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One hundred years ago, Francisco Madero, Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata led the Mexican Revolution. Today, Mexico is going through a different sort of upheaval, a Mexican wine revolution in which small producers largely concentrated in Baja California’s Guadalupe Valley are charging ahead with the declaration, “Viva El Vino!”
The major force in this movement, the most significant evolution in Mexican wine since Spaniards first planted vineyards at the Santo Tomás Mission in 1791, has been Hugo D’Acosta. An internationally trained winemaker who came to Baja from mainland Mexico in the late 1980s to work at the large Santo Tomás winery, D’Acosta soon began to explore side projects in the Guadalupe Valley, including his family’s winery, Casa de Piedra.
Convinced that this rural valley was similar enough to California in terroir to produce excellent wines, D’Acosta started a wine school and custom crush facility in 2004 called La Escuelita, the “little school.” Since then, individuals who either trained at La Escuelita or worked with D’Acosta at Santo Tomás have started more than a dozen small wineries.
During my first visit to Baja wine country in March 2012, I came away impressed with the Guadalupe Valley’s look, vibe and spirit.
The valley, which starts about 12 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean and runs in a northeast direction toward Tecate, features granite boulders covering much of the valley floor, a reminder that this land was once covered by the sea.
Meanwhile, hills—green in the winter and spring, but dry and brown during Baja’s scorching summers—form the valley’s boundaries.
In almost every way, it’s a textbook West Coast wine valley, with coastal influences that ensure cool nights even during the growing season’s hottest months.
The grapes being grown by top Baja producers, including Casa de Piedra, Viñas de Garza, Vinisterra, Rincón de Guadalupe, Hacienda La Lomita, Monte Xanic and Viñas Pijoan, are a mixed bag of varieties that can handle warm conditions. The region produces mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo, Syrah, Zinfandel, Grenache, Cabernet Franc and Nebbiolo among reds; Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Viognier among whites.
Alcohol levels can run high due to Baja’s warm environment, and occasionally the wines taste of saline because of the ocean-influenced ground water used for irrigation. Overall, however, Baja is on the right track and ranks as a North American wine region worthy of being discovered.