1. Valle de Guadalupe

Eat, drink and be merry amid the rolling hills of Baja Cal­i­for­nia’s wine coun­try

Lonely Planet (UK) - - Baja California -

AS THE SUN SETS BE­HIND tow­er­ing pine trees, cast­ing long shad­ows across the Mo­gor-Badan vine­yard, Paulina Deck­man is rem­i­nisc­ing about the first time she came here to eat. It was six years ago, and din­ner was so good she mar­ried the chef. Drew, her Miche­lin-starred now-hus­band, had just opened Deck­man’s en el Mo­gor as an open-air venue to show­case the best of the ranch’s fresh meat, fruit and veg­eta­bles along­side the plen­ti­ful seafood from the nearby port of Ense­nada. ‘For my hus­band and me, this is the Dis­ney­land of the in­gre­di­ent,’ says Paulina. ‘We serve in our restau­rant the bounty of the Baja.’ Baja Cal­i­for­nia’s Valle de Guadalupe is a spe­cial place for food and wine. Cooled by the Pa­cific Ocean, its mi­cro­cli­mate is sim­i­lar to that of the Mediter­ranean. And it’s a cli­mate that makes it easy to grow things. The weather is tem­per­ate and the hills are green. Squint and you might be in Tuscany. Knock back too much lo­cal wine and you may think you’ve wo­ken up in Napa Val­ley. Then there’s the seafood. Ev­ery morn­ing in Ense­nada, oys­ters, shrimp, mar­lin, crab, tuna and more are piled high onto the stalls at the Mer­cado de Mariscos. Serv­ing up a plate of pearly white scal­lops, Paulina re­marks: ‘Th­ese are a sig­na­ture from Baja Cal­i­for­nia. They’re so fresh they would have been in the water this morn­ing.’ Deck­man’s takes the ‘farm-to-ta­ble’ phi­los­o­phy pi­o­neered by Alice Wa­ters’ Chez Panisse in Berke­ley, Cal­i­for­nia in the ’70s and goes one step fur­ther. Rather than bring­ing the farm to its diners’ plates, it brings its diners to the farm. Ev­ery­one eats out­doors, be­neath the shade of the pine trees, with the scent of the kitchen’s wood­fired stoves in their nos­trils. ‘Some­times peo­ple com­plain about the flies, but we are on the farm and we have to un­der­stand the con­text,’ says Paulina, deftly shoo­ing one away from a tray of oys­ters. ‘We may serve fancy food, but this is not a fancy place.’ Drew and Paulina are vo­cal sup­port­ers of Wa­ters’ ‘slow food’ move­ment, that nec­es­sary cor­rec­tive to an ob­ses­sion with fast-food restau­rants. ‘Here, our food chains are as short as pos­si­ble,’ says Paulina. ‘We try to be a zero-km restau­rant. Ev­ery­thing the ranch pro­duces, we serve.’ And it’s not just Deck­man’s. Other restau­rants in the val­ley are fol­low­ing their lead. Nearby TrasLomita also has its own farm­yard and veg­etable patch grow­ing ingredients at their sis­ter vine­yard, Finca La Car­rodilla. Chef Sheyla Al­varado’s sig­na­ture dish, tostadas de ce­viche verde, com­bines finely cubed jí­cama (Mex­i­can turnip) and yel­low­tail from the fish mar­ket with their own home-grown co­rian­der. At the re­cently opened Fauna at bou­tique ho­tel Bruma, chef David Cas­tro Hus­song of­fers a mod­ern reimag­in­ing of Mex­i­can com­fort food. The val­ley’s cli­mate also makes it an es­pe­cially good place to make wine. The po­ten­tial of Valle de Guadalupe was spot­ted early on, with the con­quis­ta­dor Hernán Cortés re­quest­ing vines from Spain as early as 1521. How­ever, it’s only in the last decade that winer­ies have be­gun to flour­ish. That leaves plenty of space for in­no­va­tion. At De­can­tos Víní­cola, Alonso Grana­dos has de­vised the world’s first win­ery with­out a sin­gle elec­tronic pump. Be­liev­ing they can spoil the taste by treat­ing the wine too roughly, his sys­tem re­lies sim­ply on a process of de­cant­ing. While he’s evan­gel­i­cal about his in­no­va­tion, his other mis­sion is to de­mys­tify the wine­mak­ing process for the emerg­ing class of Mex­i­cans who want to have a bot­tle of red along­side their cerveza, tequila and mez­cal. ‘It’s not only pro­duc­tion that we do here,’ he says. ‘We want peo­ple to visit and have fun. In the old days, wine was only for kings. Th­ese days, it’s for ev­ery­one.’

48 Lonely Planet Trav­eller Vines stretch to the north­ern hills of Valle de Guadalupe, on the road to De­can­tos Víní­cola

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