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Everyone Wins at Provino’s Wine Country Paella Festival

As writer Tom Gatch notes in his recent Baja.com story, the annual Paella Festival — August’s most popular event in the wine country near Ensenada – is a perfect cap to the Vendimia that celebrates the grape harvest.  This year’s event, organized by Provino, was arguably the best planned and most well-attended ever, with more than 5,000 people coming to Viñas de Liceaga to enjoy wines, paellas and an afternoon and evening of musical entertainment provided by  Ruta 69, La Choya and Orquesta La Farándula.

Provino organized the 2013 paella festival in Baja's wine region.

Provino organized the 2013 paella festival in Baja’s wine region.

As writer Tom Gatch notes in his recent Baja.com story, the annual Paella Festival — August’s most popular event in the wine country near Ensenada — is a perfect cap to the Vendimia that celebrates the grape harvest.  This year’s event, organized by Provino, was arguably the best planned and most well-attended ever, with more than 5,000 people coming to Viñas de Liceaga to enjoy wines, paellas and an afternoon and evening of musical entertainment provided by  Ruta 69, La Choya and Orquesta La Farándula.

Fifty of the region’s wineries had booths there, and tastings of more than 100 wines were offered.  But the stars of the day were definitely the paellas:  Eighty-seven teams were entered in the paella contest and the enticing aromas of saffron, sausage and roasting langostas scented the fresh country air for hours on end.  It is hard to decide who the real winners were (because, of course, the attendees and tasters were the real winners); but at the end of the day, the winners of the competition were declared and the grand prize (which is really all about the glory and bragging rights for the whole next year) was awareded.

 QUALITY CATEGORY

First Place:  Team “Este arroz ya se coció” (roughly translates to ‘this rice is already cooked’).  The prize was a box with 6 bottles of wine from the Provino members, commemorative aprons for every member of the paella team and a certificate for 16 tickets for the 2014 Paella Contest.

Second Place:  Team “Un Delicioso Algoritmo” (A Delicious Algorithm)

Third Place:  Los Venancios

Fourth Place: Samurai

Fifth Place:  La Alahambra

 

BEST PRESENTATION

First Place:  Santa Eugenia de Riveira

Second Place:  Amigos de Asao

Third Place:  Los Constructores (The Builders)

Fourth Place:  Casa España Olè

Fifth Place: Los Caprichos de Olivarera

Best booth decoration:  Los Amigos de Don Alex

This year, Baja.com was extremely proud to work with Provino on Fiestas de la Vendimia, and congratulates the organization on another successful month leading into the harvesting of the grape bounty that is so apparent in Mexico’s wine country, the Valle de Guadalupe.  Start planning now for August 2014 — there is no better time than Vendimia to plan a visit to Baja California!

 

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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Traveling with Alain Pressier and Baja Wine & Sun Tours

From wine tasting to whale watching, Baja Wine & Sun Tours offer personal attention and affordable excursions!

Not for me, the giant buses that traverse the Baja Peninsula carting passengers from one tourist stop to the next.  There is nothing inherently wrong with this kind of travel, but my idea of a great trip is to have a more personal experience and find places and adventures that are off the beaten path. That’s what I did in autumn of 2012 when I and some friends traveled to Rancho Meling south of Ensenada, on the road to the famous San Pedro Martir national park.  It was my first – and certainly won’t be my last — excursion with Baja Wine & Sun Tours and its knowledgeable owner Alain Pressier.

Baja Wine & Sun

Alain Pressier, owner of Baja Wine & Sun Tours.

How did we come to pick Baja Wine & Sun Tours?  I had met Alain and instantly enjoyed him – especially the fact that although he was willing to put up with my hackneyed Spanish, he happily switched the conversation to English.  His tours are small – 10 people or fewer fit comfortably in his van – which is a big plus.  He explains that he prefers smaller groups so that he can easily share information with passengers about sights and landmarks along the way.  For him, part of the pleasure of his work is offering personalized attention to clients – which he has been doing for 22 years in the touring industry, originally working for Bajarama, a transportation/tourism company.

“When I was with Bajarama, one of our stops was the Domecq winery.  They didn’t have the staff to be able to offer tours, so we were trained to be able to do it.  Thanks to them, I learned a lot about wines and the wine industry, and about guest services,” says Alain.

Baja Wine & Sun Tours stopped at Phil Gregory's Vena Cava winery for a tasting.

Baja Wine & Sun Tours stopped at Phil Gregory’s Vena Cava winery for a tasting.

He started Baja Wine & Sun Tours in 2010 and is seeing a steady increase in bookings for his tours to the Valle de Guadalupe (Mexico’s wine country), Ojos Negros (famed for its cheese caves), San Pedro Martir and even as far south as Guerrero Negro, about 8 hours south, for whale watching.

From whale watching trips to winery visits, Baja Wine & Sun Tours offers personalized attention.

From whale watching trips to winery visits, Baja Wine & Sun Tours offers personalized attention.

He customizes trips, as well.  In fact, although it wasn’t part of the original plan, at the request of some passengers Alain stopped at the Rincón de Guadalupe winery in San Vincente on our return to Ensenada from Meling Ranch.

Another important factor to me and my friends in selecting Alain’s tour was, quite simply, the price.  I queried him recently about doing a tour of the wine country (how much more fun would it be to do wine tastings knowing that none of our group had to drive the windy road home, afterwards!).  He charges $60 per person for a ‘basic’ five-hour tour that includes three wineries and wine tastings, bread and cheese and himself as a guide.  Of course, if patrons want to visit more wineries and/or have lunch or dinner, prices will vary.

Safety was another key concern for me.  Our trip to Rancho Meling involved some mountain driving.  As my husband will affirm, I am a nervous passenger at best, which is why it was so amazing that I did not even once slam on my imaginary brake pedal or try to grab the wheel out of Alain’s hands.  He errs on the side of caution and safety…and he is a really good driver.  All of which allows passengers to relax and take in Baja’s spectacular scenery.

It is important to book as far in advance as possible, not only to ensure the dates you require, but to allow Alain time to plan out a good tour.   He can advise you as to when to go to specific areas – for example, whale watching is at its peak from January through March, so it is not too early to think about planning that tour.  For wine tours, April through October are optimum months, with the entire month of August dedicated to the Fiestas de la Vendimia, Ensenada’s grape harvest festival.  Alain suggests that, post-festival, September is a terrific time to tour the wine valley with fewer tourists, very warm days and cool nights.

baja wine & sun tours

Baja Wine & Sun Tours is not fancy which, for my money, makes it more fun and certainly more affordable.  It is a great way to discover Baja with friends and family, and to have the kinds of unique experiences you simply can’t get as part of a large package tour.  To find out more about touring with Alain Pressier, contact Baja Wine & Sun Tours.

Traveling to Ensenada? Talk to a travel agent at 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. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA or email us at info@baja.com.

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Viñedos en Flor 2013 — the Flowering of the Vines in Mexico’s Wine Country, May 18

Viñedos en Flor 2013 — the Flowering of the Vines in Mexico’s Wine Country, May 18!  

by Carla White

flowering cabernet vine

Viñedos en Flor 2013 — the Flowering of the Vines

Starting in September, I begin to count the weeks and then the days until this annual celebration,  Viñedos en Flor (the Flowering of the Vines), takes place in Mexico’s Wine Country, the enchanting Valle de Guadalupe, Ensenada.  To me, this event officially kicks off the wine season, heralded by delicate little buds that sprout from newly unfurled leaves and vines rolling across the Guadalupe Valley like a spring-green carpet.  There is no more beautiful time to visit the region — and, thanks to the rain this winter, wildflowers, wattles and lavender add vibrant color to the sun-baked hills that frame the valley.  In 2013, there will be no better place to experience the abundant bounties of the wine country than at Viñedo Las Nubes (the Las Nubes winery), which is hosting this daytime, family-friendly festival, sponsored by Provino and benefiting the San Vicente shelter for homeless people and families.

I have forced family and friends to go to the Flowering of the Vines with me for a number of years (they thank me, later, and beg to return).  Originally, it was more like a community get-together — a chance for winemakers and producers to welcome the grapes and to have a little party and wine tasting before the ensuing surge of intense attention and toil that are required to bring the vines to fruition and harvest them for the next four to five months.  Even post-harvest, the work isn’t done until the product is in the bottle, often extending into October.  However, as this Ensenada wine region has flourished, becoming world famous for its August Vendimia harvest festival (attracting tens of thousands of people to events throughout the entire month), the Viñedos en Flor has evolved into a more sophisticated, but equally fun and rewarding, event.  It is, quite frankly, one of my favorites.

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The event at Las Nubes is taking an innovative approach to showcasing ‘Baja’s Best’ in 2013, emphasizing the idea that everyone, young and old, shares the land and responsibility for cherishing the land and its products.  This year, highlighting the fiesta will be ‘comida campestre’: casual family food, with the emphasis on fresh and local ingredients for which the region is gaining so much fame.  Cheeses, artesenal breads, organic produce, olives and locally crafted olive oils — these products and more will create a savory and delicious accompaniment to the numerous wines that will be available at  Viñedos en Flor.   There will also be a variety of activities for all ages, including Pétanque (similar to bocce ball), and a host of great activities for children, including kite-flying, bike riding in the vineyards, football, and swings.  Most intriguing for youngsters, and definitely the most fun for doting parents to watch, will be the art area where plastic artists Marco Miranda and Ángel Delgado will help children create imaginative projects.

Paralelo, represented in 2012, will again be a featured winery at Viñedos en Flor 2013 -- the Flowering of the Vines

Paralelo, represented in 2012, will again be a featured winery at Viñedos en Flor 2013 — the Flowering of the Vines

This year, more than 38 wineries/cavas are participating in Viñedos en Flor, the Flowering of the Vines.  From some of Baja’s most highly acclaimed wineries — like Vena Cava, Emevé, Adobe Guadalupe, Bodega Santo Tomas, Casa de Piedra, Monte Xanic, Torres Alegre y Familia, Viñas Pijoan, Encuentro Guadalupe and many others — to newer artisan wine producers, the festival will offer visitors a chance to actually meet winemakers and learn more about how they achieve each wine’s uniqueness.   For many who attend the event, there will be an eye-opening realization that Baja California is producing outstanding wine that can hold its own anywhere in the world.

I can guarantee that this will be a popular event.  Last year, it was held at Viñedos Lafarga, on the southern side of Highway 3, Ensenada-Tecate; it was packed with happy festival-goers who delighted in the warm springtime temperatures, the savory smells of food being and copious cups of handcrafted wines.  The 2013 event will rejoice the vines at Las Nubes (The Clouds), founded by Victor Segura and partners, on the 30+ hectares of land planted with wine grapes and olives on the northern side of the Guadalupe Valley, near El Porvenir.  All I can say is get your tickets now!

flowering of the vines 2013  2

What:  Viñedos en Flor 2013 — the Flowering of the Vines 

Where:  Las Nubes winery, Street Emiliano Zapata s/n, El Porvenir, Guadalupe Valley

When:  Noon, Saturday, May 18

Cost:    $250 pesos (approx. $21), which includes a comemorative glass. Children under 18 years-old are free

How to get tickets or for more information:  Tickets can be purchased online at www.provinoac.org.  They can also be purchased at the Provino offices in Ensenada, Av. 20 de Noviembre 1138-2, Zona Centro.  For more information, call Provino at +52 (646) 178-3038 or 178-2949. Email:  info@fiestasdelavendimia.com.

Ensenada is on the Pacific Ocean, and only 20 minutes from Mexico’s wine country.  Find out where to stay, when you visit the Valle de Guadalupe! And be sure to try some of the region’s best restaurants, including Corazon de Tierra, the seasonal Deckman’s en el Mogor, El Rey Sol and others.  

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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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. 

 

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