My trips to Baja traditionally start early in the day so I can beat San Diego traffic as I blast towards the border as I crave some street tacos and a Mexican Coca Cola in a bottle. I have Motown music on the radio, thanks to Candela Bar in LA. I know that after crossing the border, a few quick rights, and one big left towards the toll road, a little more than five dollars in toll payments, and a terrific view, I will be just north of Ensenada.
My first stop is always El Trailero Taco Stand along the highway. My standard order is three Al Pastor tacos with fresh avocado, no onion, and an ice cold Coke. There is something about sitting in an open-air restaurant looking out at the busy streets that immediately transports me to another time and place. Maybe it’s the year’s worth of race team stickers posted all over the walls and air ducts above the grill. Or maybe it’s just the incredible memories I have shared on that patio with fellow racers and friends that have helped me support the orphanages over the years. Regardless, I feel like I’m at home.
After a great meal and a few bucks, I am ready to hit the Valle. My first stop is at the Santo Tomas winery. They are the oldest winery in the Valle and have an incredible selection of wines and olive oil. I am always greeted with a smile from Ruben as he dazzles me with some new knowledge at the wine counter. Ask him to take a tour and you will never think of wine the same way. He is a master at description and Baja wines.
When I leave Santo Tomas I like to make a quick stop at the local cheese store. It’s just east of Santo Tomas winery before the first light on the right. And yes, directions are that easy in Mexico. The cheese is fresh and they have over a dozen choices to choose from. It’s my wife’s favorite thing to enjoy down there or when I bring it home. Besides, if the border wait is long, it could be your dinner.
My next stop is Monte Xanic. They have been producing luxury wines in the Valle for thirty years. You must have an appointment to tour the facility but it’s worth the extra effort. Besides, you know Baja United if you are reading this—they will surely get you an appointment if you ask. The drive up to Monte Xanic is stunning. Some of their oldest vines are at the entrance on the East side and on the West side is a flower farm where you can see them harvest almost year around. You gain access to the property by passing a lake and the hillside winery. You are able to taste through a number of varietals but I like to try the ones that are not available anywhere else but there. You can’t go wrong with the Gran Ricardo or the latest Grenache for 2018. Take your time and enjoy the view.
Sometimes when I leave Monte Xanic I head over to the Russian Empanada restaurant. Most people don’t know that the Valle is filled with Russian immigrants but in 1905 the Mexican President, Porfirio Diaz granted a Russian sect 13,000 acres in the Valle De Guadalupe. It’s worth the stop and it’s only five minutes from the winery. The easiest way to order is just ask for one of each type of empanada. Another major discovery for me in the area. They have a great little store there to buy dipping sauces and olive oils.
The final winery for my day is always El Cielo. This is one of the most beautiful properties in the Valle with all the amenities you might need. The winery itself is a must see with the barrel aging rooms and beautiful area for tasting wines. This is the place that I realized Baja Mexico had some of the most incredible wines. I was introduced to the Cappicornes Chardonnay here and knew that would be my next favorite wine. Period.
Jim Riley, CEO of Adventure