you find out how much you will be charged before doing so.  Sometimes this type of service extension can run as much as $1 to $1.50 (U.S.) per minute. Calling from a local pay phone can often be similarly expensive.

What about Internet access?

Fortunately, Wi-Fi access is widely available between the border and Ensenada, since numerous restaurants, cafes, hotels and even a few shops in the tourist zone use this convenience as a vehicle to bring business into their operations. With the current proliferation of phones, pads and notebooks that are carried by so many people on both sides of the border these days, such widespread access is considered by many to be a necessity.

Do I need a license to go fishing in Baja?

As in almost every region of Mexico, those fishing from shore, the rocks or any type of land based platform such as a pier, dock or wharf can do so without the need for any type of license. Those fishing from boats, however, must have a current, valid Mexican fishing license in their possession for each passenger aboard any boat that is also carrying any type of fishing gear. This means everyone, even small children, regardless of whether they plan to do any fishing. Fishing licenses can be obtained at all Baja Department of Tourism Offices, as well as at sportfishing landings and most tackle shops.

What about emergency situations?

Just as in other industrialized countries, there is any emergency number available in Mexico that will immediately link you with the police and other authorities.  It is ‘066’.  Although many dispatchers may not be bilingual, you can often be transferred to someone who can speak English simply by politely asking “Servicio en Ingles, por favor?”  If your particular situation should require the assistance of the American Consulate, you can contact the Tijuana office by calling (664) 977-2000. They are located at Paseo de las Culturas S/N, Mesa de Otay, 22425 Tijuana, BCN.

Is it true that Baja Norte healthcare professional offer quality dental and medical services at a fraction of stateside prices?

There are, indeed, a growing number of individuals from the U.S. who visit Mexico for medical reasons.  Over the past few decades, the number highly trained dentists, physicians, surgeons and other healthcare professionals in Mexico has grown exponentially,particularly in the state of Baja California Norte. Many of these individuals have been schooled in the United States and have set up their practices south of the border, which allows them to offer extremely competitive pricing while maintaining a high professional standard.

Can I use my credit cards in Ensenada?  What about paying in dollars as opposed to pesos?

Most of the larger business, hotels and restaurants in Ensenada will happily accept credit and debit cards from major carriers, except for Discovery.  However, the majority of smaller operations will accept only cash. While most stores will accept U.S. dollars, the exchange rate that they offer is not always the best.  It is often a good idea to pick up some pesos at one of the local cambio kiosks, whose rates are generally advertised on prominent neon signs outside of the establishments.

What if I encounter severe mechanical issues while visiting Ensenada, and need to return to the U.S. without my vehicle?

Fortunately, there is excellent bus service between Ensenada that offers regular carriage to Tijuana and the border every few hours from the downtown terminal. The trip usually takes less than two hours and costs under $15.00 per person.

 

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.  We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

 

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Breakfast with Chef Flor Franco at Encuentro Guadalupe Antiresort™

encuentro3

 

Gazing out from the airy glass-walled dining room at hotel and winery Encuentro Guadalupe, it is difficult to believe that winter has ever arrived in Baja.  Sunshine is draped over Ensenada’s Valle de Guadalupe like a layer of chiffon, lending a soft golden cast to the wine country’s craggy hills and rambling vineyards.  The only tell-tale signs that this normally verdant valley is dormant are the vines, themselves: gnarly and naked, and waiting for spring.  In the meantime, all kinds of other things are blossoming and sprouting and they are all being harvested right now, for breakfast.  Today, the morning meal is being prepared by a host of great cooks led by the renowned Chef Flor Franco, owner of Indulge Contemporary Catering based in San Diego, California, and special events chef for Encuentro Guadalupe.

Chef Flor Franco (n green) teamed with Tina Luu (left), Kelly Funes, Marisela Magoni and Becky Kastelz.

From left to right: Tina Luu, Flor Franco, Kelly Funes, Marisela Magoni and Becky Kastelz.

Chef Franco is doing what she does best…using fresh, natural and regional ingredients to create deceptively simple and delicious plates.  From Mexican papaya to locally harvested seaweed, to home-made granola and even rich tamales, today’s breakfast offers a palate of flavors assembled with artisanal sensibility and served in an eco-friendly environment that encourages sustainability at all levels.

 

With its own organic garden, Encuentro Guadalupe has fresh ingredients, even in winter.

With its own organic garden, Encuentro Guadalupe has fresh ingredients, even in winter.

 

Assistant winemaker Alejandro Ceceña pitches in, bringing Chef Franco fresh-picked broccoli.

Assistant winemaker Alejandro Ceceña pitches in, bringing Chef Franco fresh-picked broccoli.

 

Encuentro Guadalupe’s unique accommodations, winery and wines, and its organic garden and restaurant (Orígen), are all part of a whole concept that blends function and aesthetics into an appealingly ‘eco-friendly’ package — a place where nature and culture merge.

 

Accommodations at Encuentro Guadalupe are called 'eco-lofts'.

Accommodations at Encuentro Guadalupe are called ‘eco-lofts’.

 

Chef Franco’s focus on ‘slow food’ is a natural fit with the Encuentro vision; as she creates her breakfast dishes, it is clear that she is preserving and highlighting the character of the region through her specific choices for menu items. Along with farm-fresh scrambled eggs, unique salsas, and a melon platter, here are just a few dishes that highlighted this special breakfast feast!

 

breakfast with flor5 granola

Home-made granola

Seaweed salad (perhaps the most popular dish of the morning!)

Seaweed salad (perhaps the most popular dish of the morning!)

 

Hand-made tamales, authentically smooth and rich.

Hand-made tamales came out of the pot steaming hot, and authentically smooth and rich.

 

Piquent pico de gallo gives a pop to scrambled eggs and toasted baguettes.

Piquant pico de gallo gives a pop to scrambled eggs and toasted baguettes.

truffles and cookies

Oaxacan chocolate, Meyer lemons, coconut…the perfect culimination to breakfast.

 

Encuentro Guadalupe is located at kilometer 75 on Highway 3, Tecate-Ensenada.  It is a remarkable place to stay, to dine, or simply to enjoy a glass of Encuentro wine and the spectacular view from the patio.  Dinner reservations and information:  +52 (646) 155-2775, or toll-free from the US, (800) 450-8701.

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.  We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

 

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Perfect Pairings: Baja Wines and Your Holiday Meal

istock photo wine

Today, Baja wines come in all varietals and prices, making it easy to pair a special meal with the perfect vinos. Mexico’s wine country, the Valle de Guadalupe, has more than 70 wineries producing everything from sparkling wine to moscato. Here are just a few ideas for food and wine pairings to help make sure you have a vintage holiday feast. Buen provecho y salud!

Appetizers, anyone? 

Espuma de Piedra (sparkling wine) & Smoked Salmon Toast

casadepiedra2

 

 

 

Renowned winemaker Hugo D’Acosta, trained in Bordeaux, began Casa de Piedra winery some 16 years ago with an innovative vision for the future of Baja wines. Today, one of Casa de Piedra’s signature wines is Espuma de Piedra, according to Swiss enologist and head winemaker Thomas Egli. This sparkling Blanc de Blanc (the label of the bottle reads EP=bb) wine is composed of white grape varieties.

“The base wine was filled into the sparkling bottles where it underwent the classic second fermentation, traditional champagne method, including typical riddling by hand to get rid of the sediments, that are called ‘lees’,” said Egli. The wine remained in contact with the lees for 18 months.

According to Egli, the Espuma de Piedra features fine perlage (bubbles), fresh citrus flavors in the nose, with notes of baked bread (resulting from the contact with the lees), and is refreshing to the palate. Perfect for pairing with a smoked salmon toast appetizer.

smoked salmon toast 1

Smoked Salmon on Toast

Mix ½ teaspoon of creamed horseradish in with half of a small container of crème fraiche. Add a pinch of sea salt, fresh ground black pepper and some lemon juice. Using torta or ciabatta bread, cut into easily eatable slices and toast them, brushing first with olive oil to add moisture and softness. Top with smoked salmon, then the crème fraiche mixture, and then snip watercress, clover sprouts or a little basil on top.

Where to find Espuma de Piedra? La Contra Vinos stores (info@lacontravinos.com), Liverpool and La Europea stores. 

 

Salad:  An Easy Twist on Holiday Greens

Kuiiy Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay & Apple-Brie Spinach Salad

las nubes

 

 

From a distance, the windswept Las Nubes winery (winery of ‘the clouds’) looks like an exotic fortress clinging to a rocky hillside. Upon approach, the handcrafted stonework of this modern edifice is impressive, as is the expansive terrace that fronts the building and offers a magnificent vista of the Valle de Guadalupe. Adjacent to the winery is a man-made reservoir that was developed to provide sustainable water by catching rain run-off and moisture condensation – indeed, a green wine for a green salad!

Here at Las Nubes, winemaker and co-owner Victor Segura crafts his wines, including the popular Kuiiy (Kiliwa language, meaning ‘clouds’), 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Chardonnay. In the past, few white wines were produced in Mexico’s wine country, in part because the high salt and mineral content in the soil. However, in recent years, winemakers have been able to achieve successful results with Chenin Blanc, Colombard, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay grapes, among others. Segura’s Kuiiy is a great example of this, and with its dry, floral characteristics, it makes a good accompaniment to a holiday meal starting course.

Photo by Taste of Home

Photo by Taste of Home

Apple-Brie Spinach Salad

Cut four apples into wedges and place them on an ungreased baking sheet. Brush the apples with approximately 2 tablespoons of maple syrup. Broil for 3 minutes, watching to make sure they don’t burn, and then turn them. Brush with 2 more tablespoons of maple syrup. Broil 3-5 minutes more until the apple wedges are tender. Put 7-8 cups of baby spinach into the salad bowl, adding 8 ounces of cubed brie cheese (a firmer brie is preferred) and a half-cup of toasted pecan halves. For the dressing, bring to a boil the following mixture:  a minced garlic clove, ½ cup of apple juice, ¼ cup of canola oil, 2-4 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and a dollop of Dijon mustard. Pour this directly over the salad. (Recipe based on Taste of Home).

Where to find Kuiiy wine? At Las Nubes winery, located between the Bibayoff winery and El Porvenir in the Valle de Guadalupe. Also , at La Contra Vinos stores (info@lacontravinos.com), Ensenada Vinos, and 101 Bistro Bar. 

 

Entrée Extraordinaire #1

The Big Blend & Herb-Crusted Prime Rib of Beef

vena cava logo1

 

 

 

 

 

In the heart of Ensenada’s Valle de Guadalupe, on a lavender-laden knoll, is La Villa del Valle country retreat, owned by Eileen and Phil Gregory. Flanking this casually elegant inn is the Corazon de Tierra restaurant and its famous executive chef Diego Hernandez Boquedano. And just down the hill is Vena Cava winery – remarkable both for its beverages and for the fact that it is actually tucked under a fishing boat — where Gregory handcrafts his 10,000 bottles of wine each year.

In 2004, Gregory studied wine-making at La Escuelita, the ‘little school’ created by Mexico’s wine pioneer Hugo d’Acosta. The goal of the school is to help aspiring winemakers realize their dreams of hand-crafting some of Mexico’s finest wines and Gregory has taken his training and his passion to heart, surpassing even his own aspirations and expectations.

He originally planted 6.5 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Syrah, Chardonnay and Viognier, followed by plantings of Tempranillo, along with Cinsault and Mourvèdre for blending. In his second year as a winemaker, he decided to experiment: a Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc were the popular results of his efforts.

Today, with about 7.5 acres planted, he produces Cabernet Sauvignon (100%), Tempranillo (100%), Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Reserva (Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah),  an outstanding sparkling wine, and the Big Blend. This last, composed of Syrah, Zinfandel, Cabernet, Petit Syrah, and Grenache, features lots of layering and a big taste…a taste big enough to stand up to and even enhance the sensory strength of roast beef. In the world of food and wine pairings, this combination of beef and a big red wine is unbeatable.

 prime rib

Herb-crusted Prime Rib Roast

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. To properly prepare a 10-12 lb. rib roast, remove the excess fat (and save it). In a bowl, mix about a ½ cup of chopped Italian parsley leaves, ½ cup of chopped fresh rosemary, ¼ cup of chopped fresh thyme leaves, and ½ cup of chopped fresh tarragon. Blot the herbs first, to remove any excess dampness. Once mixed, add 2 tablespoons of salt (if you can find it, artisan basil salt is a good add) and 1 ½-2 tablespoons of fresh ground pepper. To this, add ¼ cup of vegetable oil and whisk. Once everything is integrated, apply the coating to all sides of the rib roast. Place the rib roast on its natural rack, and then apply the reserved fat on top. Roast until the internal temperature is 120 degrees Fahrenheit (for medium rare), about 2.5 hours. Let the meat rest for 15 minutes.

Where to find Vena Cava wines? At Vena Cava winery in the Valle de Guadalupe (info@venacavawine.com), Ensenada Vinos or through La Mision Associates. 

 

Entrée Extraordinaire #2

Julio 14 & Holiday Cornish Game Hens

 logo mina penelope

 

 

 

 

Veronica Santiago received her Master’s degree at the University of Adelaide in South Australia, after which she worked at a winery in the famous Australian Barossa wine valley and then the boutique Joseph Phelps winery in Napa Valley. Today, she is owner and winemaker at Viñedos Mina Penélope, working with viticulturist and enologist Nathan Malagon to create some of the best Baja wines. What a coincidence that both of these wine lovers were both born on July 14!

So was born the delicious Julio 14 blend, originally produced in the 2011 harvest.

“It is a blend of grapes — basically Syrah — from our vineyards and a small proportion of grapes from Ejido Uruapan. We do the harvest by hand, ferment the must (fresh pressed juice containing skin, seeds and stems) around 12 days with temperature control,” explained Santiago. “We check the wines every 5 hours during primary fermentation in order to check temperature, brix and to taste the wines.” She added that the must is pressed in a traditional basket press and the malolactic fermentation in French and American oak barrels.

“For all the winemaking, we only use organic wine products in order to make natural wine. We do light to medium extractions during primary fermentation in order to make elegant and balanced wines. The aging is in American and French barrels for 10 months.”

Julio 14 is a versatile wine, but with soft tannins, medium body and a nose that is redolent of cherries and raspberries, along with hints of mint and vanilla. It offers a brilliant complement to poultry. Perhaps some holiday Cornish game hens?

julio 14

Holiday Cornish Game Hens

For 6 Cornish game hens, preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Chop roughly:  a fennel bulb, 3 carrots, 3 large onions, 3 stalks of celery and a root vegetable of your choice, and put them evenly on the bottom of the roasting pan(s). Also, cut two oranges into wedges, and place them in the pans. Use a dry rub or make your own – approximately 2 tablespoons of salt, 2 tablespoons of chili powder, a teaspoon of sugar, and a teaspoon of garam masala (or a teaspoon of cinnamon, a pinch of cloves and cumin). Rub the Cornish game hens with olive oil and then sprinkle the dry rub on them, also rubbing it into the cavity. Put a bit of onion and orange in the cavity, as well. Then place the hens on top of the vegetables (do not crowd the hens or they won’t cook correctly). The game hens cook about 45 minutes or until they are nicely browned. They should sit for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Where to find Julio 14 and Veronica Santiago’s wines? Viñedos Mina Penélope is located on the western edge of San Antonio de las Minas on Highway 3 Ensenada-Tecate. You can visit them on Facebook or  go to G. Salinas wine shop in Tijuana.

 

Dessert:  Sweet Endings

adobe guadalupe logo

 

 

 

Serafiel & Belgian Chocolate Souffle

The elegant Adobe Guadalupe is a working winery and bed-and-breakfast inn founded by Tru and the late Don Miller. With 60 acres of vineyards, Adobe Guadalupe has hosted some of the wine valley’s most elegant dinners and tastings, always featuring the winery’s outstanding vintages that are produced under the auspices of winemaker Daniel Lonnberg.

Serafiel is one of these, a blend of 78% Cabernet and 22% Syrah. With 12 months in French oak barrels, this wine has a dark ruby color and aromas of violet, black cherry and blackberry, with notes of spicy cinnamon, snuff and white chocolate, and hints of sweet oak and vanilla. It remains in the mouth offering a long aftertaste, making it a delightful partner for chocolate soufflé – but not just any chocolate!

C

Belgian Chocolate Soufflé

Using Belgian chocolate is essential. To make the soufflés for six, melt ¾ cup of butter and 8 ounces of Belgian chocolate in a double boiler. Mix 1 1/2 cups of granulated sugar and 3 tablespoons of cornstarch together, and whisk in with the melted chocolate mixture. Whisk in 4 whole eggs, until smooth. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Cook for 20 minutes in individual ramekins, coated with butter, then sugar, at 400 degrees.

Where to find Serafiel and Adobe Guadalupe’s wines? You can email them at info@adobeguadalupe.com. Also, at La Contra Vinos stores (info@lacontravinos.com) and Ensenada Vinos.

 

Savory Endings

Vintango or Madera 5 Nebbiolo & Gorgonzola, Honey & Walnut Crostini

Choices, choices! The Nebbiolo grape is originally from Italy, and it is considered one of the more finicky sorts, not adapting well to many environment. It is typically late-ripening but early flowering, prefers alkaline soil and needs plenty of love and attention. Fortunately for Mexico and the world of Baja wines, the grape vines have taken root in the Valle de Guadalupe, and the resulting wines have been true:  intensely aromatic, dark and rich in color, with haunting bouquets that can resonate with wood-smoke, violet and even roses. Two wineries producing notable Nebbiolo (100%) in Ensenada’s wine country are Vintango and Madera 5.

vintango logo

Vintango’s owner and winemaker is Jo Ann Knox Martino, whose wine cave opened in the early fall of 2013 in the El Porvenir area of the Valle de Guadalupe. Martino is a graduate of the afore-mentioned La Escuelita. Her first vintages focused on Zinfandel grapes, and just recently, she introduced a Chardonnay to her line of wines. However, it is the Nebbiolo that is, perhaps, the closest to her heart and Italian heritage.

madera 5 logoish

Madera 5, established by five friends in 2007, is located on Highway 3, Ensenada-Tecate, just about a mile from the intersection with Highway 1. The Madera 5 wines gained rapid popularity, starting with their 300 case production of a Merlot (20%) and Cabernet (80%) blend. Today, the winery features a Cabernet-Sangiovese, Tempranillo-Cabernet, a Sauvignon Blanc-Chardonnay, and Nebbiolo.

Gorgonzola, Honey & Walnut Crostini

Easy, fast and flavorful! Slice a baguette into pieces about ¼”, brush each piece with olive oil and grill each side for about 30 seconds. Top each piece with Gorgonzola cheese (an Italian blue cheese), small walnut pieces, and drizzle with honey. If desired, garnish with a sprig of oregano. Accompany with a cluster of Nebbiolo grapes!

Where to find Vintango? Visit Cava Vintango on Facebook, or email cavavintango@gmail.com. 

Where to find Madera 5? Email ventas@cavaaragon126.com.mx, or visit Wines from Baja.

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.  We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

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Captain Hook’s Gallery: Searching the Surf for Baja Perch

Captain Hook’s Gallery: Searching the Surf for Baja Perch

During the first few months of each calendar year, when the cold rain from northern storms batters Baja’s upper Pacific Coast near Ensenada, the surf remains churned up into a heavy froth and water temperatures tend to plummet into the low to mid 50s. It is a season when many anglers have already turned their attention toward the highly anticipated spring action, which is only a few months away.

Yet, it is also a particularly good time of year to hit the beach with light tackle in pursuit of barred surfperch. This particular species of perch, Amphistichus argenteus, is found from Baja’s Pacific Coast in the south to Bodega Bay on the coast of Northern California. Barred surfperch are common in the surf zone along sandy beaches where they seem to congregate in depressions on the bottom.

How do you find prime conditions for catching large surfperch along the sandy Pacific shores of Baja Norte? It’s easy: Just wait for the early winter storms to stir up the Baja surf, and a few of the high tides between Playas Tijuana and San Quintin that immediately follow to creep further up the beach than normal.

Winter fishing for barred surfperch and other near shore species with light tackle is an entertaining and inexpensive way to enjoy the season.

For those stalwart anglers who are willing to roll up their pant legs and wade into the crisp shore break with light tackle in hand, these periods also create prime conditions for catching barred surfperch.  The Rosarito Beach sportfishing pier is an excellent place to find them, as are jetties and rocky structure adjacent to the surf zone. But, generally speaking, surfperch are usually targeted by those casting from a sandy beach.

In the off-season, the Baja Norte’s Pacific Coast experiences very little pressure from shore anglers. Since some of the most productive surfperch spots are found several miles from the city and are a bit primitive, don’t be surprised if you happen to get lucky and end up taking home a nice stringer of these popular, pan-sized fish.

Sizable schools of barred surfperch can usually be found in the surf zone along most sandy beaches, where they tend to congregate in depressions or troughs along the soft bottom.  In colder months, larger adults weighing up to 3 pounds come close to shore during their winter spawning cycle, allowing a better grade of the species to be available to those fishing the surf.

The most popular natural bait for perch is the soft-shelled sand crab, but local mussels and small pieces of cut anchovy can also be productive. When sand crabs are present, groupings of their small, filament like antenna can be seen protruding from the wet sand left behind by the tidal ebb. Digging beneath them immediately after a wave recedes will often produce several of these small, oval shaped crustaceans. The ones that carry an orange egg sack under their carapace tend to catch more fish.

Those who prefer fishing with bait should either use a standard, two-tiered surf fishing set up or a Carolina-rig, which is constructed by attaching a #4 or #6 treble hook to the end of a 4 to 6 pound test, fluorocarbon leader about 20 inches in length. Then tie a barrel swivel to the opposite end of the leader, pass the line from your reel through a half to ¾ to 1 ounce egg sinker, and tie the line to the other eye of the swivel so that the sinker sits positioned above the leader. Beware, however, because these fish are masterful bait thieves.

This same type of rig is also extremely deadly when using appropriately colored plastic grubs, which mimic the appearance of small crustaceans like ghost shrimp and sand crabs. Watch the waves, and cast your lure just past the suds in the last swell of each incoming set immediately after it breaks.

In addition to premium live bait like sand crabs, barred surfperch can be suckers for a properly presented plastic grub.

One on my favorite techniques is to fish near a place where a sandy beach abruptly ends near rocky outcroppings or tide pools. Look for places where you can safely make your way out onto the structure and position yourself a few hundred yards away from the shoreline. You can then cast parallel to the breakers and work your lure or bait along the surf line for a better shot at foraging fish. These areas can also provide an occasional opportunity to hook up with larger inshore species like halibut, bass, corbina or even a white sea bass.

Some of the best locations to fish for surfperch in Baja that can be found within a few hundred miles of southern California are the sandy beaches between Rosarito, La Mission and the beach south of the La Salina Marina jetties.  The shorelines adjoining the outer mouth of Ensenada’s Punta Banda Estero and the small patch of sandy beach south of La Bufadora at Puerto Escondido are also good, as are similar areas further south that punctuate the coast to points well past Bahia San Quintin.

Although mature perch may only weigh up to 3 pounds at their maximum size, these compact fish are still prized as table fare by many of the anglers who pursue them, and are perhaps the most likely species to end up over a beach campfire in Baja. They can be filleted or gutted, scaled and cooked whole.  Whichever way you chose to dress them out, they are usually best when either pan-fried or steamed. Once their cooked, snowy-white meat is flaked away from the bones, you are left with mild, delicate and tender morsels that will receive a unanimous ‘thumbs up’ from the hungry guests around your dinner table.

 

 

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.  We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

 

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Ensenada Gallery Exhibit Showcases the Spirit of Mexico’s Day of the Dead

Ensenada Gallery Exhibit Showcases the Spirit of Mexico’s Day of the Dead

Because they are celebrated just a few days apart from one another, and perhaps because they also both happen to contain certain otherworldly elements, it is a common misconception among casual observers that Halloween in the United States and Mexico’s Day of the Dead are practically synonymous. In fact, they are not.

Day of the Dead

Although skulls may be a common sight during both Halloween and Dia de los Muertos, the meanings of the two celebrations are really quite different.

Stateside celebrations of Halloween have become overly commercialized and often tend to focus on shock value, with revelers trying to win a prize for ‘best costume’ at a party. On the other hand, Dia de Los Muertos, as it is called south of the border, is not about ghosts, goblins or other scary things at all, but is rather a joyful annual festival in which individuals and families honor memories of those who were close to them that have now passed on.

Day of the Dead

Photos of deceased friends and family members are a traditional part of displays.

The event takes place in Latin America on November 1st and 2nd. The first day is dedicated to the memory of children and babies who have died, while the second is held in the honor of dead adult relatives and friends. The lives of the deceased are celebrated  with displays of food, drink and activities that the dead once enjoyed during their lifetimes. At the same time, there is the sober  recognition that death is ultimately a natural part of life’s evolutionary cycle.

Day of the Dead

A typical Dia de los Muertos altar, with the favorite momentos of the deceased.

It is a centuries old custom that combines indigenous Aztec rituals with artifacts of Catholicism that were originally brought to Mexico by the conquistadors from Spain. Stands selling brilliantly orange marigolds, shops displaying festive altars and bakeries offering colored skulls are a common sight. Today, most families follow the traditional practices of their native regions, which may vary slightly from state to state. Often, this includes a trip to a local cemetery where the grave sites of departed friends and family members can be adorned with a variety of decorations, including offerings of flowers, candles, favorite foods and beverages.

Situated in the tourist district in downtown Ensenada and now almost 20 years old, Bazaar Casa Ramirez on Lopez Mateos is perhaps one of the best places in Baja to get a taste of the true essence of this very special holiday. In addition to having created a showcase of some of Mexico’s best handcrafted arts, owner Alejandra Ramirez has put together a fantastic Dia de los Muertos exhibit that artfully portrays this rich Mexican tradition. She does so using a bevy of authentic folk art, as well as an upstairs gallery that includes an elaborate shrine celebrating the departed; complete with photos, mementos and consumable offerings. The exhibit at Casa Ramirez will be open to the public until Wednesday, November 20th, 2013.

Day of the Dead

Alejandra Ramirez, owner of Ensenada’s Casa Ramirez, makes a point to get in the spirit of Dia de los Muertos for the many patrons who visit her shop during the holiday.

Despite the celebratory nuances and festivities associated with this holiday, it is extremely important for foreign visitors to remember the somber focus of the tradition and to act appropriately. As an example, visiting a cemetery and taking photos of families decorating grave sites or involved in any other related personal activities is considered rude and in poor taste. Public displays at places such as schools, churches or private businesses, however, are generally open to tourist photographers. After all, they are the best ambassadors to spread the word about yet another colorful event around which to plan your next Baja vacation.

 

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.  We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

 

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Off-Road Nirvana: Gearing Up for the 46th Annual Tecate SCORE Baja 1000

Off-Road Nirvana: Gearing Up for the 46th Annual Tecate SCORE Baja 1000

Perhaps the most prominent sporting events in Baja California over the past few decades have been the wildly popular races known as the Baja 500 and the Baja 1000. The legendary off-road races are organized and managed by SCORE International, which was originally founded by racing champ Mickey Thompson in 1973.  Over the past 40 years, they have gained a worldwide reputation for being two of the most exciting desert races on the planet.

The latest episode of the classic Baja 1000, which also happens to be the final event of the 2013 SCORE Desert Series, will be held November 13 – 17.  The brutally rugged race course that has been mapped out covers almost 900 miles of desolate territory, and is strewn with a variety of naturally occurring obstacles that may prevent many competitors from finishing. The race will start and finish in Ensenada. It’s the longest course in race history that begins and ends at the same location.

Over time, many celebrities have tried their luck at conquering the formidable badlands of Baja, including actors James Garner and the late Steve McQueen, as well as rock musician Ted Nugent in the 1970s.  The 1982 race was attended by Mark Thatcher, son of Great Britain’s then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The Academy Award winning actor, racer and race team owner Paul Newman joined in the 2004 event. Jesse James, of ‘Monster Garage’ fame, and Hollywood film and TV star Patrick Dempsey have also competed in the legendary off-road challenge.

The Baja 1000 is the world’s most famous off-road race.

This year’s event will commemorate the achievements of legendary desert racers like Rod Hall, Ron Bishop, Johnny Johnson and Larry Roeseler.  Hall, who will turn 75 on November 22, holds the all time record with 22 class wins, including an overall win in 1972.  He is the only person who has competed in each of the previous 45 races.

The 46th Annual Tecate SCORE Baja 1000 is expected to draw competitors from at least 40 states north of the border, and from over 25 countries around the globe.  It will include entrants in the SCORE Trophy Truck, Class 1 All Pro Motorcycle and Pro ATV categories.  The new owner of SCORE International, Roger Norman, has announced that for the first time in race history there will be qualifying for start positions within several vehicle classes.

Baja Gears Up for Legendary Off-Road Race

Each racer’s progress is monitored throughout the event.

SCORE has announced that this year’s race will boast the longest course in its history, starting and finishing in the heart of Ensenada, and covering both sides of the Baja California peninsula: from its beginning near the Pacific Ocean, over to San Felipe on the Sea of Cortez, and back to Ensenada. The most lengthy course distance previously was 822 miles back in 1985.  There will also be eight physical checkpoints used during the race, as well as over 70 virtual checkpoints to verify the ongoing progress and position of the racers. 

The Baja 1000 is also an occasion for convivial social events.

Every year, SCORE endeavors to make sure that the next Baja 1000 is even better than the last one, and this 46th annual race should provide enough excitement and entertainment for everyone …whether you are actually eating dust in the Baja desert, or simply sipping your favorite cold beverage as an enthusiastic bystander.   

 

OFFICIAL SCHEDULE OF THIS YEAR’S EVENTS (All times PST):

TUESDAY, Nov. 12
10a.m. – 4 p.m. – Annual SCORE Chassis Inspections (Hacienda Hotel)
2 p.m. – 8 p.m. – Racer Registration, Casino Room-Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center (adjacent to S/F)
3 p.m. – 6 p.m. — Media Registration, Casino Room-Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 13
9 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. – Qualifying-SCORE Trophy Truck, Class 1—LOCATION RESTRICTED
Noon – 2:30 p.m. – Qualifying-Pro Motorcycles, Pro ATVs—LOCATION RESTRICTED
Noon – 6 p.m. –Racer Registration, Casino Room-Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center (adjacent to S/F)
1 p.m. – 6 p.m. — Media Registration, Casino Room-Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center
7 p.m. – Midnight – Monster Energy SCORE  Papas & Beer Street Party, Avenida Ruiz (adjacent to Papas y Beer). All are welcome.

THURSDAY, Nov. 14
9 a.m. – 5 p.m. — Racer Registration, Casino Room-Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center
9 a.m. – 5 p.m. — Media Registration, Casino Room-Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center
10 a.m. to 5 p.m. — Contingency Row, Boulevard Costero, Next to Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center
10 a.m. – 6 p.m. — Technical Inspection, End of Contingency Row
4 p.m. — Wildman Cenni First Ever 360 Truck Barrel Roll in the wash just off the start line.
7 p.m. — Mandatory Racer Meeting-Cathedral Room, Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center
7 p.m. – 2 a.m. – BAJA 1000 GOES GREEN, Monster Energy SCORE Motorcycle Start Party, Blvd Costero (adjacent to S/F). All are welcome.
10 p.m. – Midnight (Nov. 14) – Late Motorcycle/ATV racer registration—Casino Room, Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center
10 p.m. – Midnight (Nov. 14) — Late Tech Inspection (Motorcycles & ATVs), start line, next to Riviera CC
10:30 p.m. – 12:30 a.m. (Nov. 14-15); BFG Tires/Baja California Secretary of Tourism/SCORE Media Center—Casino Room, Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center
11 p.m. – RACE START – Pro Motorcycles, Pro ATVs, Sportsman Motorcycles, Sportsman ATVs

FRIDAY, Nov. 15
9 a.m. – 5 p.m. — Racer Registration, Casino Room-Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center
7 a.m. – 9 a.m. – Late car & truck racer registration—Casino Room, Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center
7 a.m. – 9 a.m. — Late Tech Inspection (Car & Truck), start line, next to Riviera CC
8 a.m. – Midnight -  BFG Tires/Baja California Secretary of Tourism/SCORE Media Center—Casino Room, Riviera CC
9:00 a.m. (APPROX) RACE START – Cars and Trucks

SATURDAY, Nov. 16
12:01 a.m. – 11 p.m. – BFG Tires/Baja California Secretary of Tourism/SCORE Media Center—Casino Room, Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center

SUNDAY, Nov. 17

7 a.m. – Noon — BF Goodrich Tires/Baja California Secretary of Tourism/SCORE Media Center—Casino Room, Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center
8 a.m. — Posting of final unofficial results—Casino Room, Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center
10 a.m. — Awards Celebration-Amphitheater, Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center

 

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.  We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

Photos courtesy of SCORE International.

 

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Friends Visit Ensenada for the Weekend: What to do?!

Friends Visit Ensenada for the Weekend: What to do?!

Finally, friends and family are coming to Baja California. True, there’s still that pesky cross-back into the United States at the end of an idyllic weekend, but at least other worries seem to have evaporated as quickly as a margarita on a hot day. In our excitement to welcome pals who have chosen to visit Ensenada for the weekend, we painstakingly put together a plan of attack, and attack we did! Check it out.

Welcome to Ensenada!

Welcome to Ensenada!

Friday afternoon and evening:  They arrived at San Diego international airport at around noon. We decided to give them a full loop tour of our northwestern part of Baja – entering the state through Tecate (‘gateway to Mexico’s Wine Country’), which offers a more scenic drive, and returning them to the U.S. on Monday, through Tijuana.

We drove east on Interstate 8 and eventually cut down to state route 94 that travels through Dulzura and some beautiful hill scenery, crossing the border into Tecate (a very fast process). Tecate, founded in 1892, is one of the pueblos magicos (magical towns) of Mexico thanks to its history, culture and charm, much of which is found on the main zocalo. This is a great spot to sit at a sidewalk café, beer in hand (guess which one), watching ice-cream vendors, shoe-shine people and domino players, before scouting out the town.

Visiting Ensenada for the weekend can mean a trip to beautiful Tecate.

Weekend visits to Ensenada can also involve side-trips to beautiful Tecate.

Continuing on Highway 3, Tecate-Ensenada, we headed south on the snaky but scenic road that brought us to the famous wine region, Valle de Guadalupe, where 90% of the nation’s wines are produced. It took us about 75 minutes to make this part of the trek.

Coming from this direction, Encuentro Guadalupe (and its hotel Endemico) is one of the first stops, on the right hand side of the road. With a panoramic vista of the valley, this is an ideal stopping spot for a copa de vino. 

Coming from Tecate, Encuentro is a great place to get a view of the wine valley.

Coming from Tecate, Encuentro is a great place to get a view of the wine valley.

A bit further on at kilometer 85.5 is Mogor Badan winery and Deckman’s El Mogor. There are many really good choices these days for eating in the Ensenada area, but we knew that Deckman’s, with its al fresco kitchen and dining, is unique and consistently good. It impressed our friends hugely and set the tone for a weekend to remember.

We headed home on Highway 3 west to Highway 1 towards Tijuana. Our goal was to stun our buddies with the dramatic rocky Ensenada coastline at sunset. It worked. They were also curious about the strange rings floating far below in the Pacific Ocean which are actually holding pens for tuna that are caught further out and brought to protected coves until they are harvested. But that was explained later as we sat on our back porch in the oceanfront community of Bajamar, listening to the distant sound of sea lions barking, and sipping a local wine.

Bajamar golf course is dramatic, on a peninsula jutting into the Pacific Ocean.

Bajamar golf course enjoys a dramatic setting overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Saturday morning: First, an early morning walk around Bajamar’s 27-hole golf course. One never knows what one will see in the a.m., with everything from bobcats to mountain lions to skunks traversing the open fairways. The stroll to the ocean bluffs allowed us to show off the recent archeological dig that has uncovered remnants of a prehistoric fishing camp. There have been several such digs on the huge peninsula that comprises Bajamar, one of which unearthed skeletal remains of indigenous people and an ancient whale skeleton.

Over-extending my plans, as usual, I had promised my friend Jo Ann Knox Martino that we would come out for a quick late morning trip to her brand new winery, Vintago, located against the hills of the Valle de Guadalupe near Baron Balche winery. We got there just as she unloaded a number of cases of her newest vintage, a Chardonnay. We didn’t get to taste that one, but a glass of Zinfandel-Nebbiolo was good consolation – and everyone forgave me for cramming so much into so little time!

Shopping for Day of the Dead art?  Ensenada's Lopez Mateos Blvd. is the place.

Shopping for Day of the Dead art? Ensenada’s Lopez Mateos Blvd. is the place.

Saturday afternoon: No trip to Ensenada is complete without a jaunt into town to walk along Lopez Mateos. This is the main shopping district and the diversity of goodies to be acquired in the little shops and tiendas lining the street is amazing: silver, purses, cotton clothing, Day of the Dead mementos, Talavera-style ceramic-ware, leather jackets and belts, and much more. Favorite stores include Bazaar Casa Ramirez, Los Castillos, Mario’s, Mexican Arts and Fausto Polanco. Of course, there are always detours…and Hussong’s Cantina is a must-do.

Speaking of must-do’s – we needed lunch. Our favorite on-the-dock spot in Ensenada is Muelle Tres restaurant. To me, going to this little eatery is like being in Marseilles, France. It is unpretentious, bright and clean.  The view out over the harbor is like an ever-changing diorama of little kids and grandparents, burly fishermen with bass and lingcod thrown over their shoulders, squawking seagulls, and colorful fishing boats. Over mussels and French fries, and giant bowls of house ceviche, we plotted our next move.

When visiting Ensenada, check out classical guitarist (here accompanied by fiddler Alex DePue).

When visiting Ensenada, check out classical guitarist Miguel de Hoyos (here accompanied by fiddler Alex DePue).

Saturday evening: Heading north back up the coast, at kilometer 58 we stopped at La Mision Hotel. On many Friday and Saturday nights, this is the place to hear some of the best music in all of Baja. The draw is not the hotel but Miguel de Hoyos, whose legendary classical guitar renditions of everything from rock to flamenco routinely bring patrons to their feet. After a few margaritas there, we drove the 10 minutes back south to our house; our friends were firmly ensnared in Baja’s web of magic and anticipating another day of their adventure.

Sunday morning: A favorite past-time is ‘the art walk’. We call it this, but it is really a leisurely amble up the coast towards Rosarito, pausing at galleries and curio stores on the way. Sometimes, we stop at Puerto Nuevo for early lunch – after all, it is the famous lobster village. But this day, we just went on to Popotla, a neighborhood and also a boulevard that runs from Calafia all the way up to Rosarito.

Popotla Blvd. is the 'art walk' and here at Polo Valencia's gallery is the place to find fine art.

Popotla Blvd. is the ‘art walk’ and here at Polo Valencia’s gallery is the place to find fine art.

An interior designer’s dream, Popotla Boulevard is lined with shops and even small factories creating everything to bring beauty to a home. There are several granite/travertine/marble outlets where slabs of materials and gorgeous bathroom and kitchen pieces are on display. Fine art galleries abound, including Galeria Klein and the Polo Valencia gallery. (Next door to Polo’s is the workshop of a man who makes spectacular mirrors and crucifixes). Iron work can be seen everywhere – even some sculptures that rise high into the air – and pieces can be commissioned. There are numerous woodworking shops, including that of David Martinez and the famous Casa de Carretera. And of course, ceramics. A favorite outlet for plates, glassware, candles and other items is Alex Curios.

In Rosarito, at Baja Gallery, work by artist Esau Andrade can be discovered.

In Rosarito, at Baja Gallery, work by artist Esau Andrade can be discovered.

At the Rosarito Beach Hotel, there are a number of small stores selling mementos and art, including the Baja Gallery run by Benito Aguilar. It is an eclectic collection, including everything from pieces by Robert Pace Kidd, an artist with a Western flair, to fantastical works by Esau Andrade.

Sunday afternoon and evening:  Tooling back south on Popotla Blvd. with goodies in hand, we opted for a stop at Ollie’s Pizza, kilometer 40.5. Ollie is actually a Belgian waterdog who greets customers upon their arrival. His owner, Richard Cargill, is the bloke who has cleverly created gourmet wood-fired pizzas and tasty little caprese and radish salads that attract a steady clientele even in off months. So does the “chocolate pizza,” so save room!

Ollie's Pizza, named after its host (a Belgian waterdog) offers gourmet fare.

Ollie’s Pizza is named after its host, a Belgian waterdog.

We made it to Splash! just in time to see the sun dip below the horizon (no ‘green flash’ that night, but we have seen it there before) and have an end-of-the-day Cadillac margarita (the only way to go). Splash! has become the expats ‘go-to’ spot, with evening music and unbeatable views—sort of the iconic Baja taco restaurant, where everyone knows your name.

Packed with food and drink,  we chilled out at home and planned our morning escape.

Monday morning:  Yes, crossing back into the US can be a challenge for those who visit Ensenada or anywhere in Baja Norte. For those of us with SENTRI cards (approved by the Department of Homeland Security), it’s usually quick and easy.  Travelers who have a radio frequency identification or RFID- enabled travel document can use the Ready Lane to expedite the inspection process while crossing the border. But, there is also the old-fashioned way. Sitting in line, passport in hand, and waiting. We usually recommend that our friends plan on crossing the border at around 9:30-10 a.m., but there are no guarantees. Any time of the day or night can be problematic.

Waiting in line at the border offers lots of opps for shopping!

Waiting in line at the border offers lots of opps for shopping!

We decided to go with tradition, waiting in the main line, and doing a little in-car shopping from the vendors who hawk their goods to people waiting in ‘la linea’ — everything from coffee drinks, to piñatas, Virgins of Guadalupe and even bobble-heads.  True, it was a 90 minute wait…but then we just spent more than 48 hours having a blast.

That’s what we did when friends visited Ensenada for the weekend…boring, huh?

 

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