El Valle de Guadelupe, Baja California

By Katherine

Living in San Diego, I am only a stone's throw from the Mexico border.  And luckily for my neighbors and me, Baja California is in the midst of a culinary renaissance. "Baja Med" cuisine is a fusion of Mexican and Mediterranean flavors, using the bounty of local produce, seafood, and wine available on the Baja peninsula.  From Tijuana to Ensenada, there are dozens of exciting restaurants that have been getting attention in American media in the last year or so, including a feature by Dana Goodyear in the New Yorker and an episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations.  In addition to the restaurants, Baja is home to some great wine country in the Valle de Guadelupe, which boasts some 50 wineries. 

Unfortunately, traveling to Tijuana and environs is pretty intimidating for a lot of Americans.  Mexican border towns have been plagued with violence in recent years, and although things in Tijuana have improved significantly, many Americans are still nervous. I have traveled south of the border a couple of times since moving to San Diego, and I felt perfectly safe and very welcome on both trips.  The main thing that has prevented me from heading south more frequently is the long waits at the international border to return to the U.S., which can stretch up to several hours at peak times. 

Enter Club Tengo Hambre, a group that leads food-themed day trips down to Baja.  If you're at all nervous about traveling to Mexico, you're in good hands--the leaders include a Tijuana native and they will expertly guide you to all sorts of delicious things.  I signed up for the mailing list a while back, and when I saw they were leading a wine-tasting trip to the Valle de Guadelupe, I reserved a spot right away and recruited a few friends to join. 

We met on the U.S. side of the San Ysidro border crossing and walked across the border together.  We piled into a van and headed down to the Valle, which is about an hour and a half from the border.  Our itinerary for the day included three wineries:  Alximia, Las Nubes, and Vinas de Garza, followed by a barbecue at chef Javier Plascencia's seasonal outdoor restaurant, Finca Altozano.   

Our first stop, Alximia, is still under construction, but it is a lovely place to visit nonetheless.   Its futuristic building is incorporating the latest in enviromentally-friendy construction and has beautiful views overlooking the vineyards.  

Alximia's spaceship-like building

Who's ready to taste?

Alximia's barrel room

The vineyards at Alximia

After our tasting at Alximia, we had a quick snack of some local cheeses and bread, and then we made our way to Las Nubes.   Las Nubes has a beautiful tasting room and large patio overlooking the vineyards, and we got to sample seven wines there, which were all fantastic (thank goodness for that bread and cheese in our bellies!). 

Our group's tasting table

More bread and cheese, please

Wandering the grounds at Las Nubes

Wandering the grounds at Las Nubes

Las Nubes' barrel room

Las Nubes' barrel room

From Las Nubes, we made our way to Vinas de Garza, which was surrounded by beautiful landscaping and offered tastings in its back garden.  It was a lovely spot to spend a sunny day, but none of us wanted to linger for too long because we were all very hungry by this point. 

Out front at Vinas de Garza

Out front at Vinas de Garza

The wines aced their test

The wines aced their test

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IMG_0238.JPG

As I said, by this point, our stomachs were rumbling (or sloshing, more likely). Luckily, it was time to eat! Onward to Finca Altozano, where Chef Plascencia was roasting a whole lamb for us in a caja china, or Chinese box.  Finca Altozano is in a beautiful setting, and the food was amazing!

The scene at Finca Altozano

The scene at Finca Altozano

Next time we need to reserve the table out in the field!

Next time we need to reserve the table out in the field!

The caja china where our lamb was cooked

The caja china where our lamb was cooked

Avocado crema with shiitake mushrooms

Avocado crema with shiitake mushrooms

Lamb, ready to be made into tacos

After we stuffed ourselves with lamb, it was time to make our way back home.  The Tengo Hambre folks dropped us off back at the San Ysidro border crossing, and we made our way back over on foot.  We brought some wine back with us, so we'll be able to have a taste of Baja at home.  Club Tengo Hambre brought a photographer along on our trip, so if you're interested in seeing more photos, you can check them out here.  I highly recommend Club Tengo Hambre and exploring Baja generally!