My wine tasting trip into the Valle de Guadalupe had 2 destinations: Barõn Balch'e and Casa Doña Lupe. Our winery tour would also serve another purpose, to mark another trip around the Sun for Chuck. The weather in late May can be variable in the valley, so we were unable to prepare for what to expect until the week before. This time of year it can range from cold & rainy to downright scorching with no clouds in sight. With that in mind we sorted through the recommendations of friends, family, vendors and social media.
Our first stop of the day was Barõn Balch'e. Per the recommendation of our friend we booked a tour in advance and early in the day. This was super easy to do through the website, just 36 hours in advance, and allowed me to specify the language that I preferred our tour to be given in. When we arrived, I checked in and paid for the selected tour package. They have 2 that you can walk-in, 1 that has a reservation requirement and 1 that has a reservation requirement as well as a minimum number of participants. I then went ahead and placed an order for a cheese plate with the restaurant to meet us at the wine tasting.
Our private tour began with descending about 12 - 15 feet underground, a bit deeper than most basements, but not a full 2 stories. In this room we observed the business of winemaking equipment. With 2 styles of stainless steel fermentation tanks, a German made 6,500 liter cone shaped tank & a French made 7,500 liter standard style tank. While in the room we got to observe a pump-over in progress and hear about the different processes each of the different varieties receive, as well as some of the differences in winemaking that the individual Winery Label wines get.
As we descended further into the earth on a slight sloping path, we passed winemaking artifacts of the past generation until we came to one of several aging rooms. The aroma was beautiful with dark earth, the wine aromatic bouquet and Oak. The barrels were stacked 3 high as far back as I could see in each direction for the door of the room. Here the guide explained the history of the winery, the origin of the name and that they were getting ready to bottle a vintage that was picked almost 4 years prior and had needed time to soften before bottling. They were moving a bunch of the barrels around to prepare, so we could only see for a moment before going though one of many passages cut straight from the earth.
Though a set of rod iron gates we entered another aging room, this one with minimal lighting strung from the beams above and the traditional stacking methods in place instead of the steel structures of earlier places. Another big difference was that 3 of the walls were carved from straight earth. Not cement or cinder block and that the winemaker's philosophy was to age the wine in this room at the depth of the Vine's roots & as close to nature as possible, so nothing between the earth and air that surrounds the barrels here. Again the smell in here was amazing, almost indescribable if you have not experienced a wine aging cave. Moisture, earth, hints of red wine, Oak and something I would describe as minerality all permeate the air in the room.
We then toured two private salon's that you can reserve for private functions or a wedding. Both had amazing views over the wine cave, while the second was also full of art and a large ornate wood table for serving. Both had a bar area for the wine and were large enough to accommodate medium sized groups. We then walked up through a series of tunnels to the wine tasting area. As out guide went to retrieve the chilled wines from a cooler, our cheese & fruit platter arrived from the kitchen. The mixture of local cheeses, oil oils and bread was wonderful on it's own & with our tasting.
When our guide arrived back with the wines, we tasted the selections of the day and discussed with the guide the specifics of each. We went over winemaking, aging, bottling date and suggested pairing with local cuisine. Our guide was very knowledgeable about this, offering several suggestions of places in the area we should try. At this point, I mentioned that we had received a bottle of Barõn Balch'e Claret wine that was not part of today's selections. He asked if we would like to sample it, and I said that I would, but that I was more seeking a food pairing recommendation after reading the description. He smiled and said he would return.
He returned with a bottle that was slightly condensating. He poured a 'taste' that was equal to most glasses I get with a meal, and explained that this is best severed chilled. His food recommendation, was anything I would eat sitting at the edge of the pool. He said he would recommend consuming the wine this way too, with a huge smile now, as it is 'a perfect summertime wine.' You could just see he was thinking of an upcoming summer afternoon. The wine was light an refreshing, considering it was cherry red in color. I agree that this would be delicious on a hot afternoon.
As we left, I understood the recommendation for coming early. The lines to buy tickets were to the door, the restaurant had a 45 minute wait for a table and there was now an attendant in the parking lot to help guide new arrivals into the limited spots available now in the large lot. This place was definitely a popular destination, and after taking the tour I understand why it is on a lot of people's lists.
Our second destination was La Casa de Doña Lupe, a winery that is very popular with cruise ship tours and a recommendation from several people on social media. They focus on natural and organic products, jams, sauces, olives, olive oil, bread, cheese, as well as producing some unique and classic Valle de Guadalupe wines. There is a lot to do here at the winery, which includes a full market, pizzeria, restaurant, small museum, outdoor patio with local musicians on the weekend, and it is all surrounded by a wonderful organic vineyard. After a great meal of pizza, tasting through the jams & spices, and discussing the wine selections available; I began to do what I came to the Valle for, to wine taste.
I am not sure what ran through her head when I order all 14 wines to taste, but I am sure it would have been fun to hear out loud. She gave me a funny look and asked my wife in Spanish if she had heard me correctly, and repeated that I had asked for all 14 wines. We both responded that I had in fact ordered a sample of each available wine, and Carolina added that I would also need a spit/dump bucket. She began to line up a few plastic 1-2oz plastic cups, one that I would expect a to go order sauce to be placed in, and began to pour the first wine into it. She then rushed off to help the bar full of other people needing attention.
When she returned she noticed that I had not touched the sample yet. She asked if something was wrong, and said no but politely asked if she had a wineglass that I could use. She looked as though she didn't understand at first, but then produced a wonderful glass from below the bar. I poured in my first wine and began to swirl, then doing my evaluation and taking notes. This intrigued the bar attendant, and when I reset my glass for the next wine she inquired after what I was doing. I explained that was tasting a bunch of wines from across the Valle, so that I can learn to identify them & what makes the wines of this region unique. We talked a bunch about the position in relation to the coast and the influence on the grapes, tasted the rest of the wines and began talk about the difficulty of Organic farming when you are surrounded by large commercial operations. I soon learned that this was the granddaughter of the winery's founder and she was deeply passionate about preserving the family legacy in all they do. It was a fantastic time and one of those moments when you realize the person pouring you the wine is Much More that just someone working the bar, always an enjoyable experience in my opinion.
While other wineries often accommodate those who bring youngsters along, Doña Lupe proved to be one of the for letting the little ones explore. With lots of family friendly foods, an outdoor patio for eating while the kids run, loads of open green space, and a friendly staff delighted to help point you to the next activity it was a great experience for both child & parent. We will be recommending this location to all of our friends who are looking for a family friendly wine tasting excursion destination in Ensenada, Mexico.
Until the next time I go South of the Border to Mexico...