By Carla White
It’s warm and sunny in Ensenada…and hot in the nearby wine country, the Valle de Guadalupe. If you are visiting — have surfed, shopped and otherwise tapped out your energy resources — what other things can you do to while away hours in Mexico’s paradise? Well, here are some ideas. They might seem a bit redundant, but this is just one creative approach.
1. Wine Tasting.
2. Wine Tasting at Veronica Santiago’s wine cave, Mina Penelope.
3. Wine Tasting with Veronica Santiago and her sister Maria Theresa in the wine cave.
4. Wine Tasting at Mina Penelope with a crusty baguette and home-made cheese and pesto.
5. Tasting Veronica Santiago’s wine a little later in the day at Ochento’s Pizza in the wine country.
Okay, I was correct: It is a bit redundant, but then is there anything wrong with repeating something you enjoy?
There is little doubt that you will, indeed, enjoy Julio 14, Veronica Santiago’s 2010 Syrah Grenache that is the signature wine she produces with her partner Nathan Malagon. The light, fruity vino, with hints of coffee and caramel, was aged for 10 month in new American oak barrels. It is a nice change from so many of the powerful reds that are produced in Baja California, and it has a balance that makes it a great pairing with many types of cuisines.
“We ferment the batches (of Syrah and Grenache) separately, and then bring them together to test and sample, until we find the right blend,” said Santiago, who added that the name does not reflect a bottling date or anything to do with the wine’s production. Rather, it represents the coincidence of birth: Nathan and Veronica were both born on July 14; now, it is guaranteed that there will be plenty of wine for the celebration.
We were sitting on the patio of the Santiago ranch in early July when we tasted Julio 14. The soft, rolling hills of the 10 hectare property were abundant with lush vines in their full ‘green-ness’, and fruit trees heavy with peaches. The hot summer air was laced with rosemary and a faint buzzing of bees tickled the quiet afternoon.
Santiago and her sister, Maria Theresa (owner of the European-style bakeries Hogaza-Hogaza, the popularity of which is rising faster than yeast dough in an oven), passed around fresh-baked bread and hand-crafted cheese to accompany the wine. Santiago explained that she is the first in the family to become a wine-maker. She elected to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Monterrey, Mexico, studying food science and in the process became intrigued with the science of wine making. In a bold move, she decided to pursue a Master’s Degree at the University of Adelaide in Southern Australia, after which she worked at a winery in Australia’s renowned Barossa wine valley.
“They let me do everything there,” she said, noting that she had the chance to get her hands and talents involved in every aspect of wine production from growing to bottling to understanding marketing.
Upon returning to the US, Santiago worked for the boutique Joseph Phelps winery in the Napa Valley, establishing her reputation and further honing her skills.
In the meantime, her mom was quietly at work. Anticipating Santiago’s return to Ensenada (and keeping her fingers crossed that Santiago would not be deterred from her winemaking course by something frivolous like getting married), mom purchased the ranch property and began buying vines. When Santiago showed up at the family farm, it was time to start a-plantin’…thus rooting herself in a career as a Valle de Guadalupe winemaker. Today, with three hectares of vines planted, her varietals include Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvedre, Syrah, Merlot, Grenache, Tempranillo, Aglianico, Montepulciano, Nebbiolo and Carmenere. The vineyards are nurtured with compost and pest-control is achieved with a sulfur spray.
“We want everything we produce to be fresh, natural, and sustainable,” said Santiago. “We are all for supporting the environment.”
We toured Santiago’s wine cave, a cool, stone-clad structure beneath the family home. We bought several bottles directly from her (as she prefers to sell) and then we toddled off into the wine valley, heading to nearby Ochento’s Pizza to savor yet one more Julio 14 with a Mediterranean pizza pie. Late afternoon sunbeams pierced green through the palm-sized grape leaves that draped the arbor on Ochento’s patio, and music filled the air. Pouring the last drops of Syrah Grenache into our glasses, there was a group sigh of satisfaction…now, what would our sixth top thing to do in Ensenada be?
To find out more about Veronica Santiago’s Julio 14, contact her directly: email firstname.lastname@example.org. And, to find out more things to do in Ensenada, visit the Ensenada activities directory. For more about the wine country, Ensenada and Rosarito Beach, read the Baja Review.
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