Day 8: The Pressures Of Success In Mexico’s Wine Country
El Valle de Guadalupe has grown dramatically in the last 10 years, thanks mostly to dedicated wine makers who love their work.
Read more about our travels on the peninsula.
VALLE DE GUADALUPE, MX – This valley is about a two hour drive south of San Diego and produces the vast majority of wine in Mexico. The area has significantly changed since the first time I visited. About a decade ago, the roads were rough, the wineries were hard to find and there were only about a dozen of them.
Today, some things remain the same in the rural area just outside of the bustling port town of Ensenada. Many of the roads remain rough, but the highway into the valley is wide and paved. There are more wineries and better signage, but it still can be difficult to find some of the facilities that are far off the main road.
Oh, and a wine museum is under construction, which some locals call a monument to the region’s largest wine maker: L.A. Cetto. I must say, the large building hugging the main road looks out of place as most of the buildings in the valley are far off the main road.
The growth in production has come from smaller, so called “boutique” wineries. We found these are mostly family run operations. Many have sunk their life savings to make their vision a reality: equipment to make the wine, a cellar to store it and a public area to host visitors that will hopefully lead to sales.
As of now, profits are slim. And anything extra money that does come in is returned to the business, two budding vintners explained to us. And don’t forget the pressures of climate change, a lack of water and encroaching development like condos and more hotels.
So why do this? Why spend so much time out in the elements tending to vineyards, repairing fences and labeling wines for shipping around Mexico and the world? Por el amor a la uva. (For the love of the grape.)
It usually starts with someone in the family getting the wine making bug and needing an outlet to express this passion. It seems to work like this: the father is in charge of production; the mother oversees sales and marketing, while the children help with other items, like designing logos for the wine and slapping labels on the bottles.
And the vintners talk about their product like a parent beaming about a beautiful child. One has to respect a person who takes such pride in their craft.
The newer wineries have turned to old fashioned building techniques: the warehouses and cellars are made of adobe. The old brick and mortar techniques that date back to the indigenous people of the Californias is an excellent insulator that keeps keeps the wine cool from the valley’s hot sun.
The hope is that one day these small wineries will become profitable and the business can be left to their heirs. To help promote the industry, the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California (Autonomous University of Baja California) has a small, satellite campus in the valley.
Despite the obvious financial risks, it seems like a great way to make a living: drink fantastic wines and meet interesting customers from around the world as the business matures along with the wine.
We have one more day around Ensenada to finish up some reporting. Then it’s back to reality, better known as San Diego.
I leave you with with the son of a winemaker slapping labels on bottles. And, if you were wondering, yes we did some wine tasting. Alcohol around a journalist is like having flowers around a hummingbird: at some point, they'll dip their nose in it. ¡Salud!