Unpaved Roads: Travel Guide Valle de Guadalupe

“They make wine in Mexico?” 

Our sommelier at Auberge Bishop’s Lodge in Santa Fe recommends we try a Sauvignon Blanc from Valle de Guadalupe in Baja, Mexico. 

I take a sip. It’s delicious. 

Sommelier Ella Raymont

I pull out my phone to locate this wine region I had never heard of. 

Meanwhile, sommelier Ella Raymont shares more about her approach to wine selection. Going beyond traditional regions and finding vintners with an eye towards sustainability are her key tenets. 

That’s what led to her interest in Valle de Guadalupe. On her restaurant wine list from the region are the Sauvignon Blanc we’re tasting and three red blends. Phone still in hand, I snap a photo of the wine list for future reference.

Fast forward to January 2022. 

We’d only just rung in the new year, and I’m in a funk. My early 2022 trips to Liberia and Guatemala were canceled due to the latest COVID variant. It’s the dark dead of winter in Santa Fe. I haven’t traveled in two years. I feel like I might explode.

On a Tuesday night, I turn to my husband. “Let’s roadtrip to Valle de Guadalupe.”

“Sure, when are you thinking?”


“THIS Friday?” 

“Yep. We get there Saturday afternoon, and spend a chill week—some remote work, wine tasting, and exploring. And we can bring Sydney—it’s totally dog friendly. It’s very COVID careful. And it’s warm—we’ll spend most of our time outside. Check out this cute AirBnB.”

Armed with our passports, proof of Sydney’s rabies vaccine, and supplemental car insurance for driving in Mexico, we back out of our driveway on Friday morning and drive southwest towards the California-Mexico border.

Valle de Guadalupe is 1.5 hours south of the California-Mexico border. While Tijuana is the busiest border, we cross at Tecate, about 30 miles east. The crossing is seamless—into Mexico, we simply pause for a photo to be taken of our car and license plate; returning to the U.S., we wait for 15 minutes before handing our passports to the immigration officer. 

Room at Brisa del Valle

We navigate carefully through Tecate town and onto the one-lane Highway 3 winding south through craggy mountain slopes. Aware of speed traps en route, I adhere to the low speed limits and get used to straddling the shoulder so the local speed demons can pass.

Once we make the turn off the highway onto a dirt round, I turn off Google Maps. I remember AirBnB guest reviews that advise to instead follow the handmade signs to Brisa del Valle.

As the sun sets, we’re greeted by our host and latch on to the idea of room service—a meat & cheese plate and a bottle of local wine enjoyed while snuggling under Mexican blankets aside our outdoor fire pit. We awake the next morning to the sun lighting a landscape of vineyards. 

My research for how we’ll spend the week begins.

Spanish missionaries first planted grapes in Baja, Mexico in the 1500s, and Dominican priests planted grapes in what is now Valle de Guadalupe in the early 1800s. Following Mexico’s short War of Reform in the mid-1800s, landholdings were transferred to the state. In the early 1900s, a group of 115 Russian asylum-seeking families called Molokans acquired acres of land and began planting grapes. 

Russians settling in Mexico? That surprises me more than the idea of Mexico producing wine. You see and hear of their legacy everywhere.

Commercial wine production didn’t begin until the 1980s as a few European winemakers noticed the region’s potential. The most commonly planted grapes are Malbec, Grenache, Syrah, Cabernet, and Tempranillo; for whites, you’ll see Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc. 

Between sommelier Ella’s enthusiasm and my research, one thing was clear—this place celebrates creative freedom and experimentation. 

View from Monte Xanic

Our wine exploration starts at Valle de Guadalupe pioneer Monte Xanic, whose estate includes some of those century-old Russian vines. Founded in 1987 by five friends, Monte Xanic seeks to be the most esteemed boutique wine producer in Mexico. With a late morning appointment, we have wide valley views to ourselves as we sip award-winning Bordeaux-style wines. Enjoying a Chenin/Colombard blend, we ponder why the common blending of red grapes rarely extends to whites.

The architecture of Bruma

We combine wine tasting at Bruma with dinner at their onsite restaurant Fauna. It’s our introduction to what is a common formula in the Valle—vineyards, tasting room, high-end sustainable restaurant, and eco-luxury lodging all on-property. Arriving early for our reservation, we explore and find one architectural delight after another. A striking centerpiece is a 300-year old oak tree that reflects into the water above the restaurant and tasting room. Bruma’s architect is Alejandro D’ Acosta, known for his connection to the land and sustainability. He’s the brother of Bruma winemaker Hugo D’Acosta; together, they’re a well-known pair in the Valle.

Charred broccoli at Fauna

Fauna is a celebration of sustainable architecture—many of the raw materials were found on the side of the road or in the nearby hills. Consistent with the architecture, chef David Castro Hussong and wife Maribel Aldaco Silva apply creativity and experimentation to local-sourced food. Seated at the end of a long communal table, Bob and I share 14 courses over several hours. Our server guides us through each dish and recommends we forgo the formal pairing and enjoy wines by the glass. Charring is the kitchen’s theme—whether it’s applied to a head of broccoli, lettuce, meat, or squid. As day turns to dusk, we walk back to our car with a rare restaurant souvenir—a doggie bag.

Inspired by sommelier Ella’s passion for organic and naturally produced wines and the Valle’s experimentation with both, we make it our focus. Finca La Carrodilla produces Mexico’s first certified organic wine and is one of only two wineries in Mexico to be certified organic and biodynamic. We share glasses of Tempranillo and Syrah on the upstairs patio overlooking their gorgeous property.

Edgar at Vena Cava

Just down the road, Vena Cava is a second architectural marvel of Alejandro D’ Acosta and claims to be “the hippest winery in Mexico.” Only the hip would have a food truck as their on-property restaurant, serving up casual bites, wine and craft beer, and a killer view. Unfortunately, Troika (another nod to the area’s Russian heritage) wasn’t open during our mid-week off-season visit.

Vena Cava Winery is dug into the clay ground and tented with reclaimed fishing boats from Ensenada—another example of Alejandro giving new life and purpose to existing materials. Our tasting host Edgar is a full-blown sommelier. He pours a variety of reds and whites, but most special was a natural Sauvignon Blanc poured alongside a traditionally produced one. It was unfair to say which preferred—I know my palate is biased by what I’m accustomed to. It’s the same for Edgar’s father—for a Mexican man accustomed to tequila and beer, wine of any kind is an acquired taste.

At Lechuza, we enjoy a tasting in a courtyard just off the main highway. I’m thrilled to find sommelier Ella’s 2015 Lechuza Asantes—a Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, and Nebbiolo blend—on the tasting list. That it’s produced by an award-winning female winemaker (Kris Magnussen Shute) makes it even better. The excessively loud music seeking to mask the sound of highway traffic is my only complaint.

The magical world of Primitivo

Finally, we stop at Casa Magoni to purchase another sommelier Ella selection for tonight’s fireside takeout dinner. The grounds and tasting room are stunning, and we imagine how festive it would be to enjoy wine in the tree-shaded gardens during the height of summer. With Ella’s selection unavailable, they suggest Casa Magoni Origen 43 red blend—delicious and a reasonable $15.

While I didn’t think anything would come close to our Fauna dining experience, we find two additional standouts. 

Primitivo is an unexpected treat. The restaurant’s seating, bar, and kitchen all reside outdoors under a 300-year-old oak tree. It’s a magical hidden world—lanterns hang from above; the smell of wood-fired cooking fills the air. We’re among the handful of guests. Our lovely host pulls a large fire pit next to our table. She explains our dinner will be four courses of our choice—beef, duck or fish. We choose duck, and true to their stated philosophy, our dishes creatively use the entire animal. We choose a local wine of our server’s recommendation. The restaurant’s dogs laze around our table. There’s no begging–they just seem to relish the romantic mood with us.

Kumiai Oysters with local Sauvignon Blanc at Deckman’s

Deckman’s en el Mogor is a larger venue with a sprawling outdoor kitchen aside covered outdoor seating—yet it feels incredibly intimate. Dynamic Michelin Star chef Drew Deckman is 100% committed to sustainability and local farming; his ingredients either come from the ranch or the nearby sea. We start with the Kumiai oysters; our second appetizer is a towering stack of bone marrow and fire-toasted bread. Our fish and meat entrees are divine, as are the local Baja wines we sample by the glass. 

But not every meal is extravagant. One favorite we love so much we visit twice. Pull up to Tacos del Valle and order from a handful of menu items. They’ll start cooking as you’re still stumbling through your Spanish. You enjoy a delicious and filling lunch for two for about $10.

Of all our wine tasting experiences, the last was our favorite. 

Sydney at Sierra Vita Winery

Sierra Vita consists of 12 acres in what feels like the exact center of Valle de Guadalupe. We stay in one of three rooms on the property, looking down at horse stables and an organic garden. Up a dirt road is the owners’ home and Once Pueblos, a restaurant making a name for itself under the leadership of a young, innovative chef, Sandra Daniela Vazquez. While we aren’t able to enjoy a proper meal given our weekday off-season stay, the owners suggest we enjoy an afternoon wine tasting outside the restaurant. With our dog Sydney in tow, we climb the dusty hill and sit at an outdoor table with a panoramic 360-degree Valle view.

Our server tempts us with a cheese plate to enjoy with a broad wine tasting of Rose, Chenin Blanc, Shiraz, Merlot, and signature 2015 Cabernet/Merlot blend named Inizio (“beginning”). Like all tasting rooms in the Valle, there’s a tasting fee (typically $20-25). This is the first where we feel the pours reflect the price.

Afternoon wine tasting at Sierra Vita Winery

As we sip, I receive a text from Sierra Vita’s owners Arnulfo and Ana Sofia inviting us for a nighttime glimpse of their still work-in-progress wine cellar. I quickly accept.

Arnulfo is a dentist, bringing his scientific mind to his family roots in agriculture to form Sierra Vita. The wine cellar and tasting room are their big outstanding project. 

We descend into a multi-level universe of granite-cooled walls, American and French oak barrels, and sparkling-new gravity-fed tanks. Arnulfo siphons wine right out of the barrels into our glasses—a recently harvested Chenin Blanc, and two versions soaking in French and American oak; combined in equal parts, they are the Chenin Blanc we tasted during the day. 

We chat about water, organic production, and winery economics. With more than 100 wineries now in Valle de Guadalupe, the residents’ issue isn’t growth but how they preserve themselves. Most Valle wineries already source grapes from subregions like Valle de Ojos Negros or Santo Tomás. Arnulfo expects that Valle de Guadalupe proper will soon be more about processing and tourism, while grape growing is concentrated in the southern subregions.

Arnulfo asks us for our favorite wine of our tasting and gifts us an unlabeled version of the Shiraz to share with friends back home. 

Bob with Arnulfo and Ana Sofia of Sierra Vita Winery

I love that we end our trip with a personal connection to the future of a special winery and wine region. 

We know we will return, but we know it will be different. Bob wonders if we’ll see a day where the bumpy dirt roads that are the veins around the “La Ruta del Vino” highway will also be paved. 

I hope not. Traveling to Valle de Guadalupe feels like Napa Valley meets an emerging market. We depart with a dirty and dust-covered car, shoes and clothes, but also experiences that would have come at several times the price and expectation were they in Napa or Sonoma.

Upon returning home, I found a quote from my new favorite architect Alejandro D’Acosta—“Good roads, bad tourists. Bad roads, good tourists.” 

Cheers to unpaved roads and good food, wine and people.

Want to see more photos from Valle de Guadalupe in Baja, Mexico? Don’t miss my travel album Valle de Guadalupe 2022. Inspired to travel differently? Join me in uniquely-curated Venture Travel.

Interested in ordering wines from Mexico for shipment to the U.S.? Check out Patrick Neri Selections.

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Venture Guide to High-Achieving Seekers. Success Coach. Venture Travel Curator. Impact Investor. Traveler. Writer. Global Connector. When we connect to others' stories it changes our own. Let's Venture!