Insider’s 3-Day Valle de Guadalupe Wine & Culinary Tours | 2015


TRIP DATES:
Your choice of 8 tour dates (all Sunday through Tuesday).

TOUR #1 ~ Sep 13-15 (SOLD OUT)
TOUR #2 ~ Sep 20-22 (SOLD OUT)
TOUR #3 ~ Sep 27-29 (SOLD OUT)
TOUR #4 ~ Oct 04-06 (SOLD OUT)
TOUR #5 ~ Oct 11-13 (SOLD OUT)
TOUR #6 ~ Oct 18-20 (SOLD OUT)
TOUR #7 ~ Oct 25-27 (SOLD OUT)
TOUR #8 ~ Nov 01-03 (SOLD OUT)
TOUR #9 ~ NOV 08-10 (SOLD OUT)

All tours max out at 53 guests as that’s how many seats are on the bus.

RSVP:
(619) 295-3939

COST:
$680 per person based on double occupancy.
Single occupancy upcharge is $115.
Deluxe suite upgrade (see below) is $85 per person based on double occupancy.

BEFORE YOU CALL IN YOUR RESERVATION:
Please make sure to read the deluxe suite option info below so that when you do make your reservation you’re prepared to tell us if you want a regular suite or a deluxe suite. This is VERY IMPORTANT as there are a limited number of deluxe suites available and they will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis!!!!!!!!!!!!!

DELUXE SUITE OPTION:
The differences between the regular suites and the deluxe suites are that the deluxe suites have been remodeled, are on the top floors with sweeping ocean 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 worth the extra eighty-five bucks if you want to indulge yourself with a few more creature comforts … and want to wake up with the ocean in your face!

DEPOSITS:
$130 non-refundable initial deposit due immediately
$200 non-refundable second deposit due 75 days before the tour start date
$350 non-refundable final payment (+ any single occupancy upcharges or deluxe suite upgrades if applicable) due 45 days before the tour start date

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 Mexican Coffees
6. All breakfasts
7. All lunches
8. All dinners
9. All winery tours and tastings

NOT INCLUDED IN COST:
1. One bottle of Valle de Guadalupe wine that you can purchase (plan on $15-20) at any winery we visit on Monday that you’ll share with the group at Monday night’s dinner at Deckman’s.
2. Bus driver tips (plan on $15 per person). We’ll collect this Sunday morning and give to the driver when we board.
3. Optional extra cocktails
4. Optional side trip to Ensenada Sunday afternoon (about $5 for cab fare)
5. Tips at Hotel Coral and Belio (plan on $15-20 total per person)

>>> Please SCROLL DOWN for the hour-by-hour itinerary below, but here’s an overview of the highlights:

~ 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 the best hotel 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 in-your-face ocean views. It has two outdoor pools, one indoor pool, two Jacuzzis, an exercise room, a spa, and beautiful grounds. You’re not going to want to leave!

~ 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) rent a paddle boat or kayak and sail around the harbor, and/or
6) 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), to Hussong’s (oldest bar in Baja and supposedly where the Margarita was invented), to an upscale Tequila shop (that gives out free samples!) and if we have time and you’re not too stuffed from brunch, to a seafood stand to sample some aguas calientes (a spicy ceviche-like preparation of sushi-grade, super-fresh raw seafood) with maybe a cold cerveza or two.

~ After an afternoon of relaxation, dinner will be at Belio’s, one of my favorite restaurants right on the ocean about five minutes north of our hotel. The bus will leave the hotel at 6:00 to take everyone there who would like to indulge in a pre-dinner libation(s) while cozying up at one of the firepits on their rustic stone patio on the ocean’s edge. For those of you who would prefer to maximize your time at the hotel, the bus will return an hour later to pick up everyone who stayed behind. Once the entire group is together at the restaurant, we’ll enjoy a delicious 5-course menu (including Crepes Suzette prepared tableside for dessert!) along with some Valle de Guadalupe wines. After dinner it’s back to the hotel and the evening is free for you to hang out in the lobby bar for a final nightcap 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 in the hotel’s 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. This husband-wife team is rocking the Baja cerveza world with some amazing brews. (As a side note, our restaurant is one of the very, very few places in the USA that carries their super limited production beers on tap.) Even though we went here on the 2013 tours, so much has changed over the past two years that even if you’ve been here before, you’ll definitely enjoy this repeat visit just to see all the progress they’ve made. 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 visiting the production facility we’ll hang out on the lawn in front of their house just behind the brewery on a cliff overlooking the ocean (yeah I know, tough life) to enjoy the final beer(s) of the morning.

~ Now is when the wine part of the tour officially starts. On Monday we’ll concentrate on the west side of the Valle; on Tuesday it’ll be the east side. Totally random side note but if you’ve not been to the Valle before, it’s laid out very similar to Napa Valley. There is a main north-south road on the west side of the Valle simply called the “New Road” (because for many years it was an unnamed dirt road and when it finally got paved the locals just referred to it as the new road). Then there’s another main north-south road paralleling the New Road about a mile or so to the east. That road is Mexico Hwy 3 which runs from Ensenada to Tecate. Both roads converge at the northern tip of the Valle in a town called Francisco Zarco. If you were in Napa Valley, the New Road would be Hwy 29, Mexico Hwy 3 would be the Silverado Trail, and Francisco Zarco would be Calistoga. That’s a vast over-simplification but hopefully makes a wee bit of sense … and gives you a better sense of place … or not!

~ Anyway, sorry for the digression. First stop on Hwy 29, err I mean the New Road, will be at La Carrodilla. This winery, in addition to being a drop-dead gorgeous facility (I so want their planted roof deck!) with wonderful wines, also has huge, meticulously manicured organic gardens. After our tour and tasting we’ll have an opportunity to wander through these gardens and watch as the kitchen staff from our next stop harvests the vegetables for our lunch. Farm to table at its absolute best and freshest.

~ Next stop will be at La Lomita for a tour and tasting … and for that lunch you just witnessed being harvested. La Lomita is a spectacular castle-like winery out in the middle of nowhere at the end of a long dirt road. Owned by a Mexico City actor, the facility was used as the set of a Mexican soap opera for several years. Everything is state-of-the-art and pretty much the last thing you’d expect to see at the end of this long dirt road. But what’s even more of a shock to the senses is the secret oasis behind the winery where we’ll enjoy an amazing lunch cooked over mesquite charcoal in their outdoor restaurant located right in the middle of waterfalls, ponds, meandering paths and seating areas. It’s an idyllic setting you’ll not soon forget.

~ After we pry everyone out of their seats (or off the lawn) at La Lomita we’ll head over to La Escuelita (literally translated little school). La Escuelita is a fascinating co-op “winery school” started by Guadalupe Valley wine pioneer Hugo D’Acosta that enables small mom-and-pop producers to produce their own wine, grappa and olive oil using shared equipment and facilities. The majority of the facility is made from recycled materials, ranging from barrel staves, to vine posts, to bedsprings, to irrigation lines, to wine bottles. Depending upon harvest dates this year, many of the tours will be able to see the open-top concrete fermenters in full action with a flurry of punch down activity and, of course, that intoxicating smell of the best perfume in the world – fermenting grapes. Hopefully the still will be operating and we’ll be able to see (and taste) the condensing grappa made from the leftover grape must trickling into buckets. The olive mill probably won’t be in operation while we’re there but we’ll still be able to see the giant 2-ton mill. My fellow Swiss national and friend Tomas will be our behind-the-scenes guide here to give us a truly insider’s tour of this not-open-to-the-public, non-glamourous, strictly functional facility that takes all the mysticism out of making wine and reduces it down to the basics. (If you’re an aspiring winemaker, please ask Tomas about the classes he and Hugo teach here periodically.) We’ll sample a few wines paired with a few local artisanal cheeses here before Tomas leads us on to our next winery stop, Paralelo.

~ I’m especially excited about Paralelo as this is the first time they’ve allowed groups our size to visit. It took us six years of groveling and begging, err, I mean persistence, before they granted our request to bring groups here. Paralelo is another one of those “how-did-that-get-here” wineries out in the middle of nowhere off a side dirt road off the main dirt road to L. A. Cetto. Hugo D’Acosta is the winemaker here and his architect brother Alejandro designed this futuristic facility built in the shape of a cross on the site of a former rubbish dump. Should be another truly insider’s stop of a very much off-the-beaten-path winery producing stellar wines in the middle of some pretty spectacular countryside. You’re welcome!

~ Hungry? I hope so … lunch at La Lomita was four hours ago and we’ve all been drinking heavily, err, I mean professionally tasting and spitting wine, at a break neck pace ever since and are probably ready to chillax. And I’ve got just the ticket … we’ll meet up with my good friend and Michelin-starred chef Drew Deckman at his under-the-stars, hay-bale restaurant (also designed by Alejandro D’Acosta) at Mogor Badan Winery. We’ll have about a half hour or so before dinner starts to wander the grounds (home of the largest garden in the Valle) and enjoy an optional no-host happy hour with specialty cocktails, Agua Mala cervezas, and artisanal Mezcals. Just before dinner we’ll open everyone’s wine bottles and distribute them to each table. (Remember, this is the day that you will have purchased a bottle at one of the vineyards we visited earlier to share with the group at dinner tonight. This is a fun tradition we started on our very first tour but what is extra special about doing it in Mexico is that, due to the restrictive limits on how much wine you can bring back across the border, many of the wineries suffer in sales and this is just a small way we can help share the love.) Then Drew has an amazing four-course dinner designed for us that will blow your mind. Great food, great wine, great company, the warm smell of charcoal grilled quail rising up through the air, stars you can actually see above … does it get any better?!

~ After a dinner you’ll wish would never end, we’ll make the half hour drive back to the hotel for the night where, here again, you’re welcome to hang out in the lobby bar for a final, final nightcap with your new friends or to just call it a day and relax on your private balcony before peacefully (comatosely?) drifting off.

~ Breakfast is included at the hotel again Tuesday morning. After breakfast we’ll pack up and hit the road again, but this time we’ll concentrate on the eastern, or Mexico Hwy 3 side of the valley (AKA Silverado Trail).

~ First stop will be at Cava Maciel where owner/winemaker Jorge Maciel will give us a tour of his small winery and then a wine tasting paired with some of the local cheeses made right here in the Valle. He also has a large vacation home right on the winery property that he rents out through airbnb so if anyone is interested in coming back with a bunch of friends and wants to rent a party house right in the middle of the Valle, he’ll be happy to show you around.

~ Next stop will be five minutes up the road at Clos de Tres Cantos. This is a brand new winery that is currently still under construction but should be completed just in time for our tours. It’s a stunning architectural work carved out of indigenous huge boulders with cast-in-place concrete and rock walls, recycled wine bottles for windows, and a chapel-like barrel room with a suspended tasting table supported by steel rods anchored into the “steeple” ceiling thirty feet above. It’s such a creative architectural work that really must be experienced first hand as it’s impossible to describe with words. All I can say is that you will love this place, its sweeping views and, of course, their wines.

~ Finally, just like the tours in 2009, 2011 and 2013, 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, one-for-the-record-books outdoor feast prepared by the chefs next door at Laja – also known as the “French Laundry” of Mexico. Ray’s being pretty tight lipped about the menu but I did hear him mumble something about an oyster station, whole grilled fish, something whole roasted on a spit and some sort of special margarita. 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 other libations, 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. Another random side note: I’ve personally seen the “green flash” only three times in my life. Once from our balcony at home and twice on these tours coming back from Ensenada! Fingers crossed!

~ Oops, well almost back to reality … we’ll prolong the magic for one more hour to sneak in a final sunset cocktail(s) at La Fonda. La Fonda is an aging oceanfront hotel/resort/spa perched on the cliffs of La Mision overlooking the Pacific Ocean between Rosarito Beach and Ensenada. I’ve been going there for over thirty years, and have some fond memories and more than just a few great stories! The views from their oceanfront bar patio are simply magical. When we stopped here on the 2013 tours we got a rare treat with spectacular views of Venus on the horizon just after the sun went down. I checked an astronomy chart and it looks like Mercury, Saturn and/or Neptune may be visible to the naked eye on some of the 2015 tours. Fingers crossed again!

~ From La Fonda it’s about 45 minutes to the border, and then roughly 15-30 minutes to go through customs (remember your passport or Sentri card!), and then about 20 minutes back to WV&B.

HOUR-BY-HOUR ITINERARY:
SUNDAY
08:45 AM ~ Meet at Wine Vault & Bistro 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 high rise oceanfront hotel/resort/spa. We’ll start with an amazing brunch (Including cocktails) 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 ocean, and/or rent a kayak or pedal boat, and/or take a shuttle into Ensenada five minutes away to explore the shops, restaurants, bars, tequila shops or the famous fish market (home of the original fish taco).
02:00 PM ~ Afternoon on your own
06:00 PM ~ No host pre-dinner cocktails at Belio overlooking the ocean
07:00 PM ~ 5-course dinner at Belio
09:45 PM ~ Depart Belio
10:00 PM ~ Arrive hotel for the night

MONDAY
07:30 AM ~ Breakfast included at Hotel Coral y Marina
09:00 AM ~ Depart hotel
09:15 AM ~ Agua Mala brewery tour and tasting
10:45 AM ~ Depart Agua Mala
11:15 AM ~ La Carrodilla tour + tasting
12:30 PM ~ Depart La Carrodilla
12:45 PM ~ La Lomita lunch, tour + tasting
03:00 PM ~ Depart La Lomita
03:15 PM ~ La Escuelita (little winemaking school) tour, tasting + cheese
04:45 PM ~ Depart La Escuelita
05:00 PM ~ Paralelo tour and tasting
06:15 PM ~ Depart Paralelo
06:30 PM ~ No host cocktails at Deckman’s at Mogor Baden
07:00 PM ~ Dinner at Deckman’s at Mogor Baden
09:30 PM ~ Bus back to the hotel for the night
10:00 PM ~ Arrive hotel for the night

TUESDAY
07:30 AM ~ Breakfast included at Hotel Coral y Marina
09:15 AM ~ Depart hotel
09:45 AM ~ Cava Maciel for tour + tasting
10:45 AM ~ Depart Cava Maciel
11:00 AM ~ Clos de Tres Cantos
12:15 PM ~ Depart Clos de Tres Cantos
12:30 PM ~ Arrive Lechuza
04:30 PM ~ Depart Lechuza
05:45 PM ~ Arrive La Fonda for sunset cocktails over the ocean
07:15 PM ~ Depart La Fonda
09:00 PM ~ Arrive San Diego (plus or minus depending upon border wait)

MISCELLANEOUS NOTES:
1. You MUST have a current passport or Sentri pass 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.