Looking at the trailblazing winery that Alonso Granados runs in Mexico’s Valle de Guadalupe, it’s hard to believe that a decade ago he didn’t even know wine was made from grapes.
The then student lawyer had returned home for a family dinner when a winemaker his father had hired brought out some wine he had produced off the family property. His father had bought the land with the intention of re-selling it, but Alonso soon had other ideas.
“I was in my last year of law school and I came back with a very strange feeling that I wanted to leave my career and start winemaking. I Googled schools to study at. 1 finished my degree and booked my ticket and left for Spain to study winemaking. It was the best thing I ever did.”
In August 2015, Alonso opened Decantos Vinicola, an imposing winery and tasting room that rises out of the parched landscape like a mirage on the horizon. In the Old World, it is often said that the more vines struggle the better the wine, and when you see how vines grow on some of the rocky slopes in Spain, you understand the truth in that.
It also seems to ring true in the dry and barren Valle de Guadalupe region, north of the city of Ensenada in Baja California, the long peninsula extending down from San Diego.
A 90-minute drive from the U.S. border, this is Mexico’s most up and coming wine region, a place where sophistication and innovation sit side by side with rustic authenticity.
Many of the roads are still rutted and unpaved but they lead visitors to impressive cellar doors, elegant and comfortable accommodations, and world-class restaurants and bars. Some have likened it to the Napa Valley of 30 years ago but that would be doing both the Napa Valley and Valle de Guadalupe a disservice.
It has a character and a charm all its own, a low-key feel that is assuredly Mexican but outward-looking enough to take the best winemaking and other traditions from abroad and develop them into its own.
Much of this story is told in the Museo de la Vid y el Vino (Museum of Vines and Wines), a great introduction to the region and worth seeing for its artefacts, artworks and splendid view, although unfortunately little of the signage is in English, so you might need a guide.
Here you’ll learn how wine was introduced by missionaries in the 1700s, how Russian
immigrants planted vines in the early 1900s, and how the last few decades have seen a boom in the development of Valle de Guadalupe as a wine region, credited to three winemakers in particular: Santo Tomas, Cetto and Domecq.
Two decades ago, you could count Baja’s wineries on both hands. Today, the Ruta del Vino (Wine Route) boasts more than 120 wineries, along with restaurants, art galleries, boutique hotels, ranches and resorts. The Mediterranean-like weather, coupled with unforgettable landscapes – especially around the coastline and mountain ranges – add to its appeal.