Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ruta del Vino: Build and They Will Drink (2/3)

By Steve Dryden

According to Miguel Fuentes, “Hospitality is the key here and we plan to built a family-oriented project where there is something to offer the entire family from young children to grandparents. We are a family that respects and appreciates the needs of everyone in a family and we plan to share that perspective with our guests. The children can play in the recreation area with supervision, while the parents enjoy wines in our tasting room. We’ll offer food in our family-style restaurant, snacks on the patio, barbecues, and even host special events to include birthday parties and weddings. We’re creating a venue where we can offer something for everyone in
an environment based on fun, education and family entertainment.”

Viños Fuentes has seventy hectares of natural and sustainable land on both sides of the Guadalupe Riverbed. Twelve hectares are planted with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo with several additional plots are planted in table grapes to include: Ruby Red, Globe, Superior and Thompson seedless grapes. The vines range in age from two years to twenty-five years. In 2008, Miguel will plant Nebbiolo, Syrah, French Columbard and Muscat vines to compliment his vino portfolio. The winery facility, boutique gift shop and restaurant are located in a 8,250 square foot building on a beautiful and natural farm setting. Miguel currently creates small quantities of high quality wine to include: 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon/Grenache blend, 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon/Grenache blend. Coming soon will be his 2007 Merlot and 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Viños Fuentes wines are a Baja California “super value” at $10 to $15 US per bottle with additional case discounts. Hours of operation will start with Thursday through Sunday from 10 am until dusk. Tasting fees are $3 person - refundable towards wine purchase. The winery is located on the paved road (Calle Principal No. 290) that passes through the small village Francisco Zarco, almost directly across from the entrance to Monte Xanic winery. For more details contact: 646 155-2044 646 171-7070 cell or 152*135047*2 Nextel

Another “hidden gold nugget” in southwestern Valle de Guadalupe is Viñas Pijoan, and the new road will open an exciting world for wine lovers and for the Pijoan family. I’ve interviewed several winemakers in Baja’s premier wine country and if I were a professor in viticulture and enology I would give Pau Pijoan an “A” for doing his homework. He studies wine the way Einstein studied physics - meticulously, passionately, relentlessly - and that’s what separates him from the pack. After a few minutes into conversation with Pau, you realize he’s intensely focused on creating “honest wines of integrity.” He’s so committed and determined that he loses ten to fifteen pounds every season during harvest just trying to manage his selected vineyards and detailing his winemaking procedures. This kind of passion and love for the wine culture is what drives his heart and soul, so it’s no surprise that Pau’s wines are so incredible! He’s another important player in the Mexican “wine team” that’s driving the quality of Baja wines into “world class” wines of distinction and sophistication. Serious wine aficionados should note this gentleman and seek out his wine!

Pau Pijoan began his interest with winemaking in England during his post graduate years. His little apartment in London looked more like a winery than living quarters, but it was the beginning of a long relationship in wine craftsmanship and scientific research that eventually led him to Guadalupe Valley in Baja California. He sees this wine region as one of the most important wine growing areas in the world, providing the right climate, soils and conditions to get mature grapes of great structure and concentration. In 1999, he enrolled in a winemaking program directed by enologist, Hugo D’ Acosta, thus taking another step in the direction of fulfilling his passion for creating serious wines. Hugo and Pau have established a working relationship and friendship allowing Hugo to mentor and consult Pau in his desire and passion to develop superior Mexican wines. Hugo D’ Acosta is a former winemaker for Santo Tomas winery and is one of the revolutionary Mexican leaders in the movement helping to create artisan winemakers and boutique wineries capable of creating “world class wines.”

New Releases from 2006 and 2007 in Baja Wine Country (2/3)

By Steve Dryden

Don Miller from Adobe Guadalupe Inn and Vineyards is another partner of Hugo D’ Acosta. Together they team up to make high quality wine from Don and Tru Miller’s vineyards. Their Uriel 2007 Vino Rosado is a crowd-pleasing wine with a unique blend of Tempranillo, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, Barbera and Moscatel. Hugo presented two of his own outstanding white wines, one from Casa de Piedra and one from Paralelo winery. He continues to create amazing Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc from his estate grown grapes and from other regions in Baja California. In addition his red wines are considered to be some of Mexico’s best.

Fernando Martain of Cavas Valmar winery in Ensenada presented his new 2007 Chenin Blanc and 2006 Tempranillo. Both of these wines make the point that Fernando is creating consistent vintages of high quality wine. In addition he is “the man” behind many other artisan and boutique wineries. He was selected by the Baja Times as the Wine Industry Person of the Year for 2008 because of his leadership and vision that has led to a transformation of Baja California’s winemaking industry.

The wine presented by Viñedos La Farga was so good and exciting that I spilled it all over my new white shirt and pants. A wine that good, you just have to wear it! La Farga is producing some outstanding red wines from Valle de Guadalupe and is quietly moving towards the top of the pack with more outstanding wines every year. Villa Montefiori poured a delightful Nebbiolo that is rich, smooth, elegant and opulent.

Tres Valles Vitivinicola is always full of surprises with outstanding red wines of “old world style” that match well with gourmet delights from Baja California. And, Vinicola Pedrazo is an artisan winery based in Ensenada that is producing some good, high quality wines that are being sought out by wine lovers throughout Mexico and southern California.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Lifestyles: Mexican Wines

Actually, Mexico produces some respectable wines in several distinct growing regions. The country is also home to the oldest vineyard and winery on the continent. All kinds of wines are produced there, including sparkling wines from one of Spain's most famous producers. So, in the spirit of NAFTA, I thought it might be fun to take a look at the wine industry south of the border, down Mexico way.

It turns out that there is a long tradition of winemaking in Mexico - not surprising, really, when you think about it. When the Spanish Conquistadors so politely moved into the country in the 16th century, they naturally brought with them from their native land a taste for wine. (Also a taste for murder, mayhem and genocide, but that's a story for another type of column.)

The Parras Valley is in the northeast of Mexico in the state of Coahuila. Exploring the region west of Monterrey, Don Lorenzo Garcia found an oasis among the surrounding desert. Here he found springs and native grape vines growing in abundance. The year was 1597. Don Lorenzo established Casa Madero, a vineyard and winery that are operating to this day - the oldest winery on the continent. Casa Madero concentrates on reds, producing Cabernet, Merlot and blends of the two. Recently they planted Chardonnay and it shows promise as well.

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Ruta del Vino: Build and They Will Drink

Travel Baja California By Steve Dryden

“A Field of Dreams” is what I call vineyards in the Baja California wine country. I think every person who plants grapes has dreams of creating something personal, special and significant. As a grape grower I maintain an intimate relationship with grape vines, my own private Italian family of Nebbiolo grapes. I’m blessed with spoiled Italian bambinos who demand organic food, water twice a week and won’t perform well unless I play Johannes Brahms and Frederic Chopin for them during the cool evenings, just before sunset! And, every vineyard manager, winemaker and winery owner has a vision to produce the best possible product, expressing the land, the
grapes, the passion and the likes of each individual.

Vineyards and wineries continue to sprout up in Valle de Guadalupe and Ruta del Vino is the link that now joins them all together. Gone are the days when wine tasting in the valley was a combination of the TV series Survivor, off-road racing and demolition derby.

Ruta del Vino (the wine route) has been expanded and the old dirt road from Francisco Zarco towards Monte Xanic and beyond to Bibayoff and Vinas Pijoan has been paved. In the next month or two (Mexican time) the road will be paved all the way from the little village of Francisco Zarco to the free road near El Tigre. This is a revelation and a revolution in the sense that you’ll no longer need “double strength”

Polident to keep your dentures locked-in as you fight the washboard roads where some unlucky folks often encountered potholes that could easily consume an entire car. And, now (for better or worse) you’ll see motor coaches at back country wineries that once were accessible only to Baja off-road vehicles, ATV’s, ATC’s, naive gringos or local adventurers. And, the new road traverses once hidden olive groves, tree farms, “old vine” vineyards, ranchos and “secret artisan” wineries.

Today, there are about ten to twelve wineries that can be easily accessed via the new Zarco - El Tigre Wine Route. In order of location from Francisco Zarco are: Vinicola Sueños, Fuentes Brothers, Monte Xanic, Chateau Camou, Adobe Guadalupe, Baron Balch’e, JC Bravo, The Wine School, La Villa, Bibayoff and Viñas Pijoan. And, there are a few more “hidden treasures” along the route waiting for your discovery, but I’m leaving that adventure to those who still want a place to hide, relax and avoid the crowds. For lovers of the wonderful wine of Monte Xanic, you might note that they are now open on Saturday and Sunday from 10 to 3 p.m. They do not take motor coach tours, no groups larger than twenty people and with prior approval only.

Families looking for quality wine with “super value” pricing and a place for kids to play while mom and dad taste wine should explore Viños Fuentes winery near Km 1.25 on the new Zarco-Tigre Wine Route. One of the newer members in our regional “wine boom” is the family of Hector and Miguel Fuentes, along with brothers Mark and Hector Fuentes Jr. These native Baja Californians have a long history of farming in Mexicali and Valle de Guadalupe. Over the last several years they have been converting their former fruit orchard into a family oriented winery, recreation area, boutique gift shop, traditional Mexican restaurant and steak house.

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Friday, May 09, 2008

New releases from 2006 and 2007 from Baja Wine Country

By Steve Dryden

Baja California wine continues the climb towards “world class” status with each new vintage. Every year in April the wine industry presents a seafood and new wine release festival in Ensenada. This year’s food and wine extravaganza took place at the cruise ship terminal on the scenic plaza overlooking the harbor with a backdrop from the mountains of La Bufadora and Punta Banda. Several of the best culinary establishments between Rosarito Beach and Ensenada provided guests with gourmet delights and an opportunity to match up new wines with superb entrees. Within minutes of the opening presentation it was obvious that Baja California is reaching superior levels in winemaking and culinary arts. Mexico has something to be very proud of with food and wine from this region and Ensenada is becoming the food and wine capital of the country.

Pau Pijoan of Viñas Pijoan was a “shining star” of the event with his new release of 2006 Domenico. It was the most stunning wine I tasted that day with rich, elegant and deep layers of flavor, perfectly balanced with a long and graceful finish. This blend of seventy-five percent Grenache, fifteen percent Petite Sirah and ten percent Cabernet Sauvignon is artistically crafted from selected “old vines” grown in sandy soil of Valle de San Vicente. Pau continues to create superior wines under the guidance of Hugo D’ Acosta.

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