If you've heard rumblings about Mexican wine or want to know more about the region's appeal and offerings, there's one name you should know in San Diego: Fernando Gaxiola.
The proprietor of Baja Wine + Food, along with other local tastemakers, works diligently to make wines from across the border familiar to San Diegans.
Having grown up in the region, Gaxiola says he feels a connection with the land, its people and the cuisine. He exudes enthusiasm when discussing the wines, the small boutique and family-owned vineyards he works with intimately, and even the various challenges he faces in bringing them stateside.
"The biggest challenges are brand recognition, price and the region/country of origin," Gaxiola explained via email. "Although I have done hundreds of events... There is still a lot to do to reach our target market."
One way Gaxiola serves as an ambassador for wines from Mexico—and specifically Valle de Guadalupe—is through tasting events. At a recent Baja wine-and-food-pairing at The Wine Pub in Point Loma, I got to taste several wines he represents, and learn about the deep passion he has for them.
The sold-out event featured five wines—ranging in price from $17 per bottle up to around $40—paired with appetizers. Gaxiola showcased the region's variety including a refreshing Chenin Blanc-Columbard blend, a full-bodied Grenache and a fruit-forward, yet smooth red blend. As he noted, the wines tend to go well with food so this tasting allowed them to shine.
Gaxiola also hosts a "Weekly Wine Wednesdays" series at Planet Wine in Bankers Hill with many Valle wines represented in different ways.
And getting people to try the wines is what it's all about for Gaxiola: "I would like people to try them with open palate, mind and heart," Gaxiola said. "I would like people to know the stories behind the wines, the land, the plants and the people. I would like people not to judge them because they are different, but appreciate them because of that same reason."
When he's not bringing wine to the masses, Gaxiola also brings the masses to the wine. He and The Wine Pub owner Sandy Hanshaw organized, and have nearly sold out, a wine-tasting trek to the Valle de Guadalupe in April with more planned for May and July.
Hanshaw, another Valle enthusiast noted the things that make the area special to her: "It's breathtaking, filled with character and the winemakers and growers are just as passionate about their wine as I am about what they create. How often do you get to witness this evolution of a wine region? On top of that, it is right in our backyard."
While these are just a couple opinions on Baja wines, the word-of-mouth seems to be growing. Gaxiola recently partnered with local importing/distributing company Truly Fine Wine to bring some of that portfolio to their retail and distribution efforts. TFW partners Damon Goldstein and Brian Donegan expressed their excitement about the partnership. Both point to Gaxiola's fervent passion and refer to him as the hardest-working man they know in the wine business.