Antigua Ruta del Vino: Baja’s Historic Wine Route

By Jennifer Kramer

While the popularity of Baja wine has just taken hold with the rest of the world in the past decade, wine has been made commercially in Baja California for over 125 years. The Valle de Guadalupe has been coined Baja’s “Ruta del Vino” and even those who have not yet visited, have heard of the region’s campestre restaurants and boutique wineries. But there are five grape-growing valleys in this region, and while Valle de Guadalupe is the most well known and developed, a majority of the grapes used to make Valle de Guadalupe wines come from other valleys where there’s more water and more land.

md vinos winery valle de la grullasanto-tomas-wine-glassBaja’s original wine route, the “Antigua Ruta del Vino” is a separate wine region where Baja California wine making started. Located south of Ensenada, this historical route consists of the Valle de Santo Tomás, Valle de la Grulla, and Valle de San Vicente. This lesser-known, more intimate wine region is one of Baja’s best-kept secrets. You won’t find the crowds or the spectacle of the Valle de Guadalupe here—what you’ll get is quality wines, beautiful wineries, personal attention, and true Mexican hospitality. It’s quality over quantity in this region with a handful of wineries and limited options for food.

The Dominican Spanish missionaries brought the first grapes (now called the “mission” grape) to the Valle de Santo Tomás in 1791. At the time, the king of Spain prohibited winemaking in Mexico with the exception of making wine for church purposes. It wasn’t until Mexico gained its independence in 1821 that winemaking was permitted for non-church use and production of wine began to increase. In 1888, the lands of the former Santo Tomás Mission were sold to a private group that established Bodegas de Santo Tomás, the first winery in Baja California and the second-oldest winery in Mexico (Santo Tomás is the oldest Mexican winery to be in continuous operation).

Bodegas de Santo Tomás (in the Valle de Santo Tomás) anchors the Antigua Ruta del Vino and is supported by a handful of boutique and family-run wineries in Valle de la Grulla that now constitute the region. A trip to the Historic Wine Route is guaranteed to be an enchanting day of wine tasting, and a small lesson in Baja California history as well.

 

WHERE TO GO


md-vinos-valle-de-la-grulla-bajaMD Vinos

Valle de la Grulla
www.mdvinos.com
011-52-646-116-6397
Production: 2,500 cases a year

Wine to Try:
The “Acorde” is a red blend (70 percent Tempranillo, 30 percent Grenache) that’s bold but easy to drink.

Why We Love It:
The impressive large winery is perched up on a hillside with beautiful views of the Valle de la Grulla. Most of the wine tastings take place here at the winery, but the property here is expansive and includes a large outdoor palapa area on another part of the property that can be reserved for picnics and enjoying wine and food al fresco with picturesque views of the countryside.

DBTC Insider Tip:
This is one of the few places in the region where you get food, but arrangements should be made in advance. On the weekends, they roast a pig and serve it with all of the trappings (tortillas, beans, salsa, guacamole). It’s incredibly savory, and all locally sourced and homemade.

 


palafox-winery-valle-de-la-grullaAldo Cesar Palafox

Valle de la Grulla
www.aldopalafox.mx
011-52-646-174-5035
Production: 5,000 cases a year

Wine to Try:
White wine lovers will enjoy the “Quercus” Chenin Blanc with bright, crisp citrus overtones and a buttery finish.

Why We Love It:
They are constructing a beautiful new wine making facility and tasting room that is scheduled to open this fall. Until then, clients get to enjoy their tastings in the beautiful and intimate garden area, drinking under the large oak trees with cool breezes coming all the way into the valley from the Pacific.

DBTC Insider Tip:
This family-operated winery only uses their own grapes for their wine production (they don’t buy from anyone or sell to anyone) and the wines that they are creating are exquisite and not to be missed.

 


bodegas-de-santo-tomas-bajaBodegas de Santo Tomás

Valle de Santo Tomás
www.santo-tomas.com
011-52-646-178-3333
Production: 120,000 cases a year

Wine to Try:
The “Saunara” is a Barbera rosé that was made by winemaker Laura Zamora’s daughter in 2012 as a tribute to her mom.

Why We Love It:
Santo Tomás is the third largest winery in Mexico, but visiting here still feels like a personal and intimate experience. The tasting room is nestled under a grove of impressively tall eucalyptus trees with floor to ceiling windows providing a scenic view.

The actual winery where they produce the wine is off limits (it’s the round building in the middle of the vineyards—designed by Alejandro D’Acosta), but if you make arrangements in advance you can participate in one of their special excursions (see below). There are 21 varieties of grapes are grown here, including 75-year old Tempranillo vines. In addition to the 230 acres of grapes, they have 120 acres of olive trees that are used to produce the various olive oils they make and sell.

DBTC Insider Tip:
In addition to regular tastings in the tasting room, Santo Tomás offers a few unique experiences if you make advance arrangements. Possibly the best of these is a unique opportunity to ride on a cart pulled by a John Deere tractor through the vineyards where you’ll stop at various stations to wine taste and get a real understanding of the vineyards and winery. It’s one of the most unique experiences in this region and shouldn’t be missed.

 

HOW TO GET THERE

South of Ensenada, the turn off for Valle de la Grulla from Mexico 1 is at Km. 42. Valle de la Grulla consists of the small Ejido Uruapan as well as a few wineries and is easy to navigate. The wineries will have signs up along the road, directing you to the properties. Simply follow the signs.

Bodegas de Santo Tomas is located just seven kilometers south of the entrance to the Valle de la Grulla. The entrance to the winery is located right off of highway Mexico 1 at Km. 49.

 

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2 thoughts on “Antigua Ruta del Vino: Baja’s Historic Wine Route

  1. David says:

    What a great article, Jennifer! Thank you for sharing with us.

  2. Barbara says:

    Terrific detail. Going down weekend of Thanksgiving and will go there. Thank you!

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