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.
From my recent visit to the Valle de Guadalupe in Mexico, I have two more favorite stories of expatriates who’ve chosen Baja as a place not just to make wine but also to call home (Part 2):
From Ventura, California to Baja California: Kristin and Adam Shute, Lechuza
Tall, blond and female, Kristin Shute stands out a bit. When she arrived in Baja in January 2013, she spent her first week in the vineyard pruning in the rain. Her neighbor later told her that she wanted to take a picture of Shute working because “seeing agringa working in a field in Mexico, you don’t see that happening.” Now, more than three years later, this is the valley that she calls home.
Shute is from Ventura County and grew up visiting Mexico with her family. After attending culinary school in Santa Barbara, she worked at the Wine Cask in Santa Barbara. She also ran a guest lodge on a dude ranch where she met her husband Adam Shute, a traveling cowboy. While her husband was taking people on pack trips and trail rides and training horses for movies, Shute was managing meetings and events at Bacara Resort in Santa Barbara.
Shute’s father Ray Magnussen, a native of San Diego, and his wife Patty were looking for a retirement retreat. During a trip to Baja, after a meal in 2003 at Laje Restaurant, the French Laundry of Mexico, they took notice of the Valle de Guadalupe. The next morning, on their way back home, they noticed that the lot next door to Laja, an overgrown wheat farm, was available. They purchased the property with the idea of opening a bed and breakfast. However, after spending many late nights in the wine lab of their former neighbor Cuahutemoc Santana, a local agronomist, Magnussen was bit by the wine bug. He studied at UC Davis in the winemakers abroad program and instead of building a bed and breakfast, he planted the entire 2.2 acres with vines in 2005 and had his first vintage in 2007. The 2008 vintage was called the Wedding blend and was made entirely for Shute’s wedding.