Valle De Guadalupe, Baja’s Wine Country

Baja’s wine country, Valle De Guadalupe, has been producing wine for damn near a century, but in the last decade or so, the region has come into its own,  attracting oenophiles in search of luxurious, secluded, wine drenched, escape. It’s Napa light; minus the crowds, insane tasting fees ($60 for three two ounce pours at some wineries) and pretention. Done right, a trip to Valle is worthy of your seriously dear, terribly precious, vacation resources. Done wrong, well, a cautionary tale:

I’m the trip planner in our group, and it would be fair to say that I’m a taaaaaad obsessive about my role, starting my planning months, even years in advance. My biggest travel nightmare is milling around from one abhorrent restaurant/bar/cultural experience to the next, unaware that just next door, one block, or one mile away, is an edifying experience, which isn’t to say that every moment, or even every day is planned, but rather, that we start each day with an abundance of choices, and, when necessary, reservations, because nothing blows quite as hard as missing that epic meal, or failing to join that once in a lifetime tour, because tickets needed to bought weeks in advance or its closed on Monday’s, etc. etc. etc.

This all works swimmingly well when it’s just the four of us. More often that not, it goes hideously askew when other people are sloshing around in the mix. In TJ, we had a friend. And that friend took responsibility for our Valle itinerary. And that folks, is where we (I)erred.

Terrible idea number one: Booking a hotel in TJ and day tripping to Valle. Just. Don’t. Literally where this whole thing veered seriously off course, right there at the starting gate. I was told that the road to Valle was a quick hour drive south of TJ. My research told me otherwise, but it’s not cool to question your local host (and, technically it is, but anyone who has been to Napa knows, reaching Napa is one thing, reaching an actual winery in Napa, another). The reality is, the road to Valle is a one lane coastal road that becomes a one lane mountain road, that then becomes wine country, which, duh, is rather spread out.

Terrible idea number two: Heading to Valle late in the day.

Terrible idea number three: Heading to Valle on a Sunday.

We left around 1:00 with the understanding that wineries are always open late into the night (information given to us by our local friend). Perhaps typically, they are; Not so on God’s day, when they collectively shutter at 5:00PM.

Terrible idea number four: STAYING IN TJ AND DAY TRIPPING TO VALLE.

OK. So, it was a bad idea to day trip to Valle. If you do go, book yourself a stay at one of the beautiful wineries that serve esquisite farm to table food, offer stunning solitude,  excellent small batch wine, and in some cases, stables full of gorgeous Spanish (and otherwise) horses for guests to ride. Do that.

The road to Valle is actually interesting, if it’s your one time on it for the day; south TJ provides a rarely seen glimpse of non-circus life in the region, of rolling hills covered with little square homes (and, the Mexican version of tract housing, more like tract huts) interspersed with garbage dumps, and a stretch of road lined with antique stores, thrift shops, and roadside taquerias, such as this one:

TJ taco ordering

Where we scored impeccable mahi tacos for something like $2 each, that had to be eaten in the neighboring gas station parking lot due to oppressively loud music, a thing, it turns out, in those parts.

Further south, the road leads down the coastline to Rosarito, where taquerias and antique stores give way to restaurants, timeshares, and lots of white people.

Our second stop:

Rosarito Beach

And then, road for days and days. Soon, buildings completely disappeared, and the straight coastal road became windy mountain road; surrounded by nothing but cliffs, fields, broken fences, and roaming animals (one, a cow, standing on the danger side of a broken fence, the image, projected in my mind as a I propelled across the same terrain again, in the dark).

Eventually, our friend guided us to “the flying saucer that landed on Guadalupe de Valle,” Alximia Vinicola (designed, appropriately, by a mathematician winemaker and his astronomer father)


and for a very brief time, I thought all was finally right in the world, still blissfully ignorant of the fact that this would be our one and only.

winery interior

We enjoyed one delectable tasting,

TJ Winery Tasting Table

and a fantastic spread of escargots, smoked cheese, and pate, from this charming outdoor kitchen

winery kitchen


winery food

All the while gazing at this lovely view.

winery view

I did say I’d arrived, right? Like, I went from a 15 to an 85 on the happiness scale, so thrilled to finally be there, so ready to take in all that Valle has to offer. But, that’s all folks. That was it. I drove, in the dark, over a potholed, flooded, dirt road to  one closed winery and a restaurant that literally closed the gate in our faces, then, back over that road (please, please, please don’t let me sink, pop a tire, get stuck in the mud). From there, back over the windy, dark, country road that led back to TJ, a terrain so unfamiliar, barren, and dark, that I thought I may drive straight off a cliff at any moment (or into that damned cow).

A couple of stops in Rosarito on the way back revealed that no one ever needs to stop in Rosarito in an attempt to make things better; stop one being an on-land version of a cruise ship lounge, the other, a loud, dark bar, shilling sickly sweet margaritas (or perhaps, just glasses full of tepid margarita mix) truly tragic ceviche, and lumpish, bland, seafood cocktail.

Back in TJ, we returned to the  Hotel Ticuan  (a great choice in TJ, the Ticuan is clean, central, and reasonably priced) and hit the town, an adventure that led me to my first, and possibly last, Avenida Revolucion “cheeseburger.”

TJ burger stand

A mystery meat creation topped with diced tomatoes, ketchup, mustard, and cheese, sheathed in a toasty, greasy bun.

TJ burger

It helped ease my emotional distress, while seemingly not causing any of the gastric variety, so, I’d say that’s a win.

TJ burger bite

Later, I scored this trio of tacos from a stand kitty corner to the 7-11 down the block from the Ticuan. A serious stand, that one, with a large variety of prepared meats from which to chose, one of which I had never heard of and still cannot conjure, though it was included in this sumptuous mix.

TJ street tacos

In the morning, my first vehicle border crossing since the college trips I took to Nogales. The line was crushingly long, and I felt thankful that I am not one of many who must cross it daily to work in the US

TJ border line

The upside, capitalist vendors who wander the aisles between the cars, selling drinks, food, and tchotchke’s (also thankful not to be one of them, breathing in vehicle fumes from morning to night). It was from one of these fine men that we purchased our first (then second, third, fourth, and fifth) TJ burrito, a simple grilled tortilla filled with savory, crisped pork meat and a smidge of beans

TJ border burrito

And of course, a bag o’ churros for dessert

TJ border churros

Bye, crushed dreams of Valle. Until next time.

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