A nice thing about living in San Diego is the proximity to wine country. It's possible to jump in your car and be at a winery, tasting glass in hand, in a little more than an hour. You might think I'm talking about Temecula, but you'd be wrong. These days, one of the wine world's best-kept secrets is Baja California's Guadalupe Valley.
Finger-shaped mountains at the end of this valley channel ocean breezes and morning fog through the vineyards, making for a more hospitable grape-growing environment than might be expected in Baja. The valley is now home to more than 16 wineries producing such good wine that it would be a shame to drive all the way down to sample it, since you won't be able to indulge.
That's where Baja Vino Tours comes in-they will drive you down to the Guadalupe Valley in a plush, air-conditioned bus, take you to a few different wineries, feed you and bring you back home. The price is pretty reasonable-about $75 for a full-day trip, which includes the food and the tastings.
Some might be hesitant about such a trip, expecting it to be full of wine snobs who identify way too much with the Miles character from the movie Sideways, waxing rhapsodic about pinot noir at the slightest provocation. While the tour is indeed full of people who identify way too much with Miles, it's only because they like to drink wine, and lots of it.
On the tour we attended, the bus departed from Old Town trolley station at 9 a.m. on a Saturday. The people at the back of the bus, a contingent of regulars from a local wine bar, had already been passing around a champagne bottle-a sign of things to come. Fortunately, the debauchery was interspersed with beautiful scenery, interesting information about winemaking and some delicious food.
Lunch was served at our first stop, the massive L.A. Cetto winery. Catered by Ensenada's La Comadre taqueria, the lunch consisted of a taco bar with carne asada, cochinita pibil (pork stewed in an achiote sauce), rajas con crèma (poblano chiles in cream sauce), calamari and pollo en mole-along with rice, beans, homemade salsas, tortillas and bottles of excellent L.A. Cetto wine. There's nothing like eating the best tacos you've ever had with a glass of good wine in hand, sitting high above a giant vineyard and enjoying the ocean breeze on a sunny day.
We hit up two other wineries before heading home-Bodega Santo Tomas and Vina Liceaga. The wine at both was also good, but L.A. Cetto was my favorite, particularly their Nebbiolo. I was going to bring some of it home with me, until I found out that it's available at the Wine Bank downtown. I didn't want to waste my one-liter limit per person (thank you, U.S. Customs) on something I could get at home, so I picked up a wonderful ruby port at Bodega Santo Tomas instead.
If you're a fan of wine and food, but don't take yourself too seriously, you should check out one of these wine tours. It's a fun way to get acquainted with the wines of Baja California, allowing you to fully indulge yourself while someone else does the driving.