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