From Missionaries to Modern Winemaking
Northern Baja California is Mexico’s largest wine region, and while the handcrafted wines from this world-class wine-producing region have only recently been noticed by wine connoisseurs outside of Mexico, wine has been produced in Baja California since the Spanish and French Missionaries arrived in the 1700s. The Valle de Guadalupe has been coined Baja’s “Ruta del Vino,” and even those who have not yet visited, have heard of the open-air “campestre-style” restaurants and boutique wineries that are putting this region on the world culinary map. But few know that four more highland coastal grape-growing valleys surrounding the Pacific-coast town of Ensenada, contribute to grape production for this burgeoning wine region. And while the Valle de Guadalupe is the most well known and commercially developed of these five valleys, a majority of the grapes used to make Valle de Guadalupe wines come from the other four valleys, where more water and fertile land make for award-winning wines.
Baja’s original wine route, the “Antigua Ruta del Vino,” is where commercial winemaking in Baja California was born. Located south of Ensenada, this historic route consists of the Valle de Santo Tomás, the Valle de la Grulla, and the Valle de San Vicente. While lesser-known, this more intimate part of the Region is one of Baja’s best-kept secrets. You won’t likely find big crowds or hipsters run-a-muck here—what you’ll experience is quality wines, beautiful wineries, personal attention, and true Mexican hospitality. The experience is quality over quantity in this part of the Region, experienced through just a handful of wineries and restaurants.
Dominican Spanish Missionaries brought the first grapes (known as the “Mission grape”) to the Valle de Santo Tomás in 1791. At the time, the King of Spain prohibited winemaking in Mexico with the exception of making wine for church use. It wasn’t until Mexico gained its independence in 1821 that winemaking was permitted for non-religious purposes, and commercial production of wine in Mexico began. In 1888, the lands of the former Santo Tomás Mission were sold to a private group that established Bodegas de Santo Tomás, the first commercial winery in Baja California and the second-oldest winery in Mexico (Santo Tomás is the oldest contiguously operating commercial winery in the Americas).
Bodegas de Santo Tomás anchors the Antigua Ruta del Vino and is supported by a handful of boutique and family-run wineries and vineyards. A trip to this historic wine route is guaranteed to be an enchanting day of wine tasting, and offers a bonus history lesson on the Missionary settlements of Baja California.
TRAVEL NOTES: A Mexican Immigration Inspection Station located just South of Ensenada checks all non-Mexican nationals for proper identification and travel documents. Accordingly, you should travel to this part of the Region with a valid passport or passport card, and a valid FMM Tourist Permit. FMM Tourist Permits are available free of charge at the border for stays of less than seven days. Due to the location of this historic wine route south of Ensenada, this same-day tour only departs from locations south of Tijuana, and is not available for cruise ship passengers on ship-to-shore excursions.