Today I am excited to introduce you to a wine & gastronomic destination that, while it may not be “new”, it still holds the charm (and challenges) of being a relatively undiscovered place that is experiencing rapid growth. Let me explain.
For my senior project in the Hospitality & Tourism Management program at San Diego State University, we were in charge of re-vamping the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival to bring in fresh, new ideas that would attract more attendees. Our group decided to take the approach of introducing “a taste of Baja” in an upscale way after hearing about the growing wine region just south of the border. We did lots of research, won our senior project, went to the wine festival, and all moved on.
Flash forward 3 years, and I still had not been to Valle de Guadalupe. But with clients requesting a “new” wine experience that was out of the norm and out of the country, we knew we had to see what this “unknown” destination was all about.
Point blank, the Valle blew me away. I felt like with every place we went, I was even more impressed by the fact that this many hidden gems exist in Valle de Guadalupe. And it felt so natural and authentic! You feel a sense of community and family in the Valle that is both welcoming and humbling.
Direct flights may be non-existent, but don’t let the location deter you. The location is ideal as it is close to Ensenada and just over an hour from the San Diego border. Perfect for either a day trip or weekend getaway! We drove through from San Diego through the border and enjoyed a coastal drive almost reminiscent to (dare I say) Big Sur or the Northern California Coast.
While you might not have originally associated this area of Mexico with world-class wines and fine dining, you may be surprised to know to find a number of 90-point wines and Michelin star worthy restaurants in this region. Many of the wines you cannot purchase elsewhere and are limited release. Also be prepared for a gastronomic experience unlike anything you have experienced before.
That’s not saying it doesn’t come without its challenges – undeveloped dirt roads, small inns that book up far in advance, unreliable transportation, and more. Our friends at Baja Test Kitchen make it easy for you however, taking care of all of those headaches. Jen and Chris offer tours of all sorts, both departing from the United States and Mexico. They do everything from large group tours to intimate private tours and will take you to the best spots! I can honestly say that even as a travel agent, I could not have done half of what we did without their expertise and intense knowledge of this area.
Now let’s check out our perfect weekend itinerary…
Check-In to Cabanas Cuatro Cuatros
Checking into Cabanas Cuatro Cuatros, we did not know what to expect. While the term “glamping” has become trendy chic amongst travelers of all types, it still could be a toss up on what you get. For example I know some places consider themselves “glamping” but is just a bed inside a tent. Cabanas Cuatro Cuatros truly is luxury glamping. Our cabana was extremely spacious with a heater that would warm up even the coldest winter nights, and the bathroom was bright and airy (with even an indoor/outdoor shower!) Our stay far exceeded our expectations.
Other great things about Cuatro Cuatros? There’s an on-site restaurant, winery, ziplining, hiking, and cliffside bar. It’s almost like you never have to leave (although we suggest you explore everything in the Valle mentioned below)!
Rates are typically $200 per night for both king bed and two queen bed cabanas. Weekends have a minimum two night stay requirement. Summers book up fast, so I suggest booking far in advance!
Winery Stop #1: Las Nubes
The sweeping views of the Valle from Las Nubes’ hillside location is the perfect place to start your day in Valle de Guadalupe. It’s amazing to look out across the Valle and see the vast land speckled with wineries, farms, and more.
We did their classic tasting which consists of 5 different wines: Kuiiy, Jaak, Seleccion de Barricas, Cumulus, and Nimbus. I loved the Rose style Jaak and the Cumulus which is their reserve red aged 12 months in oak. They brought out a plate of tapas to enjoy with our tasting which included local cheese from Rancho Cortez.
Las Nubes is open daily from 11am – 5pm.
Winery Stop #2: Vena Cava
Our next stop was Vena Cava, which offered a unique scene driving up to it. The tasting room is different in its design as it is set in a “cave” under recycled boats. Outside of the tasting room are lounge areas of all kinds if sipping wine al fresco is more your style.
Phil, the owner, came down to enjoy the tasting with us, and it was such a treat to meet him. He started this winery because he loved wine and wanted to make wine (just) for himself, family and friends. Next thing you know, and they are serving up some of the Valle’s best wines which we are lucky enough to have the chance to try ourselves.
Our tasting consisted of 5 wines plus a bonus tasting of Phil’s Blend. The wines we tasted were the Sauvignon Blanc, Rosado, Tempranillo, Mezcla Especial, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Lunch: Corazon de Tierra
After our wine tasting at Vena Cava, we headed up the hill to Corazon de Tierra. Hands down, this was one of the most incredible meals of my life. On first impression, the space itself is stunning. To quote my friend Lauren, “it feels like you walked into an Anthropologie catalog”. From there when you sit down and enjoy the culinary, 6-course journey, you will be even more blown away. The food is fresh & flavorful, the presentation is beautiful, and the experience itself is relaxed and not rushed – just as it should be.
The menu changes daily, but here is a look at what we had for lunch the day we went in:
- Amuse Bouche: Smoked fish toast, avocado puree, curd powder and dehydrated seaweed
- Amuse Buche #2: Kumamoto Oyster
- Course #1: Orchard leaf salad, rapini puree, sunflower marigold petals and lavender vinaigrette
- Course #2: Fennel and root bulb, egg yolk sauce, charcoal oil and homemade bacon
- Course #3: Rice of Morelos with onion ash and roasted pumpkin
- Course #4: Sole with betel rose puree with nopal sauce and verdolagas
- Course #5: Roasted duck, sweet potato and mother sauce
- Intermezzo: Cucumber and honey granita
- Dessert: Natural yogurt ice cream, fig and chrome and homemade tea
- Petit Fours: Butter Cookie, Chocolate Truffle, Tamarind Gummy
Chef Diego Hernandez was in town and stopped by our table. He recently opened Verlaine in Los Angeles if you’re looking to try his creations on the other side of the border.
Open daily (except Tuesdays) with meals at 1:30pm and 4:30pm and dinner service 6:30pm – 8:30pm. Highly recommend making a reservation.
Winery Stop #3: Lechuza
With our bellies full, we headed over to Lechuza Vineyards to end our wine tasting day. One thing I loved about Lechuza was the ambience. It felt like you were drinking wine in someone’s backyard, with neighbors popping over to see how your day is going. The owner Kristin will tell you stories of how Lechuza came to be. The casual and inviting experience captures the beauty of what the Valle is all about.
Lechuza’s Chardonnay is on The French Laundry’s wine list (Thomas Keller himself has been to the winery), so you know it’s good. And what can I say, it truly lived up to its reputation!
We tasted four wines: the Chardonnay, Royal Blush Rose, Amantes, and Nebbiolo.
All appointments are by reservation only, email email@example.com
Breakfast at Cuatro Cuatros
Starting the morning off with a hike around the Cuatro Cuatros property, we worked up an appetite and wanted an authentic Mexican breakfast. The restaurant on-site at Cuatro Cuatros offers a full Mexican breakfast with a wide selection of choices. We chose the chilaquiles and huevos a la mexicana, and I especially appreciated the fresh green juice the morning after a day of wine tasting.
Lunch at Finca Altozano
I had heard great things about Finca Altozano so decided I needed to see what the hype was all about. The restaurant won “Best Concept” in the Travel + Leisure Mexico’s 2016 Gourmet Awards. Upon pulling up to the property, I was immediately impressed. The space is beautifully designed with varied seating areas scattered throughout (including seating ON TOP of huge barrels!) The food was equally impressive (once again Valle, you did it again with the cuisine).
Our bill came out to under $40 for 2 drinks, ahi tostada, grilled octopus, and brussels sprouts. It was more than enough food for two people! The grilled octopus was one of the best octopus dishes I have ever had – it had so much flavor! If you’re looking for a more casual and quick meal, head down to their on-site food truck.
What to order: Ahi Tuna Tostada, Grilled Octopus From the Pacific, Fried Brussel Sprouts
Open Monday – Thursday: 1 – 9pm | Friday – Saturday: 1-10pm | Sunday 12-8pm
Winery Stop: Alximia
As if we hadn’t had our fair share of wineries yet, we made one last stop at Alximia before heading back to Cuatro Cuatros for sunset. Alximia is a modern winery with a cool “flying saucer” design. Their wines are based off of the four natural elements: water, air, earth, and fire. We took our tasting outside to soak in the perfect weather.
Open daily 11am – 6pm
Sunset Happy Hour at Bar Bura at Cuatro Cuatros
After a great day in the Valle, it seemed only fitting to end our day with sunset drinks and bites back at Cuatro Cuatros. Bar Bura at Cuatro Cuatros is a destination in itself. The cliffside bar offers sweeping stunning views of the Pacific and Baja California coast.
We ordered a glass of the Cuatro Cuatros XLIV CS 2012 red wine (a blend of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc) and a margarita as our drinks of choice to watch sunset. We also snacked on Ceviche and Pork & Octopus Tacos. It was the perfect ending to a wonderful two days in Baja!
Bar Bura is open Monday – Thursday 4-8pm and Friday – Sunday 12-9pm.
SHOP MY VALLE DE GUADALUPE SUITCASE
Safe travels y’all!
Chelsea Rose Martin