Valle de Guadalupe Wine & Culinary Tour | 2013


TOUR DATES:
September 29-October 1
October 6-8
October 13-15
October 20-22
October 27-29
November 3-5

COST:
$595 per person based on double occupancy ($110 single occupancy upcharge)
$75 upcharge for upgrading to a deluxe suite (per person based on double occupancy)

DETAILS:
Everyone will meet at Wine Vault & Bistro Sunday morning for our legendary Bloody Mediterraneans and Mexican Coffees. After checking in and socializing a bit with your soon-to-become new best friends, we’ll board the bus out front with to-go drinks in hand. Depending upon the border wait (usually about 15 minutes), we should arrive at Hotel Coral y Marina in just under two hours. The drive south on Hwy 1 is one of the most scenic in Mexico, with picturesque, Big Sur-like views from atop the rugged cliffs hugging the ocean’s edge. Hotel Coral y Marina is one of the best hotels in the Ensenada area. It’s located right in the marina halfway between the last toll booth and the entrance to the city. 100% of the rooms are suites, 100% of the rooms have balconies, and 100% of the rooms have full-on ocean views. It has two outdoor pools, one indoor pool, two Jacuzzis, an exercise room and a spa. And their restaurant is excellent!

Once at the hotel we’ll start with an amazing Sunday brunch on the outdoor patio overlooking the ocean with bottomless Bloody Marys, Mexican Coffees and Margaritas included (yikes). After that the afternoon is free for you to:

1) check into your ocean view room and just hang out on your balcony, and/or

2) have a massage or spa treatment, and/or

3) walk around the marina, and/or

4) hang out at the pool bar and enjoy an adult beverage(s), and/or

5) take a shuttle into Ensenada to do some shopping, etc. I’ll take anyone who’s interested into town (about a $5 cab ride) to see the famous fish market (home of the original fish taco) and maybe sample some aguas calientes (a spicy ceviche-like preparation of sushi-grade, super-fresh raw seafood) with a cold beer or two.

After an afternoon of relaxation, we’ll meet back at the restaurant for optional no-host cocktails at 6:00 and then for an amazing six-course dinner at 7:00. Everyone needs to bring one bottle of wine per person from home to share at the communal dining table. We’ll do small 1-2 ounce pours so with any luck you’ll be able to sample upwards of 15-20 different wines in one sitting. (Keep in mind that the menu will be seafood centric so whites and softer reds like Pinot Noir or Rhone blends will probably be the most food friendly.) After dinner the evening is free for you to hang out at the bar with your new friends or to just call it an early night and relax on your private balcony overlooking the ocean.

Breakfast (included) Monday morning will be back down in the restaurant with your choice of indoor or outdoor seating. It’s a first-class, all-you-can-eat buffet with many of the items made to order (omelets, eggs any style, smoothies to your specifications and even hand-pressed tortillas made right in front of you). In addition to many traditional Mexican specialties, you’ll also find plenty of typical American fare plus a delicious fresh tropical fruit station if you want to do something on the lighter/healthier side. (That’s where you’ll find me because I know what’s coming up for lunch and dinner and definitely want to save my appetite … hint, hint.)

And (because it takes a lot of beer to make good wine … how many times have you heard that line from winemakers), after breakfast we’ll hop on the bus for a five minute jaunt up the road to Agua Mala, an artisanal micro-brewery right on the ocean (but completely invisible from the highway because it’s hidden by a purposely non-descript wall with absolutely zero signage) owned by my friends Ashley and Nathaniel. These guys are rocking the Baja cerveza world with some amazing brews. You’ll have an opportunity to taste different malts roasted at different levels and to smell the various strains of hops used to make their beers before actually sampling them so that once you actually do taste them, you’ll be able to recognize and have a much greater appreciation for the specific malts and hops used to make the different styles. After the brewery tour, we’ll hang out on the lawn in front of their house (that’s just behind the brewery … yeah I know, tough life) on the cliff overlooking the ocean to enjoy the final beer of the morning … but hey, it’ll only be 10:30 by then so there’ll be plenty more time for drinking wine.

Now is when the wine part of the tour officially starts. First stop will be Alximia Winery. Those of you who went on our 2011 tours will remember this high-tech facility that we visited while it was still under construction. So it will be especially rewarding for you to see this facility again finally nearing completion. Owned by a father/son-astronomer/mathematician team, you can probably already guess that this is no ordinary winery. The architecture is a very futuristic looking three-story dome building with flying buttresses extending from all sides like spider legs. It is incredibly efficiently designed and utilizes gravity flow production, rain water capture, immensely thick, energy-saving walls and a host of other features too long to list. We’ll get a behind-the-scenes tour there and, of course, taste their premium wines.

Next stop will be for lunch. And what a treat we have in store for you! Renowned chef Javier Plascencia of Tijuana’s Mision 19 fame recently opened an outdoor restaurant in the Valle called Finca Altozano. We’ll drive down a dirt road seemingly in the middle of nowhere when all of a sudden there will be a gate in the barbed wire fencing leading to a grassy knoll leading to a rustic outdoor restaurant. Here we’ll enjoy a traditional but very upscale “taquiza,” a family-style presentation of “make-your-own” tacos consisting of freshly made tortillas with half dozen exotic fillings plus all the usual condiments and sides. We’ll give our livers a much needed break and enjoy their refreshing “agua frescas” — icy, purified water infused with slightly sweetened, macerated fresh fruit. Yum! (Beer and wine will also be available to purchase at ridiculously low prices if you want to keep you B/A level on an even keel.)

After lunch we’ll head over to Las Nubes, a brand new winery located on the western slopes. It’s an architecturally stunning, state-of-the-art facility with floor-to-ceiling glass windows overlooking the Valle. But most importantly, their wine is equally stunning. Here we’ll enjoy a tour and then a tasting paired with some of the Valle’s artisanal cheeses.

After this mid-afternoon stop we’re going “off roading” to the middle of nowhere for a repeat visit to La Villa del Valle right smack dab in the center of the Valle. Those of you who went on our 2009 and 2011 tours will no doubt have many fond memories here and it will be interesting to finally see the finished product after four years of construction. La Villa del Valle is actually three separate projects owned and operated by American ex-pats Phil and Eileen Gregory: La Villa del Valle is the exclusive B&B part of the project; Vena Cava is the winery part (just completed a few months ago, by the way); and Corazon de Tierra is the restaurant part. If you were on our 2009 tours you’ll remember Phil as our host at La Escuelita, the fascinating co-op started by Valle de Guadalupe wine pioneer Hugo Acosta that enables small mom-and-pop producers to produce their own wine, grappa and olive oil using shared equipment and facilities. Phil was making his own label, Vena Cava, there at the co-op then but now has completely moved production on-site to their new winery at the B&B that has just completed construction. After touring the immaculate grounds (with a glass of Vena Cava bubbly in hand, of course) and then touring the new “upside-down boats” winery (with barrel samples and appetizers, of course), we’ll walk over to Corazon de Tierra where Phil will host a multi-course winemaker dinner prepared by Diego Hernandez, their chef who was recently voted best young chef in Baja. It promises to be a night to remember under the stars in one of the most beautiful settings in the valley. (As a completely off-topic side note, Anthony Bourdain shot an episode of “No Reservations” here about a year after our last tour with interviews of Phil and Diego and, of course, lots of food and wine!) After dinner it’s back to your ocean view room for the night.

Breakfast is included at the hotel again Tuesday morning. After breakfast we’ll pack up and hit the road for L. A. Cetto, hands down the largest winery in the Valle. While perhaps best known for their mass produced wines, they also produce some reserve boutique wines which, of course, are the ones we’ll be trying. The setting will be on their hillside terrace overlooking the Valle. After the premium tasting we’ll take a quick tour of the ginormous facility before heading five minutes down the road to Endemico.

Endemico is another one of those three part projects: hotel, restaurant and winery. The hotel part is actually individual rooms perched on stilts overlooking the Valle. It’s very private, very upscale and has won numerous international design awards. You’ll be able to see these unique rooms from afar as we arrive, and can check out their website if you’re interested in seeing the interiors for a possible future visit by yourself. You’ll be able to see the restaurant part with its beautiful cantilevered decks but for this tour we’re going to concentrate on the winery part which is absolutely stunning. We’ll start in the underground portion and watch a short video presentation about the history of the Valle and then move upstairs for a tasting while enjoying the panoramic views before heading another five minutes down the road for the finale at Lechuza.

Finally, just like the tours in 2009 and 2011, we’ll end at our friends Ray and Patty Magnussen’s Lechuza (Spanish for burrowing ground owl which is prevalent there) Vineyard. They are hosting a sumptuous outdoor feast prepared by the chefs next door at Laja — also known as the “French Laundry” of Mexico. Needless to say, there aren’t enough adjectives to describe how-off-the charts this final lunch will be. After lunch Ray will take everyone into the cellar for barrel tasting and then for a tour of the vineyards. In addition to their Lechuza wines which will be paired with lunch, there will also be plenty of cold cervezas and margaritas, and maybe even a cigar or two.

Then it’s back to reality. All good things must come to an end sometime … but not before one last, scenic drive up the Big Sur-like coast line … and if the past is prologue, with plenty of leftover libations to drink along the way.

HOUR BY HOUR ITINERARY:

SUNDAY ~ Sept 29 or Oct 6 or Oct 13 or Oct 20 or Oct 27, 2013

08:45 AM ~ Meet at WV&B for pre-boarding Bloody Mediterraneans and Mexican Coffees

09:30 AM ~ Luxury motor coach (with on-board restroom) picks everyone up at WV&B

11:30 AM ~ Arrive Hotel Coral y Marina where we’ll spend the entire day relaxing at this six storey oceanfront hotel/resort/spa. We’ll start with a traditional Mexican brunch in their restaurant overlooking the ocean. After that the afternoon is free for you to check into your ocean view room, and/or have a massage or spa treatment, and/or take a walk along the marina, and/or take a shuttle into Ensenada five minutes away to explore the shops, restaurants, bars or the famous fish market (home of the original fish taco).

06:00 PM ~ No host pre-dinner cocktails

07:00 PM ~ Six-course dinner (bring a bottle from home to share with everyone)

MONDAY ~ Sept 30 or Oct 7 or Oct 14 or Oct 21 or Oct 28, 2013

08:00 AM ~ Breakfast included at Hotel Coral y Marina

09:00 AM ~ Agua Mala brewery tour and tasting

11:00 AM ~ Alximia tour + tasting

01:00 PM ~ Finca Altozano lunch

03:30 PM ~ Las Nubes tour + tasting and cheese

05:30 PM ~ Vena Cava Winemaker Dinner at La Villa del Valle

TUESDAY ~ Oct 1 or Oct 8 or Oct 15 or Oct 22 or Oct 29, 2013

08:00 AM ~ Breakfast included at Hotel Coral y Marina

09:30 AM ~ L. A. Cetto tasting on the terrace + tour

11:30 PM ~ Endemico tour + tasting

01:15 PM ~ Arrive Lechuza Winery for tasting, tour and lunch

05:00 PM ~ Depart Lechuza

08:30 PM ~ Arrive San Diego (plus or minus depending upon border wait)

COST:
$595 per person based on double occupancy. The single occupancy upcharge is $110. If you’re a single traveling with another single there are also rooms with two beds at no additional charge. There are also a limited number of deluxe suites available for a $75 upcharge per person based on double occupancy. (The difference between the regular suites and the deluxe suites are that the deluxe suites have been remodeled, are on the top floors with better views, have huge walk-in showers, have upgraded bedding, and the bedroom and living room layout is flip-flopped so that the bedroom faces the ocean instead of the living room. While both suites are nice, the deluxe suites are definitely worth the extra seventy-five bucks if you want more creature comforts … and want to wake up with the ocean in your face!)

DEPOSITS:
Reservations will not be guaranteed until a deposit of $195.00 per person is received. Deposits become non-refundable 75 days prior to each trip. The balance will be charged 45 days before the trip and becomes non-refundable at that point.

INCLUDED IN COST:
1. Pre-boarding Bloody Mediterraneans and Mexican Coffees at WV&B

2. Transportation to Mexico and back via luxury motorcoach with on-board restroom

3. All transportation within Mexico via luxury motorcoach

4. Two nights oceanfront lodging at Hotel Coral y Marina

5. Sunday morning brunch with unlimited Bloody Marys, Margaritas and Irish Coffees

6. All breakfasts

7. All lunches

8. All dinners

9. All winery tours and tastings

NOT INCLUDED IN COST:
1. A bottle of wine to bring with you to share with everyone Sunday night

2. Bus driver tips (plan on $12 per person)

3. Optional extra cocktails

4. Optional side trip to Ensenada Sunday afternoon (about $5 for cab fare)

MISCELLANEOUS NOTES:
1. You MUST have a current passport to get back into the US!

2. If you are a California resident, you can bring ONE bottle of wine per person back into the US. If you are a non-California resident (or have an out-of-state driver’s license) you can bring back up to 5 cases of wine per person. (NOTE: In the past we’ve usually had several guests with out-of-state licenses. If you’re a California resident and want to bring back more than one bottle, my recommendation is that you make friends with these people … if you get my drift.)

3. If you’re unfamiliar with Valle de Guadalupe wines, or have only experienced the “supermarket quality” wines from some of the larger producers, you’re in for a very pleasant surprise. Most of the wineries we’ll be visiting are small, super-premium producers that will give you a whole new perspective on south of the border wines. Be prepared to be wowed!

4. Please note that this is a physical tour that involves lots of walking. Day time to night time temperature swings can vary as much as 30-40 degrees, so in addition to a pair of comfortable walking shoes, make sure to dress in layers.

5. If you’re planning ahead for future tours we’re tentatively planning a Tequila tour of Jalisco, Mexico for March 2014, a Barcelona / south of France tour for May 2014 and an Oregon / Columbia Gorge tour for October 2014. If you think you might be interested in any of these please reply to this email with the trip(s) you’re likely to go on in the subject line so we can start judging response.