VALLE DE GUADALUPE, MEXICO
Season 3, Episode 2
V is for Vino is going south of the border to Ensenada, Mexico! Never heard of Mexican wine, you say? Well, get ready. The area we’re heading to, called the Valle de Guadalupe, has been called the “Napa Valley of Mexico” and has been producing wine for hundreds of years. Ensenada is full of the spirit and passion the Mexican people are known for, and it permeates into every aspect of life; the food, the tenacity of the people, the culture, and the wine. Learn about this up-and-coming wine region on this episode of V is for Vino!
filmed October, 2020 | runtime 46 minutes
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from the Ensenada/Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico episode
from the Ensenada/Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico Episode
My favorite place in the Valle de Guadalupe that wasn't pictured on the show? La Cocina de Doña Esthela. The Birria there is in the top 5 dishes I've EVER HAD. Get there early, especially on the weekends, this is a busy brunch spot!
Another spot in downtown Ensenada, and the place that is rumored to have invented the margarita! This bar has tons of history in its walls, and the mural behind the bar is incredible!
Adrián, the winemaker for Retorno, truly embodies the Mexican wine spirt of ingenuity and hard work. You'll pull in the driveway in his Valle de Guadalupe winery and may think you're in the wrong place; you'll walk through a little corridor into the winery/barrel room/tasting room. Then Adrián (or his partner Gerardo) will blow your mind, and you'll be reminded that wine is a product of people, not factories.
The ultimate seafood market in downtown Ensenada. Take a stroll through the market itself, before heading to one of the dozens of restaurants lining its perimeter for lunch.
This is your splurge meal in the Valle de Guadalupe. Make sure to make reservations. Get the chef's tasting menu, sit back, and enjoy the ride. Don't miss the scallops in brown butter!
This is bar in the Valle de Guadalupe you see in the last scene. Part of the Cuatro Cuatros hotel property, you'll need park and take a shuttle to get to it. But the views are worth it!
- Welcome to Ensenada.
- [Man] Say it in Spanish. V is for Vino is going South of the border. Never heard of Mexican wine you say? Well get ready. The area we're heading to has been called the Napa Valley of Mexico and has been producing wine for hundreds of years. This region is full of the spirit and passion the Mexican people are known for and it permeates into every aspect of life, the food, the tenacity, the people, the culture and the wine. Welcome to Ensenada and welcome to V is for Vino. Luckily for me, the main wine region of Mexico is located less than four hours or so from my home in LA. And if you're in San Diego, it's less than two hours away making it perfect for day trips or long weekends. We're driving to Ensenada, which is a region of about 60 miles South of the border that includes the city of Ensenada and the Valle De Guadalupe wine area. This is all within the larger Mexican state of Baja, California. It's good when crossing borders to meet with a local tour guide or someone state side who's made the trip before. For me, I went with my buddy, Josh, who's been an advocate of Baja for years and runs tours from San Diego to help first-timers like me get the most out of their visits.
- [Vince] We made it across the border. Now all you and I gotta do is go find a beach and live the rest of our lives down here.
- [Josh] I wouldn't mind in fact, but we just gotta find someone to fix us margaritas constantly 'cause that's a necessity at the beach in Mexico.
- We couldn't film going across the border but essentially you just drive through there's cameras and such but you pretty much just drive through unless they stop for secondary.
- Basically you just, you go on the outside of Tijuana and it places you right on this beautiful toll road called the quota. Because there's tolls and there's three toll booths from Tijuana to Ensenada, government's done a great job with keeping this road well-maintained. On a clear day like this with no traffic, man you're only looking at about an hour.
- And we really are only what, half hour from San Diego to the border? An hour and a half from San Diego and you're there.
- And so we're heading down to your favorite place. Why is it your favorite place in the planet?
- Oh yeah, there's this energy about that place. And it's just something you can't replicate. It's like, if you're here doing it now and you're experiencing Valle de Guadalupe the way it is now, pure and just, you know from the table restaurants, open seating. It's brilliant. It's just a brilliant overall scene. And the wine to boot is high quality.
- And you like it enough that you've just started running tours then?
- Yeah. Yeah. So I started this business around five years ago. I have such an affinity for the region and I understand how some Americans can be hesitant to come down to Mexico, they don't have a driver. So I said, you know what, I'm gonna start a tour company. And I wanna give people the same experience that I had going down there.
- I'd be much more comfortable coming down with someone like you first time than maybe coming on my own.
- Yeah and you know, knowing how to navigate the dirt roads once you're down in Valle de Guadalupe also knowing how to drive, you know in Mexico and knowing where to go. It just gives you an overall sense of comfort.
- Looks like we're gonna be in the car for a bit, a perfect time to brush up on our Mexican wine history. So is the Mexican wine scene, new or old? I'd say a little of both. Let's start with the old. At 500 years of history, Mexico is actually the oldest wine growing country in all of the Americas. Okay, from the top, in the 1520s Hernan Cortes, the Spanish conquistador had complete control of much of what is now Mexico though he was calling it New Spain. He and his men had brought some wine from Spain but naturally it only lasted so long. So he did what any wine loving conqueror would do and ordered his men to grow grapes. Over time more and more grapevines were brought from Spain and planted in Mexico. This lasted until around 1699 when the King of Spain, Charles II noticed people were buying less Spanish wines. Charles took over and he halted production of all Mexican wines except for those for religious purposes. His plan kind of worked. Let's just say there were a lot more people willing to observe the sacrament. This hurt the Mexican wine market significantly as these restrictions lasted up until Mexican independence in 1810 next between the Mexican revolution and a combination of social, political, economic factors plus phylloxera commercial wineries weren't really planted in the Baja region until the 1970s. Baja's high-quality wine making Renaissance is relatively recent, starting in the late 1980s into the early 90s. But the growth has been quick. There are now over a hundred wineries here, which is more than some American wine regions like Lodi, California or the Finger Lakes in New York. Better techniques and equipment, better grape selection for the terroir and cleaner water have all helped the industry improve over time. However, the number one factor in the rise of this region is simply the sharing of knowledge, resources and skills between the winemakers. We arrived in downtown Ensenada, the closest major city, just 45 minutes South of wine country to meet with a friend and one of the many local certified tour guides from the area, Marianna.
- [Vince] What is this place we're in? I mean, it's obviously a historical building but tell me about it.
- [Mariana] This happens to be one of my favorite bars here in Ensenada. It's called the Bar Andaluz and it's placed and setting is in a historical building in California style, Spanish style building that is from the 1930s. And till today we enjoy it as a spot to hang out, have margaritas.
- My margaritas perfect. And this is one of the spots that is rumored to be where it originated, right?
- There are many urban legends that circle around the Margarita drink. People from the state of Chihuahua national tourism they would probably say no, no, it was invented in Juárez city, city of Juárez. So it really depends. These urban legends make it like part of our identity here in Ensenada.
- Yeah there's a lot of cocktails that are like that. I know the old fashioned, there's like six bars who wanna say that they were the one who invented it and it's now just lost to history. So we just drove in here. We're now in downtown Ensenada. What makes the Valle and what makes Ensenada area so special?
- When I started as a tour guide, I was 19 years old and I wanted to get myself through to college. And I had the advantage that I spoke English as many local tour guides do to this day. Ensenada has the particularity that it has many things to offer. And one of the things that I love well for sure is seafood because I grew up having my parents say, eat this, eat that and it could have been an oyster, it could have been even a piece of shrimp. And then as time went by, I started discovering the world of wine. And then I started discovering the mixology. And then I started discovering craft beer and it made a real big front with all the commercial brands of beer that everyone knows.
- [Josh] The eclectic gastronomy scene. The, I mean the port and the fishing town, the fresh seafood everything going on here, it's one of the only places in the region and in this part of the world where this is happening now. And we're a part of it and it's very special.
- And all the history behind the mines and pyramids and the natives and the Russians and the missions but there's also a huge melting pot here in Ensenada. And I think that is something that a lot of people don't really understand about Baja, California.
- Yeah, I mean, it's simultaneously new and old, right? You have this new wine region and the culinary scene that is evolving continuously but at the same time, they've been making wine here a long time. Obviously like you see the history of what we're doing now in the 1930s building drinking at the place that maybe invented the margarita. So you have all this history that you can come visit but you can also go and explore the brand new Ensenada, the brand new Valle as well.
- We've been interacting with this border crossing for all our lives. This is a huge part of our identity. So many of us, we grew up going to the San Diego area and coming back and also many San Diego's and Los Angeles--
- Los Angelino's.
- Los Angelino's they've always come down here. And little by little, the United States many states have been discovering how complex Baja, California actually is.
- It's really cool because when you come into this region like if you drop down into the Valle from the mountain, you get this overall sense of I'm home.
- So we did just that. We drove 45 minutes over the hill from downtown Ensenada into the Valle de Guadalupe wine region. Let's get oriented, shall we? 90% of Mexico's wine is made in the area near downtown Ensenada, colloquially known as the Valle de Guadalupe. Let's break it down geographically. The actual Valle de Guadalupe is where the bulk of the tasting rooms, hotels and restaurants are but people use the words Valle de Guadalupe to refer not only to the Valle itself but also the surrounding areas where grapes are grown. In fact, less than half of the grapes grown come from the literal Valle de Guadalupe. Many also come from nearby wine regions like Ojos Negroes, La Grulla, Santo Tomas and San Vincente. It's like living in a suburb but only referring to the big city nearby for simplicity sake. The climate here is exactly what you would expect from a Mexican wine region.
- [Man] Spicy?
- No, not spicy, dry and hot. The Valle is right at the edge of being too close to the equator and thus too hot to make wine at all. But if you watch this show, you know where I'm going from here. Like most great wine regions, there are a few X factors or microclimates that allow grapes to grow. Number one is the breeze coming from the Pacific keeping the grapes cool and dry. Number two is the higher altitude that the grapes are planted at. This may be only time that being left high and dry is actually good. This is because you get diurnal shifts or temperature fluctuations from day to night that allow the grapes to ripen in the day but stop ripening and retain acidity at night. Hey. The terroir here contributes to a characteristic almost all Mexican wines share, a beautiful stony saline like minerality. This is common in other places in the world too like, Chablis, Muscadet and Santorini. The saline quality is a result of the ocean breeze and soil. In the early days of Baja wine making, wine makers wrestled with this attribute. But as they've honed in their techniques it's become an integrated part of the wines and gives them a distinctive calling card. I'll admit it, before I arrived here I kind of thought the lodging would be cute little casitas and motels. And while those definitely exist, Ensenada is known for some of the most trendy, sustainable, luxury, boutique hotels around. A perfect desert Oasis after a long day in the Valle sun. There's something hauntingly unique about a wine region in a desert and what that means. Hotels built into the jagged rocks and cliffs surrounding the Valle. Overlooking up into the massive open plains. If you're more of a city dweller, you can stay in downtown Ensenada just 40 minutes or so from the Valle itself or if you wanna get away from it all, might I suggest glamping in some vineyards. I could do this forever but we've got a long day ahead of us tomorrow. So I will see you in the A.M. Hasta Mañana. I have something really important to tell you. Don't worry, it's not you, it's me. I realize that I've never explicitly said it on this show before despite it being the number one thing that could take us to the next level, it's the single most fundamental change you can make in your understanding of wine. It's the importance of place, too dramatic? That's better. My main goal with this show is for you to be able to find wines you enjoy. And understanding the importance of place is the easiest way to get you there. You see the Americans tend to look for wine based on grape variety. They say I'd like a Cabernet or I'd like a Chardonnay, whereas European wines are all labeled based on the place they come from. Think, Sancerre or Burgundy. The reason they do this is that place affects a wine's character more so than the grapes that it's made from. The reason place affects wine is a combination of local laws, tradition and terroir. It's also the reason we film this show in a different region every episode not just a different winery. Don't get me wrong, the grape is important and definitely helps define the flavor profile of the wine. For instance, Syrah is almost always gonna have black pepper characteristics no matter where it's grown but the style of the wine, that's based on place. Let's use my favorite example, Chardonnay. I can't tell you how many people have said the words to me, I don't like Chardonnay. What they're usually referring to is a style of Chardonnay that's very popular in Northern California. Big ripe, with lots of vanilla, baking spice, butter and creme brulee flavors. But what about Chardonnay from Chablis, France which is lean, high in acid, light, mineral driven with tart apples. Side-by-side you wouldn't even know they were the same grape. So what can we take away from this? Well, number one, when you find a wine you like remember where it came from and drink more wines from that same area. Now that leads me to number two, don't give up on a grape because you had a version of it you didn't like. Try grown from somewhere else. And number three, share this info when you go to a somm or a salesperson and tell them the grapes and places that you typically enjoy. For instance, if you tell me like a Sauvignon Blanc, they don't really have enough information to go off but if you tell them you like a Napa Sauvignon Blanc, you've now essentially told them that you like new world, warm climate Sauvignon Blancs. Now they can find you other similar wines. They may send you to a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, a South African Chenin Blanc or even an Argentinian Torrontes because they're similar in style to a new world warm climate Sauvignon Blanc. And now that you know the importance of place start drinking as many places as you can because the world of wine is way too vast to drink the same things your whole life. So we've talked all about why people love it here, the climate, the geography but what exactly did they grow here? Well, a little bit of everything. This region hasn't really landed on one signature grape variety. It's a new frontier wine growing, which is precisely why so many wine makers from all over the world are drawn here. As far as whites, Chenin Blanc, Sauv Blanc and Chardonnay are all popular but because of the heat, most of the grapes are red, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Tempranillo, Zinfandel, Merlot, Nebbiolo, Grenache, Malbec, Sangiovese and a native grape called Mission, all popular grapes. The style of these wines are big, rich, robust high alcohol kick in the face reds. If you're a fan of big reds from California you are going to love the Valle. Another important thing to understand about Valle wines many are not single varietal wines, say a hundred percent Cabernet or a hundred percent Tempranillo but instead of unique red blends that are found nowhere else in the world, things like Cabernet, Syrah or Cabernet Sangiovese or Tempranillo Syrah. Do you get what I'm saying? Because here there are no old wine laws or boards in place mandating techniques, which grapes must go into which wines or which grapes can be planted where, winemakers have the freedom to experiment with incredible unique blends. There's nowhere else in the world that grows Italian, French, Spanish varieties all within the same region. It's a bit of the wild West of the wine world. There is one grape that the Valle is beginning to hang its hat on for single varietal wines. And it's probably not the grape you'd expect. I'll give you some hints. It's typically made in cool climates. It's tannin structure is through the roof and it's really only made in one other place in the world. Give up, it's Nebbiolo, the grape of Barolo and Barbaresco in Northern Italy but isn't the Valle a warm climate? It is. Which is why it's a bit of an anomaly that they're making it here. As opposed to light bodied with tart red fruits the Valle Nebbiolos are fuller body, inky with dark red and black fruits. And the tannin structure is still sky high. There's usually flavors of oak, plums, blackberry, licorice, coco, violets, roses and even tar. These wines are super high quality and super age worthy and I've got the perfect place to try them out. As you've seen, the Valle has its fair share of luxury boutique tasting rooms. But the beauty and charm of this region is this, everyone, regardless of where you're from, your experience or how much backing you have can find their place here in the Valle. So when I stumbled into Adrian's tasting room for the first time, I felt an energy that embodied this Mexican spirit. Welcome to Retorno. This to me is the spirit of a young up-and-coming exciting wine region.
- [Adrian] Sometimes we have people coming from different parts of the world a bunch of them saying that here it's like a wine region like very close to Napa, like 20 years ago.
- Tell me Retorno, first off, how did you get the name? What does that mean?
- Hence the lable.
- Yeah, it was like kind of a U-turn for my life of being in a big city having like all commodities to get into a place where you have like a straight contact with the earth, with the soil, with the plants, with everything.
- Quickly tell me a little bit about your, what is your wine making philosophy?
- We take the grape. We don't make any correction. We don't add any water. We don't add any acid like citric or tartaric acid. We want to take the grape as it comes that year and to turn it into the wine. We make blends. So we make a natural correction with it.
- Sure, so rather than acidify, which I will name any name but there's a lot of wineries in the world who will do that to correct something. You'd rather say, all right, well I have this big wine that you know, this year, we didn't get as much acid out of these grapes, so let's blend it with a higher acid grape and balance it that way.
- That's it.
- Yeah. And that's really cool because a lot of wine regions can not do that because of the either laws or expectations around the region. You know, one of the things that's amazing about Ensenada and about the Valle de Guadelupe is you can blend whatever you want. There's no rules for what you have to put into your wine. There's no rules of what percentage needs to be what.
- One part of the winemaking here is that we don't have that rules, so we can have all the time experiments.
- If you go tasting here in the Valle and you go from tasting room to tasting room, everyone has different blends. They have different wines. They have different grapes rather than being the same thing everywhere you go. Some wine regions, here's my version of a Pinot, Here's my version of Pinot. Here's my version of Pinot. Here I don't know like what I'm gonna walk into. And that's the fun of it.
- So we will start with Teo, which is the Chenin Blanc that we have. This one has a one year in Oak barrel, new barrel.
- Very good. This is oaked Chenin Blanc.
- Very strange to have a Chenin Blanc for a year in oak barrel.
- Just going back to like, you know, you can do whatever you want here, you know, Hey, like everybody else is making Chenin and you know, in stainless, well, I wanna make it in oak. Yeah and no one can stop you.
- And new Oak, which is like more strong.
- Yeah, sure. So I just had my first sip. It's just so poppy 'cause that's the danger of Oak, right? You can lose all your acid but this is fresh.
- This one has like half of malolactic in oak barrel.
- Half Malo?
- Very cool. And if you combine that with the tropical notes, I almost get like a toasted coconut thing because you get that oak and then the malo gives it that creaminess like you would have a coconut. That's really cool. This wine reminds me a bit of like, if you're a Chardonnay lover, you would love this wine. If you love Northern California style Chardonnays but with a lot more restraint, it's a little bit, you know it's medium body, the acid is still fresh and you get these really, really fun tropical notes that you just typically don't get with Chardonnay unless it's way too ripe.
- Sweet things also like honey, like very mature pineapple.
- Yeah, this is bad-ass. I love this wine.
- This one is Palabra. Zinfandel at least 70% and the rest of it is Tempranillo and Barbera. If the Zinfandel is perfect, we make a 100% Zinfandel.
- But then if we need to have some acidity or we need to have some structure on the wine, we add some Tempranillo and some Barbera.
- Instead of manipulating the wine in post-production, what can we blend to make it, to give it that lift or to give it that depth or whatever you need? And that smokey spice that Zinfandel is known for mixed with the brightness of the red fruits and a good amount of oak. Really nice kind and leathery tannins on this too. This feels like it could be a red meat wine, for sure.
- Yeah, sure. You can pair with Merlot or you can pair with Beria. The last one it's a Nebbiolo. It's called Decada, which is like 10 year anniversary wine. And we decided to leave this Nebbiolo for three years.
- Three years?
- Three years.
- In barrel?
- In barrel.
- And then we decided to live it for two more years in the bottle.
- In the bottle. Wow.
- So you have a five-year old wine.
- You know, a lot of people say, what is the difference between cheap wine and expensive wine? And I'd say most of it is one, the fruit that's going in and then it's are you paying the winery to store it for you and do that aging for you? And then obviously the Oak. Oak is expensive just generally. What's funny is that one of the things that makes Barolo or Barbaresco expensive, they too have to mandate their aging process in oak before they're allowed to release it. And what's cool about you is you're doing it voluntarily. So you don't have to do this. You could release Nebbiolo in one year or six months but instead you chose to do it like this. And that's the freedom that this region allows.
- The nose, soil, dirt, some cinnamon and then you got dry leaves.
- Yeah, like dried tobacco.
- And then it turns like very sweet, like a mature fix.
- I get like a rich dark character from the fruit like beautiful mouth coding, kind of juicy blackberries. And the tannin structure is beautifully integrated. It coats the mouth but it's not like a young wine where I get really socked in the face with Tannin, it's well integrated into the wine and that's obviously due to the aging. It was an honor to taste with you.
- Thank you. Thank you for coming.
- Welcome to the V. V is for Vino Nerd Lab. We take complicated wine topics and make them simple. Today, we're talking about hangovers.
- [Man] Hangovers.
- That's so loud, man. We've all been there. We bartered for a bit of fun one day, just to pay for it the next. I'm talking about Veisalgia, which is the scientific name for a hangover. Ever since man invented fermented beverages they've been cursed with hangovers or blessed depending on your perception. After all, if it weren't for hangovers what would stop us from drinking all day long? The weird thing about hangovers is that despite the troubles they provided human beings with over the millennia, we know surprisingly little about why they happen or how to cure them. Sure, we've achieved engineering feats such as seedless watermelons but no surefire way for me to painlessly enjoy a day of wine tasting followed by a night of tequila shots. Thanks for nothing science. Kidding aside, let's start with the why. Most scientists recognized that hangovers occur due to a mix of the following factors, the hydration, the increase of acid in your stomach, electrolyte imbalance, your immune system thinking it's being poisoned, low blood sugar, blood vessel dilation, alcohol withdrawal when you're done drinking and finally not being able to sleep well and recover. Since research shows that it's a mix of these factors at play, it kind of makes sense that we can't really pinpoint a solution yet. Are certain types of alcohol worst for your hangovers? For the most part, not really. Studies show that beer, wine and liquor all have about the same hangover severity because at the end of the day it's the alcohol that matters. But there are a few exceptions, darker alcohols like brown spirits and dark tannic red wines tend to have more congeners. Congeners contain chemicals other than the alcohol itself which studies show can make your hangovers worse. Carbon dioxide like in sparkling wines and bubbly mixers can also make your hangovers worse since CO2 helps alcohol enter the bloodstream quicker. Then you have your sugary drinks and mixtures, which don't necessarily have any effect on the hangover itself but does make it a lot easier to consume more drinks in a shorter amount of time. Plus you wouldn't normally eat three slices of cake in one sitting because you know you'll feel bad the next day but you probably wouldn't hesitate having three drinks with the same amount of sugar. Does mixing beer, wine and liquor make hangovers worse? No, but your friend in college who swore by liquor before beer you're in the clear, is probably right. Order matters. The more alcohol you drink, the harder it is for your body to process that alcohol. So start with higher alcohol drinks while your liver can process it a little better and then give your liver a break with beer or wine towards the end of the night. Are there any surefire remedies? Well, there's certainly no lack of options. Sports drinks, vitamins, electrolytes, exercise, spicy food, greasy foods, soupy food, tea, coffee, painkillers and of course more booze Hair of the dog anybody? Some crazy theories include rubbing lemons under your armpits in Puerto Rico, drinking pickle brine in Poland and drinking the tea made from green tree ants in Australia. And by all means, if you found a hangover remedy that works, go for it because the reality is that there is no proven hangover cure that's been effective besides time, rest and perhaps replenishing fluids and sodium levels. So our biggest scientific conclusion today, moderation is key. Hangovers don't have to be proof that you had a good time. I hope you enjoyed this nerd lab on hangovers and as always keep geeking out. Mexican cuisine in America oftentimes means quesadillas and burritos. But the truth is that contemporary Mexican food resembles nothing close to its American cousin and the food scene here in the Valle, well, I'll be honest, it's gonna blow your mind. Before our big meal at Fauna, one of the most famous restaurants in the Valle, I met with Chef David Hussong at the local fish market to talk about how he became one of Mexico's most respected chefs. Cheers.
- [David] Cheers man.
- [Vince] Thank you for having me in Ensenada. What do we have?
- This is a half order. Half order of Ceviche la Casa. This is really close to the market that I wanna show you around later on. That's basically where they get like 80% of their ingredients. That is why I wanna bring you here. Fresh product, super tasty, very simple.
- This looks amazing. So 'cause Ensenada is essentially a port town. So it's a fishing town.
- They're bringing it all in which is so cool.
- Exactly, every day we get a fresh product but like a lot of people say that and its like five, six, seven days old and this is like, they go in the morning. Really, really early by seven o'clock I'm already getting a text from the fisherman and he's like, today I have three guys, you know, I have three fish. Three yellow tail or two raw cuts and it's like okay, that was what we're gonna have today. And that's it.
- And you get your stuff for the restaurant. You'll come here and pick it up and that's what you use.
- Yeah, exacly.
- Okay, cool.
- Yeah, that is why when we go to the market you're probably gonna see a lot of people are like, Hey, hi, how are you? I'm here everyday. That is why I found a spot in the parking lot when everybody is not finding a spot. I already have my guy there he's like, oh.
- King David, just roll out the red carpet.
- [David] Por favor.
- [Vince] Okay, so what is this?
- Okay, that's extremely spicy.
- How spicy?
- Okay. No, it's not spicy. Just go for it. Just go for it. Oh yeah, that's gonna, yeah.
- It's good. It's good.
- It's delicious. It's really spicy. I'm not shy. So go for it please.
- So tell me about the restaurant.
- I think it's elevated in a way of the product and the freshness talks but not really elevated in at least not for Fauna. It's not elevated with flowers and with fancy stuff. It's like these, like you don't see any flowers, anything? But its so tasty. And we focus on that. We focus on just making food taste how it should be.
- You are doing what actual Mexican cuisine is. It's really just taking the fresh ingredients and you're using a lot of the same ingredients but they're done in ways that we don't see often. And so you have that communal seating and that really just like leans into the party atmosphere. Everybody's at the table. They're having a good time.
- Yeah, it happens a lot of times that people don't know each other they eat together in Fauna and then they come back now as friends and they eat together in Fauna again.
- I have to let you go because you have to prep for a big dinner with us.
- I know.
- Thank you. I am so excited to eat. I can't even tell you.
- See you in a little bit.
- Cheers man. No one likes to eat alone, so I gathered six of the best wine makers from the Valle to dine at Fauna. Santiago from Santo Tomas, the oldest winery in Baja. Lulu who spent 16 years in France but decided to return to her home to make wine for Bruma. Glenda representing Vena Cava, who's making some of the best natural wine in the Valle. Santiago, the young gun, who's a master of fun, fresh new style wine. Kristin from Lechuza, the Santa Barbara transplant, who's one of those passionate advocates for the Valle I know. And Fernando from Cavas Valmar, one of the most respected elders of the Valle. I've been to other young wine regions and they're not as established as the Valle. Quality across the board is fairly high and I think that's 'cause everybody works together really well.
- [Lulu] I mean, I spent 16 years in France and of course France is a very, you know, a lot of rules and it was a grand crew. So even more rules. And I remember coming back and I'm from Ensenada. My family has been here for five generations. So I'm really, really proud of Ensenada. But I had forgotten I when I was 17 and came back when I was 30, 30.
- 30 something.
- 30 something. And I had forgotten how nice we are.
- [Kristin] If I don't have something I can give a call. I know that I've called both of you guys during this harvest--
- And I've called too.
- Because this harvest came fast. Rather than failing or allowing your neighbor to fail, the idea of let's just all succeed together.
- Mission is not a common grape I've seen in California or anywhere else in the world. So tell me about it.
- [Santiago] We do have mission grapes planted in the Valle, which happens to be the plant that the vine that was introduced by the missionaries. It's an important wine for us because it represents us and it has our origin in the bottle and in the label. So it's, we are missionaries. Made for everyday purpose. You can drink it with pretty much anything chef decided that it was very interesting with abalone. So fish, seafood.
- We laughed because chefs spoiled us. Abalone is one of the most expensive shellfish around and the light white mission wine with its crisp acidity, its citrus fruits paired perfectly and make a great appertivo wine. Kristin and Fernando they have to stress the whole dinner. Think they gonna last.
- Or we'll just be very fluid at that point.
- Tell me a little bit about why the Valle? Why did you choose here to make wine? Why did you choose here to live and be part of this culture?
- I think like a lot of people Valle chose us. Once you're here, you're surrounded by talented, smart, eager people and it's contagious and you wanna be a part of that.
- There's all sorts of levels here, right? There are larger states and you know, hotels and beautiful places that have a lot of investment in it but there's also a lot of room for the little guy to come in and buy land. And that's something that I can't say about a lot of places in the world.
- You don't go to Napa and see Robert Mondavi and this and that any given Monday on a restaurant and here you see all of us, the winemakers, the chef. You can find good wine everywhere.
- I say that all the time, good wine is everywhere but good solid community and people is rare.
- Exactly. The Paysage, what we're eating, what we're seeing, what we're smelling, what we're living that's what makes the Valle unique and community definitely 90% of our success.
- This is your wine.
- This is my baby.
- This is your wine.
- Very good. Tell me about it.
- This is a hundred percent Sangiovese varietal, yeah. I love to begin with the color. You know, when you see a very paled colored rose you know you're gonna get freshness, you're gonna get nice acidity, kind of very fruit-forward aromas. And of course, very dry.
- It's really cool in a place that is known for bigger, bolder style reds, you can achieve this sort of lightness and freshness. How do you do that? Is it the combination of altitude? Is it when you pick?
- Picking at the precise moment when you have nicer aromas, complexity instead of intensity.
- Chef prepared broccoli with a broccoli puree and smoked chili and the freshness from the rosé contrasted the smokey character perfectly. All right, onto the next course.
- [David] There's scallop poached in brown butter eggplant pureé at the bottom and flour tortilla to make a little taco/burrito. Lightly poached, exactly you brown the... I'm not going to tell the recipe!
- Yeah, this dish is unreal.
- I think it's everyone's favorite.
- This is about as good as it gets. Okay, so this is orange wine, skin contact.
- [Glenda] First, Vena Cava started making these natural wines in 2014 but we have 15 years as a winery. At Vena Cava we don't add any sulfites or any yeast to start fermentation, it starts naturally. Aromas of Apricot or dried fruit. Also some nuts.
- And these wines are just fun. Like they're fun wines there. And I know they're not obviously we say they're grapes not oranges but a lot of times you get that Tangerine that, you know really just juicy Tangerine--
- I think elsewhere or in other countries or regions where there's a lot of history behind as an industry, you have to be categorized, either you're a natural wine maker or a law intervention or you make new style wines or classical or...here? No labels.
- You can have the same producer making super traditional Bordeaux blends and you know a natural skin contact wine in the same house. And nobody blinks an eye, which is really fun. Oh man, what a killer dish but it's a tough dish to pair as the charred eggplant brings some weight to the dish but the scallops are still light and delicate. For these in-between dishes, orange wine can work great. It's weighty enough for the smoky eggplant or retaining enough acidity to cut through the fat of the brown butter and match the acid of the citrus and the dish. All right, onto the next course.
- Pork jowl. Avocado, tomatillo, cilantro, a little lemon juice in there, tortillas, taquito. Enjoy.
- [Santiago] All right, so what we are trying today is our 2018 Mourvedre. Mourvedre is not a grape that it's like really common in this area. There's not that many vineyards to work with it. However, being that we are in a hot weather region it has adapted greatly. Solar Fortun is a hundred percent state grown single vineyard. This wines tends to be somewhere around 13.3%, 13.5% in alcohol. It's got a great acidity. It's a combination of the clone of Mourvedre that we're working with along with the sandy soils that we have that gives you this sort of like really mid to light bodied Mourvedre with great nuance, great aromatics. You know, you got all this like the flowers and spices on this wine.
- Yep. And the one thing I'll say and I hope nobody takes it the wrong way 'cause I mean it as a compliment is a lot of these wines are somewhat unpolished in a great way. Like the rustic, when I think of a lot of old world wines. And you get this beautiful rustic quality to it. I like it when it feels like a taste from the ground.
- Right? Yeah. And I get that from this. I got that a lot from the Rosé and that's a really fun. Another one of the best dishes I've had in a long time. The fatty salty pork jowl, which is similar to pork belly needs acid from the wine and this beautiful Mourvedre has that in spades. It also continues our light to heavy progression and is our first red wine of the meal.
- I could eat tacos for every meal, every course of every meal. It's only a vehicle.
- It's like a spoon.
- So we have our lamb. This is lamb from Ojos Negros, it's braised, which is the whole piece. Then shredded, sear really hard in the plancha. At the bottom is chilhuacle rojo from oaxaca, it's a very special chili that we love to use here in Fauna and butternut squash, finally the season just started last week, so we're very excited to have this dish back. Salsa negra, butternut squash, tortillas, tacos. Enjoy.
- [Fernando] Okay, this is Cabernet Sauvignon 2013. Our style is the antique style. It's too much time in barrel, too much time in bottle. And then when I'm ready to send the market, I say, it's okay. With the barrel French Oak is a good combination with the coffee, chocolate, fruits and spices and vegetables and everything. Then it's a very, very complex wine.
- Every time I go in, I smell something different. The blend allows you the red fruit and black fruit combination. You get this beautiful spice from the barrel. And then obviously you get the benefit of the age. And so you can even see it in the color. You can see some of that beautiful Amber and still fresh by the way, like very, very fresh for a seven year old wine at this point. How awesome. And then we also, we have a second line as well. So this is our Nebbiolo right?
- Yes, yes. This is a 2016 Nebbiolo. It has first the celebration of the fruit on the front end. It has that beautiful freshness. And then it's followed by backbone and structure.
- Some of the wines in Northern California you get a lot of that similar characteristic in this where you get that buttery, creaminess from the old character and you have a grape like Nebbiolo with an insane tannin structure that can stand up to it really well.
- Definitely the ageability but it has a nice suavecito. I know you don't love to be like smooth is a word that you think may be overused but you can now use suavecito.
- That's way more exciting than smooth I'm stealing that one. We saved our big reds for last. The rich seared shredded lamb was amazing with our rich bold wines. That was supposed to be the end of our tasting but Fernando, one of the elders and founders of the Valle well, he had one last surprise for us.
- This is a very, very special Cabernet Sauvignon, 97. I think this year was the best of the last 20, 30 years for me. This is 23 years old wine. And I think it's the wine that represents the potential, the vocation of Baja, California because it's alive, it's complex. Well, taste it.
- This is just like a typical Tuesday, right? You know, I struggle sometimes when I'm in the moment and we're filming but I know this will be one of the moments that I remember for a long time. So I really appreciate what you guys have done. Thanks.
- How lucky are we? I remember when I lived on a horse ranch the joke always was, I wonder what the rich people are doing? We may not be rich in the sense of money but this here, man, how rich are we?.
- And with that, it was time to say goodbye to Mexico. Of all the wine regions I've been to so far, the Valle and Ensenada was the most unexpected. I didn't foresee being so blown away by the genuine caring and the hospitality of the people. Everyone is so overjoyed to share their culture with you. It's easy to get wrapped up in the magic of it all and forget that this part of the world has been through a lot. But in their struggles, they found a freedom older wine regions can't partake in. Freedom to make what you want, in the style you want. The freedom to be ingenuitive, crafty and brave with your choices and the freedom to turn dirt roads into a desert oasis. I'll be watching with anticipation as the Valle de Guadalupe and Ensenada evolve over the next few decades. So that one day I'll be able to say 'I was there when'. I hope you enjoyed Ensenada and we'll see you next time on V is for Vino.