The New Wine Country: Ridiculously Good Vino, Fresh Eats + Stylish Stays in Valle de Guadalupe
Monte Xanic, one of Baja California's most prestigious wineries. (Courtesy of Monte Xanic)

The New Wine Country: Ridiculously Good Vino, Fresh Eats + Stylish Stays in Valle de Guadalupe


Mexico is known for its flavors—simmering chipotle-tinged meats, Mission-style burritos dipped in six kinds of salsas, shaken agave margaritas and cerveza that tastes like a summer vacation. But in recent years, the country is tempting the palate in a new way, putting it on the map alongside the world's most famous wine regions in Italy, France, Argentina, Napa and Sonoma.

Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California's emerging wine region, has quickly become a buzzy destination getaway for its Instagram-worthy wineries, delicious pours, and blossoming gastronomic scene, all at a price that won't break the bank. Best of all, it's easily accessible—we recommend a quick flight down to San Diego, where you can rent a car and drive just a couple hours the rest of the way.

There's more than one way to taste the valley, whether you're looking for a quick weekend escape or an extended vacation (if time permits, the charming coastal city of Ensenada is less than an hour south). If you're the kind who likes to take advantage of the established relationships with winemakers and comfy transportation that comes with a tried-and-true tour group, Baja-based Club Tengo Hambre, a food tour collective, does it right, offering pick-up in San Diego, with onboard mezcal service en route to the wineries and delicious, authentic meals. If you're more into the roads less traveled, DIY it and take the time to explore the valley's endless hidden treasures and taco stands.

Most wineries and restaurants are open year-round, but spring and autumn sojourns are advised for avoiding summertime crowds (not to mention temps in the mid-90s), and off-season travel also means better rates at the cool hotels and easier reservations at the trendiest eateries.

We'd be remiss not to mention that the U.S. State Department's recent travel advisory warned deeply against travel to five Mexican states, citing those age-old fears of alcohol-related incidents, theft and cartel violence. But low warning levels for both Baja California and Baja California Sur mean you can travel here as you always should no matter where you go—by simply being aware and cautious. With more than a half-million wine-thirsty visitors venturing into the valley each year, and the hotel and restaurant industries booming, the region has an interest in keeping visitors safe.

Pack your sunnies and browse our guide for where to eat, sleep and, of course, drink.

Where to Drink Wine in Baja California

Monte Xanic offers award-winning pours and killer panoramic views from the tasting patio.

(Courtesy of Monte Xanic)

Baja California produces 90 percent of Mexican wine, thanks to its Mediterranean climate and rainy winter season, which allow grapes from all over the world to flourish. Wineries produce French, Italian, and Spanish varietals, among others, but the terroir is uniquely Mexican.

Among the valley's most decorated vineyards, Monte Xanic boasts hundreds of awards from international wine competitions. A visit to the winery's imposing, modern digs could include a thorough tour of the fermentation room and wine cave where their prized cabernets, syrahs and chardonnays are aged to perfection. Or just head straight away to the impressive tasting room, where floor-to-ceiling windows open up to commanding views of palm-dotted vineyards and an onsite lake.

Down the road, at Villa Montefiori, winemaker and founder Paolo Paolini experiments with the Italian varietals he was reared on. As a third-generation winemaker, he relocated from Italy's Le Marche region in 1998 and has been growing his own vines on nearly 20 Mexican acres since. Sample sangiovese, nebbiolio, and montepulciano from the shady wooden deck of the impressive estate, set among the vineyards.

For a more modern ambiance, pay a visit to Decantos Vinícola. Slightly resembling a space ship landed among 20 precious hectares of grapes, this concrete and stainless steel winemaking fortress is nevertheless enchanting. Meticulous to the point of obsession, from harvest to bottling, their wines are characteristically well-rounded and absolutely delicious. While Decantos is known for their reds, their rosé is not to be dismissed and tastes perfect on the sunny wraparound veranda.

Come back to earth at La Finca de Carrodilla, an eco-friendly winery with its own organic farm, abundant with animal life (cows, goats, chickens, oh my!). Little sister of nearby Lomita Winery, the charming bodega is more modern than rustic, and produces some of the best monovarietals around. Winemaker Gustavo Gonzales, a Berkeley and U.C. Davis alum, masters a red blend, Canto de Luna, dry and fruity enough to sip away on a sunny spring afternoon. Pro tip: Pair your wine with some of the property's freshly made cheese.

Next stop for sophisticated sipping: Viña de Frannes. If Restoration Hardware had a Mexican winery, this would be it. Outfitted in cool-tones and chic, industrial furnishings to combat the surrounding landscape's golden desert hues, the tasting room, wine boutique and restaurant offer a pristine refuge from a day spent in the sweltering sun. Tastings of their signature reds and perfectly refreshing sauv blanc pair well with dishes from the kitchen, inspired by über-local ingredients that showcase the bounty of the land.

Where to Eat in Valle de Guadalupe

Georgia-born, Baja-based chef Drew Deckman makes grilling a Michelin-starred art form.

(Courtesy of Deckman's)

Baja Mediterranean cuisine has long been celebrated for its insanely fresh ingredients, complex flavors and locally caught seafood. In recent years, Valle de Guadalupe has become the gastronomic darling of the Peninsula, thanks to a crop of visionary chefs and restaurateurs creating farm-to-table experiences to match the region's viticultural scene.

Among the many standouts is Deckman's, where Michelin-starred chef Drew Deckman brings "the table to the farm." His romantic string-lit comedor (dining room) offers open-air eating and views of the open kitchen as well as the rolling hills of Rancho Mogor beyond. Ingredients including olive oil, herbs, veggies, and wine are grown and made onsite, while the cheese, meat, and even salt are sourced from nearby sustainable producers.

Another al fresco option, Olivia el Asador del Porvenir, chef Giannina Gavaldon serves up the freshest seafood, grilled-to-perfection meats, and shareable plates and appetizers. Gavaldon studied at Le Cordon Bleu, and has cooked in the kitchen at winery Monte Xanic's renowned restaurant as well as throughout Mexico. Prices are reasonable, and the house wine comes from straight from the surrounding vineyards.

If you're going to do lunch between wine tastings, do so at Mixtura, where chef Viviana Martinez serves an ode to the valley's abundance. Platters of sustainably sourced seafood caught just off the coast, meats and breads cooked over the outdoor kitchen's wood-fired oven, and fruits and greens picked from the chef's own farm round out the menu of Baja-inspired cuisine. Nearby, Corazón de Tierra's dinner tasting menu is well worth its $75(US) price tag for chef Diego Hernández's loving iteration of farm-to-table. The sleek, dimly lit dining room provides a romantic backdrop for the seasonal and hyper-local menu, and it also overlooks the gardens that very likely produced your salad. Widely considered among the best restaurants in the valley, reservations are definitely recommended for the twice-daily lunch and dinner seatings. At Sunday brunch, sip local sparkling wines alongside fresh-caught seafood.

Where to Stay in Valle de Guadalupe

Get the best of all worlds—terra firma and the galaxy beyond—by booking a bubble at Campera Hotel Burbuja.

(Courtesy of Campera)

Airbnbs in the region are both abundant and affordable, making it easy to book a stay in a group-friendly hacienda or adorable departamento. But if you're looking for a more hosted experience, Valle de Guadalupe's varied hotel offerings range from modern-luxe to cozy and traditional, and often come with the perks of onsite vines and five-star dining.

Take, for example, Adobe Guadalupe ($275/night) set on 60 acres of vineyards that produce spectacular cabs, grenache, malbec and syrahs (among others), along with bountiful olive orchards and gardens filled with pomegranate bushes. The hacienda-style property has six light-filled guest rooms surrounding an impressive courtyard, a seasonal restaurant set within a citrus garden, and an equine center offering horseback riding to guests and visitors alike. Included in your stay are breakfast and a VIP wine tasting experience at the property's own vineyards, where they produce some of the country's best wines.

For an experience that is decidedly otherworldly, book a bubble at Campera Hotel Burbuja (starting at $760/night). The 10-room eco-resort features a series of balloon-like spaces, French-designed and outfitted with air conditioning, private bathrooms, and a minibar stocked with wine. The best part lies beyond the bubble walls, in the starry skies above. Thanks to a clear upper "wall," the bubbles allow for unrivaled stargazing from the comfort of your four-poster bed, equipped with convenient curtains for when you need some privacy.

La Villa del Valle (starting at $275/night) is the ultimate sanctuary, situated on 70 acres of fruit orchards, gardens, and vineyards. With onsite yoga and massage rooms, a swimming pool and sundeck, board games and bocce court, you're sure to stay busy. Also onsite: a five-star restaurant (among the most famous in the region), Corazón de Tierra, and the self-proclaimed "hippest winery in Mexico," Vena Cava, with a food truck conveniently adjacent to the tasting room. Extra touches like fresh-baked Mexican cookies upon arrival, a bathroom stocked with organic products from the property's own botanics label, and a full breakfast—think house-baked breads and eggs from the farm each morning—round out an entirely indulgent stay.

For the more adventurous, check out Encuentro Guadalupe (starting at $370/night). From the welcome glass of sangria or velvety vino tinto from the property's private cellar, to the sweeping mountain views surrounding the minimalistic-yet-luxe casitas, Encuentro Guadalupe checks all the boxes for an immersive Valle experience. Take a swim in the infinity pool, grab breakfast at one of two world-class restaurants overlooking the valley, and enjoy a glass of vino and the warmth of the fire pit on your room's private terrace, surrounded by desert sounds and little else.

A hilltop villa with an authentically Mexican vibe, a stay at Hacienda Guadalupe (starting at $200/night) feels like a visit with wealthy, vineyard-owning friends. Set just across the road from the region's wine museum, the inn is an ideal crash pad for an activity-packed weekend or a few lazy days in the sun. Upon entering the light-filled lobby, with sweeping ceilings and red-tiled floors, you'll immediately feel at home thanks to the friendly staff and homey surrounds. Guest rooms are modest but cozy, and overlook the hotel's peaceful pool deck, where it'd be all too easy to lose track of time.

Where to Play in Valle de Guadalupe

Take a ride through the vines on an Azteca sport horse.

(Courtesy of Adobe Guadalupe)

Though primarily known for the food and wine, Valle de Guadalupe offers thrills beyond just gastronomic pleasures.

For the true oenophile, Museo De la Vid y El Vino, (Museum of the Vine and Wine) delves into the region's 130-odd years of viticultural history and the process of winemaking itself, plus exhibits wine-inspired art by local and international artists. The museum's amphitheater also hosts special events and concerts, so if you time it right, you might catch a musical performance.

During the rainier winter season, visitors to the valley can also enjoy La Cascada el Arroyo de Guadalupe, where a 30-meter-high waterfall and sulfur hot springs are said to have healing powers. A 40-minute drive north on the main road, known as La Ruta del Vino, it's slightly off the beaten path, but worth it if you have the time.

Or, get a workout between tastings on horseback at Adobe Guadalupe's impressive equine center, known for its breeding of Azteca sport horses. For $70 an hour, you can reserve one of these regal beauties for a ride through the vineyards of neighboring Monte Xanic winery, with an optional wine tasting along the way.

If you have time for a day trip to the port city of Ensenada, you can check out the plentiful taco joints and souvenir shops along the waterfront promenade. There are plenty coastal activities here, including deep sea fishing, whale watching tours during the winter and springtime gray whale migration, and if you're into it, cage diving with Great Whites off the coast of nearby Guadalupe Island.

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