Sunday, July 13, 2008

GillBilly Chronicals: Wine Viticulture in Northern Baja

Mexico is a diverse and mostly arid country with several areas appropriate for vineyards. Mexican commercial winemaking dates from the 16th century and now is producing several very good wines at competitive prices. In the past few years, the country's leading wineries have collected an impressive array of accolades, gaining a following among wine lovers excited by the prospect of finding excellent vintages in unexpected places. Visitors to Baja California’s beaches and marinas find its wine country a pleasant side trip while visiting the beautiful seaside town of Ensenada, 90 miles south of San Diego. Ensenada’s Vendimia Wine Festival in August is annually eagerly awaited and better hotels and yacht marinas partner local wines with wine tours year-round.

The vineyards are situated in coastal valleys on the western side of the long narrow Baja peninsula, facing the Pacific Ocean. The main production area is close to the American border south of San Diego. This region has become the leader in reviving the reputation of Mexican wines. 95 percent of Mexican quality wine comes from northern Baja California, centering around Ensenada. The three wine-producing sub regions, all located within 60 miles of Pacific coast, from north to south are the Valleys of Calafia and Guadalupe, San Antonio de las Minas, and the Santo Tomás Valley and San Vincente Valley. For the last thirty years new generations of ambitious vintners have been laboring to finally put Mexico on the winemaking map. Having decided that the time has come to develop a proper wine industry that competes with California and even France, they have begun to produce a number of surprisingly good table wines. These are accumulating good reviews, international awards and serious export interest.

The major winegrowing sub regions all lie close to the Pacific Ocean where they can benefit from the cooling ocean breezes and mists. Hot days and cool nights is a classic winegrowing combination throughout the world, allowing grapes to develop their sugars without a corresponding drop in acidity. The climate is classically Mediterranean, with low winter rainfall followed by a dry spring and hot summer. Pacific breezes and regular coastal fog make some of the coastal valleys less torrid than latitude would suggest, and several cooler micro-climates have a dependable humidity around 80%. Vines are supported by drip irrigation. All the wine producing valleys feature a mix of alluvial soils and decomposed granite. The Guadalupe Valley and especially its neighbor the Calafia Valley have become the most well-known appellations so far, although the term “appellation” may be a stretch, as the Mexican government seems even less interested in regulating wine than the Mexicans are in drinking it. Nonetheless, most producers do try to label their wines in accordance with U.S. and European standards to avoid difficulties in the important export market.

Conquistador-turned-governor Hernan Cortez commanded his Spanish colonial subjects to cultivate grapevines as early as 1524, but the name of Mexico has never been associated with memorable vintages. Although winemaking in the former "kingdom of New Spain", now Mexico (or the remains of it, after the American annexation of California, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas in 1847), dates from the early 16th century, the altitude and climate in this country, in general, is not well suited to viticulture. Jug wines have been cheap and justifiably maligned. Yearly Mexican wine consumption has been under half a bottle per person, compared to two gallons in the United States and as much as twelve gallons in Argentina. The preferred drinks, of course, are tequila, rum and beer. Still, the country has never had trouble growing grapes to serve fresh, dry into raisins, or distill. The large brandy industry is the most important in Latin America, and Domecq's Presidente brand is one of the world's best-sellers.

The Mexican fine wine industry is still in its infancy, but results so far are promising. For wine lovers right now the challenge is twofold: identifying what these up-and-coming wineries do best, and then locating their wines. Production and export are small, and they are more likely to be found in better urban restaurants than in retail shops. Naturally, Mexican vintners are hoping this will soon change. Mexican labels are simple, giving brand, producer, and vintage. Varietal types are often indicated, but this is optional. The best wines, “reservas” or "reservas privadas" are more likely to be made with modern and traditional winemaking techniques in a dry modern style that emphasizes fruit.

While the region may not be ready to take on the best of Bordeaux, the wines of Mexico’s Baja region are coming into their own. An influx of European vintners looking for affordable vineyard property has sparked the recent growth of an area in which grapes have been cultivated for centuries. Mexican wines are well worth trying, and have begun to lure vacationers to the source.

There is no greater fan of fly fishing than the worm.
Patrick F. McManus

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Thursday, July 3, 2008

La Finca Restarurant: A Review

Local Businessman Runs High End Family Restaurant in Ensenada

La Finca Steak House of Ensenada

by Lonnie Ryan

The dictionary defines the words La Finca as “a rural property, especially a large farm or ranch, in Spanish America.” This Ensenada area restaurant opened 9 years ago by Carlos Tirado is by far one of the most beautiful commercial structures in the area. As the owner describes it, a ranch house, and he daily welcomes you in for a meal you won’t soon forget.

The interior reminds one of old Mexico and is a warm and inviting backdrop to your shared party and meal. A large stock of the best of northern Baja wines is at hand to complement your feast. 95% of Mexico’s wines are produced in this area; you will see the La Finca label on many bottles served here, as a compliment from the wineries to the restaurant and the owner.

Carlos Tirado is a northern Baja California treasure within himself. He has many sombreros… all encompassing entrepreneur, restaurant owner for the past 28 years on both sides of the border, politician, avid fisherman, car designer and dealership owner, and philanthropist. If he is present when you visit, feel free to join him at his table and enjoy his commentary regarding this territory of Mexico he loves most. In his broad smile you see and feel the great satisfaction that has filled his life, that joy is unavoidably contagious as you benefit from his inspiring company. He has contributed unselfishly his community time as a citizen and as a local public office holder. He served as County Prosecutor for 3 years recently, the county of Ensenada purportedly being the largest in the world, over some 55,000 square kilometers! And he emphatically will never take a peso for his time while serving his many community posts. About the future of Baja California tourism, Senor Tirado states, “we just have to go back to what we did well 100 years ago”.

The menu board of fare includes chateaubriand for 2 with all the fixings for a mere $35 including tax. All the meats served including New York and rib eye steaks are imported from California to insure the best in lean mouthwatering taste and consistency. There is no loud, brassy live music here, just a nice mix of traditional music from old Mexico understated and complimentary to your dining experience. A team of 30 employees will be there at every turn of your fork to attend to your every need. The service is simply marvelous!

Breakfast, lunch and dinner will find you rubbing elbows with many of the local Ensenada aristocracy. This place is a favorite of the most influential folks in town. La Finca seems to be an exciting social event for the local clientele in addition to being a bustling high-quality eatery! The great food is a plus to this scenic Baja California hosted experience. You can join the ranch’s landscape from 7am to 10pm daily, except Sunday and Monday when the restaurant is closed in the evening at 8. The restaurant is available for private functions and can accommodate up to 300 guests.

The gods do not deduct from man's allotted span the hours spent in fishing.
Babylonian Proverb .

Official La Finca Steak House Web site

About the Author: Lonnie Ryan is a freelance writer, world traveler, and entreprenuer. Visit his sites at and