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Misc
Thursday
Jul042013

Mexico's Ruta del Vino, Ensenada / Guadalupe Valley, Baja California North

 Last November, Mike and I did our second road-trip from Alberta to Mexico. Along the way, we had a fantastic mini-adventure in Ensenada and the Guadalupe Valley. Marcello Di Cintio had tipped me off about a San Diego chef, Jay Porter, who blogs about the food and wine across the Mexican border in TJ and Ensenada. We were planning to stop for a couple of days in Ensenada, even though we were heading even further south, to Southern Baja. (It is a long drive.) Anyway, Jay gave me lists and lists of wineries and restaurants, only a few of which were open in mid-November -- which we discovered was off-season for many restaurants and wineries. Nevermind. What we did experience was incredible. We're already planning a return trip.

Here's an article I wrote for City Palate Calgary, for the May / June 2013 "Wine Issue". I've slightly re-edited it and have added in a bunch of my own photos.

 

A Mexican Wine Adventure

My husband Mike and I might have been delirious, what with over 3000-kilometres of highway driving, and two border crossings under our belt in just five days. There was also the adrenaline rush of navigating through Tijuana earlier that morning. (For the record, this infamous Mexican border city that inspires concerned looks from friends and strangers now feels safer and is definitely hipper than many parts of California.) On the highway south of Tijuana, the humidity of the Pacific air was softening the lines on our faces as we cranked up the radio and blared polka-like Norteño music from our truck’s speakers. Driving to Mexico in November in search of vitamin D, fish tacos and The Baja Wine Route, in particular, was starting to make a whole lot of sense.

I had picked up on some rumblings along the foodie grapevines that Mexican wine had been improving dramatically in the past several years. As it happened, Mexico’s largest and oldest winery region, the fertile Guadalupe Valley, was less than 20 minutes inland from the port city of Ensenada, in Northern Baja California. And the helpful visitor information agent in Ensenada was more than happy to provide us with a maps and winery and dining recommendations. We learned that the Guadalupe Valley —home to 50-some wineries and restaurants along a 24-kilometer loop —was the heart of Baja’s Ruta del Vino. Along with the wine culture, there was a farm-to-table food movement sweeping over the area thanks to a few revolutionary chefs pushing the idea of a North Baja cuisine.

Following our new, free maps, we turned off Highway 1 and drove up into rolling hills of ochre-red soil strewn with large white granite boulders among cacti along Highway 3. As we crested a hill about 15 minutes into the drive, tidy square farms of green field vegetables interspersed with silver-green olive groves sprawled out in front of us. Vineyards, somewhat less uniformly, crept up the hillsides. Had I not been driving, I would have clapped in sheer glee at the gastronomic potential beyond the windshield.

We’d aimed high for lodgings for our first two nights in Mexico. I’d seen photos of the brand new Hotel Endémico on hipster, designy Websites that gushed about its off-the-beaten-path luxury. As we approached, we saw the strangely wonderful private casitas that were cantilevered out over granite-bolder-studded hills, newly planted vineyards and the Guadalupe Valley beyond.

Before we got too cozy at Hotel Endémico, we needed sustenance. Calgarian travel and food writer Marcello Di Cintio had suggested I contact Jay Porter, San Diego chef and blogging evangelist about the North Baja’s food and wine scene. Porter told me he’d just been to the Guadalupe Valley tweaking his restaurant’s house olive oil, made by Rancho Cortés, a farmstead cheesery and olive oil producer. Porter rattled off dozens of Baja wineries he liked, plus a long list of places to eat. For his money, Porter liked Corazon de Tierra, which had also just been named by Travel + Leisure magazine, Mexico edition, as the best restaurant in the nation.

“This place is supposed to be good?,” Mike asked more than once as we followed handpainted signs down dusty backroads for two kilometres in search of Corazon de Tierra.

Good? It was great. Restorative and transcendant. I won’t recount the set five-course, because it changes daily. And with the chefs bouncing out of the kitchen between each course to run into the garden, it’s not just seasonal, but changes hourly depending on the supply of arugula, chard, carrots, tomatoes, or peppers. Let’s just say that Corazon de Tierra had me at the first bite of soy-ginger-garlic-dressed mahi-mahi ceviche garnished with fresh mint, and the first sip of Chasselas del Mogor, a minerally white. Mogor Badán, as it turns out, is the winery a few kilometres down the highway. This pioneering winery only produces only one white from 35-year old chasselas vines and one red blend from 85-year-old cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot vines. Halfway through the courses, I switched to a rich, plummy tempranillo for the seared yellowtail tuna and the grilled ribeye courses. Vena Cava was made a few hundred steps away, at the restaurant’s own winery.

We left Corazon de Tierra rejuvenated. As the sun set over the valley, we settled into our boxy casita as plotting another day of food and drink.

Exterior of Corazon de Tierra Interior Corazon de Tierra Produce picked from the garden, soon to be our meal One of six courses, pan-seared yellowtail w/ charred eggplant pureePerfect grilled Sonoran ribeye and fresh garden veg with rounds of pickled watermelon (pink rounds on the steak)

Looking out over Guadalupe Valley from Hotel EndemicoThe private casitas at Hotel EndemicoThe balcony at our casita, Hotel Endemico Baja sky reflects off the infinity pool at Hotel Endemico

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a breakfast around Hotel Endémico’s pool, we drove to Mogor Badán, hoping we could charm our way into the tasting room. I was desperate to try their red, but the winery was shut tight, except for a busy market garden doing brisk business from the winery’s on-site vegetable patch. Nearby Barón Balché, a winery with a reputation for big reds was also closed. In fact, we tried a half-dozen wineries only to realize that wine-touring mid-week in November is not ideal. Most wineries in the Baja Wine Route are small. Some have no tasting room, others are open limited hours on weekends, or by appointment only. But god bless the big wineries. L.A. Cetto is one of Mexico’s largest producers, and in keeping, they have a good tour, generous hours of operation, and a well-stocked tasting room and store. With an everything-under-the-sun selection, the Don Luis Reserve Concordia (a sixty-forty cabernet sauvignon-shiraz blend) was surprisingly well-made, especially at its $18 pricetag.

Rather than attempting to repeat the soaring experience of Corazon de Tierra, we opted instead for, Ultramarino, an oyster and tapas bar in downtown Ensenada on the advice of our helpful tourism-office guy again. Full disclosure, I strayed from the mission at hand, tempted by the buzz surrounding Baja’s craft beer scene. I happily nursed a pint of Cupacá Obscura, a dark, rich beer that went down very smoothly with Ultramarino’s ethereal tempura Baja oysters and smoky marlin tacos.

One of Santo Tomas' outbuildingsWinter vines at Santo Tomas winery Laura Zamora, winemaker, Santo Tomas, at the onsite wineshop and tasting roomThe next day, we knew we’d better keep making our way south, but figured we could squeeze in one more stop. This time, I called ahead and made an appointment at Santo Tomás, 30 minutes south of Ensenada and the oldest winery in the Baja, founded in 1888. Laura Zamora, Mexico’s first female winemaker, had been at the helm of this major Mexican winery since 2003, and had recently had some good showings at major European wine shows. She made time for a personalized tour through the vineyards in her pickup – some 16 different varietals from cabernet sauvignon and barbera (one of her personal favorites) to more obscure ones like French colombard and “Mission” grape, a European clone of Listan Prieto that has been thriving in the Baja hundreds of years after it died out in its native Spain.

The vines were anywhere between 25 and 75 years old. Hundred-year-old olive trees formed the windrows. In the tourist-friendly tasting room and wine shop, Zamora and I discussed everything from the winery’s efforts to educated Mexicans about food and wine pairings to the winery’s custom olive oil collection.

Yes, of course, we strongly considered ditching our plans of getting further south in the Baja. We’d barely scratched at the food and wine scene here. But the fishing and beaches of the South Baja beckoned. Given the hundreds of kilometres of driving in front of Mike and I that day, wasn’t about to taste my way through Santo Tomás’ cellar. I did one better. I loaded our truck down with full bottles – a silky barbera, a fruit-bomb of a merlot, a raisiny off-dry white made from 100 percent Mission grapes, and a solera-style dry sherry. Research, friends. It is called research.

Just another Baja beach, heading south of Ensenada

Resource Guide for Baja Wine Route

 Hotel Endémico, Tecate-Ensenada Highway 3 at km 75, Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California; from Canada, toll-free 1-800-337-4685; from Mexico 1-800-123-3454.

www.designhotels.com/endemico

 Corazón de Tierra Carretera Tecate-Ensenada, Highway 3 at Km 88; 011-52-646-156-8030. (Follow the road signs to Villa del Valle inn.) Open daily.

http://corazondetierra.com/

 Vena Cava, in-house winery at Villa del Valle Inn & Corazon de Tierra restaurant; Tecate-Ensenada, Highway 3 at km 88; 011-52-1-646-156-8007. Open year-round 11 am to 5 pm.

http://www.lavilladelvalle.com/en/index.html

 Mogor Badán winery; Tecate-Ensenada Highway 3 at km 86.5; 011-52-1-646-177-1484. By appointment only.

Barón Balché, El Porvenir, Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California.; 011-52-1-646-155-2141. Open to the public daily 10 am to 4 pm daily.

http://www.baronbalche.com

 L.A. Cetto, Carretera Highway 3 Tecate-Ensenada at km 73.5 km, Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California; 011-52-1-646-155-2179. Open daily 9:30 am to 3:30 pm.

http://www.cettowines.com

 Ultramarino Oyster Bar, Avenida Ruiz (bewteen Primera and Virgilio Uribe), Ensenada, Baja California.

(no phone, no website)

 Santo Tomás winery, Highway 1 south of Ensenada at km 47.5; 011-52-1-646-151-9333. Open daily 10 am to 5 pm. www.santo-tomas.com

 Two more websites that are highly useful:

Baja California Secretary of Tourism’s Wine Route page: http://www.discoverbajacalifornia.com/bajas-wine-country.php

 San Diego chef Jay Porter’s Blog “My Biased Guide to Mexican Wine Country” from January 3, 2012: http://jayporter.com/2012/01/valle-de-guadalupe-and-ensenada/

 

 

Thursday
Jun062013

Wine Bloggers Conference: Penticton, BC June 6 - 8, 2013

Wine Bloggers Conference

I'm taking a break from my usual food writing to attend my first Wine Bloggers Conference. It's an easy decision, as it's in Penticton, so right here in the Okanagan Valley. With over 200 wine bloggers registered, I'm looking forward to meeting wine people from around the world, and welcoming them to the amazing Okanagan Valley (a beautiful wine+food producing region of Western Canada).

I'll be tweeting and Facebooking (maybe even Google+ after I learn what that's all about) for the next three days. Then I'll post some of the conference highlights here in the weeks that follow.

Follow the hashtag #WBC13 on Twitter, and follow my @OKFWWWorkshop twitter feed, as well as the official conference twitter account @winebloggerscon.

 

View south from Naramata Bench to Penticton, home of the #WNC13

 

Tuesday
May282013

Are you an urban homesteader?

 

On Wed, May 22, I participated in an interesting radio program on KUER in Salt Lake City to discuss the rise of urban homesteading. It was a good investigation into this trend: Is urban homesteading really a type of homesteading? What does it mean to be an urban homesteader? What is pushing this trend?

I was one of three guests. Also on the show was Jonathon Krausert, a board member of Wasatch Community Gardens. He produces 85% of his families produce on his one-eighth-of-an-acre property in Salt Lake City.The other panelist was Carly Gillespie, Community Educator at Wasatch Community Gardens and an urban homesteader. On the show, she uttered a brilliant soundbite: "DIY ADD."

The live-program, RadioWest, on KUER, was a call-in-type show and I absolutely loved hearing from people at all stages of growing food, keeping bees or raising chickens on whatever land they have access to. It sounds like Salt Lake City has a supportive municipal government and that the bylaws are not obstructive to those wanting to get back to the land in the city.

Click here for the full hour-long broadcast, now posted on the KUER RadioWest site.

More resources:

Sustainablog's "Top Five US Cities for Urban Homesteading."

Shovel and Fork - Hands-on DIY beekepping, chicken keeping, cob-oven building, butchery, pickling, and cooking classes for the urban homestead set.

 

Thursday
May162013

High School Senior blogs as she learns and writes about food, urban ag, and permaculture

I got a lovely note from a reader today. It was from a high school senior in Cleveland whose interests mirror my own: journalism, food and urban agriculture. She sent me a note about my book and how it is inspiring it was to her. That makes me feel pretty good, I must say.

That said, I find her current project totally interesting. Chloé has just begun a three-week senior project which will have her writing about her experiences at Rid-All Green Partnership, an urban farm in Cleveland. Check out her blog here, and follow along. I will be reading. Thanks Chloé for spreading the word about Rid-All.

 

 

Tuesday
May142013

Wine Bloggers Conference: Penticton, BC June 6 - 8, 2013

 

Wine Bloggers Conference

 

With my Okanagan Food and Wine Writers' Workshop a wrap (check out the two photo galleries I posted on the OKFWWW site), I'm looking forward to be an attendee at the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference right here in Penticton, BC. It's an unbelievable bargain for three wine-packed days at $95 for citizen bloggers, $295 for industry wine bloggers (those whose blog is affiliated with a winery, retail store, or other business or organization), and $395 for non-blogger participants (industry, media relations professionals, friends and family, etc).

This is the first time the WBC has come north of the border. We have Tourism Penticton to thank as well as the  two+ years off hard work and lobbying by the visionary Allison Markin, creator of the social media phenom Eat.Drink.Tweet. She's also the principal behind the social media strategy company All She Wrote Consulting.

I'm hoping it gets me into a blogging frame of mind this summer...because, I know, I know, I haven't been the best at keeping the material fresh on foodgirl.ca.