This story originally appeared in California Winery Advisor.
After having explored the wine regions of “alta” California, including Napa, Sonoma, Monterey, Paso Robles, Santa Barbara, Malibu and Temecula, it is time to find the best Baja California wineries for wine tasting!
Located across the U.S./Mexico border, approximately one hour south of Tijuana, the Valle de Guadalupe is the wine capital of Mexico. While 90 percent of the wine in Mexico is produced here, there are only 6,000 acres of vines and a total of 1.5 million cases of wine produced per year. Vines were first planted by monks in 1579 but by 1699, the king of Spain prohibited making wine except for the church. Winemaking started growing again in 1821 after Mexico gained its independence from Spain. Bodegas de Santo Tomás, the first of the Baja California wineries, was established in 1888 and in 1906 the Valle de Guadalupe was established by Russian immigrants who had fled the Russian Revolution. L.A. Cetto, the largest of the Baja California wineries in the valle, was founded in 1928. But social, economic and cultural problems hindered the development of the wine culture until approximately 30 years ago. Today there are estimated 120 wineries in Baja.
Valle de Guadalupe is 12 miles north of the beach town of Ensenada. The climate is similar to that of the Central Coast. Days are warm with summer temperatures reaching 100 degrees and nights are cool. Valle de Guadalupe is influenced by the ocean and is protected by two mountain ranges, one to the north and one to the south.
Valle de Guadalupe has beckoned many from far and near as a place to settle down and make wine. Camillo Magoni, of Casa Magoni, however, is the icon of those who have made Baja their home.
Talk to anyone about wine in Baja California and they will mention Camillo Magoni, a significant part of the history of the wine industry in Valle de Guadalupe.
Magoni, born in Valtellina, Italy, had no connection to Mexico. He said that is was “God’s inspiration” that brought him to Valle de Guadalupe. With a degree in viticulture and enology from university in Alba, Italy and a few years of experience working for Nino Negri in Valtellina, Magoni was looking for a job when he met Don Angelo Cetto, owner L.A. Cetto winery in Baja. In 1965 he moved from Italy to Baja California. At that time, there were a total of six winemakers from Italy living there.
“It was another viticulture and another wine region, like any other place,” Magoni said. “At that time, California put wine in oak and stainless steel was a new concept. Here in Mexico, they were producing fortified wines, high proof red wines and very little white wine. The white wine was made with palomino and the red wine was made with mission, carignan, zinfandel and alicante bouchon. Most of the wine was shipped in bulk in bourbon barrels to Mexico City where it was bottled.”