Sunday, July 19, 2009

Elaboration of wines at Cavas Valmar

Currently the grapes used to make the Cavas Valmar wines come from wineries located in the Valle of San Vicente which is south of Ensenada. The vines there are 40 years old. The Chenin Blanc is produced at their winery in the Valle de Guadalupe with 30 year old plants.

The technology to make the Cava Valmar wines has constantly changed improving year after year: They have put forth larger and more modern equipment with even more adequate humidity temperature controls.

The elaboration of Chenin Blanc begins in July when vintners visit the wineries to check the characteristics desired for the grape harvest. That is to say that they look for sugar content, acidity in addition to selecting the part of the vineyard that is the healthiest with no damage to the leaves or the grapes.

Once they determine the harvest date, the harvest will begin in the first hours of the morning using plastic boxes with a capacity for 10 kilograms to avoid loosing the fruitiness and damage to the grapes during their transportation to Ensenada.

In Ensenada, the grapes are separated from the vines sending the juice, skin and seeds to the fermentation tanks. Afterwards, only the juice is sent to the fermentation. The skins and seeds are pressed and this juice is fermented separately being of lower quality. This juice is fermented at lower temperature of approximately 12 degrees centigrade for two or three months and after gelatin is added to be filtrated and stabilized for bottling. The bottles are sent to storage to rest for at least six months before being labeled to be ready for sale.

The elaboration of the Cabernet Sauvignon begins in September with the supervision of the vineyard. When the optimum conditions of quality are reached, the harvest begins. These grapes are also picked in the early hours of the morning in plastic boxes for their transportation to Ensenada where they begin their grinding process sending juice, skin and seed to the fermentation tanks where they stay for 12 days extracting the colors, flavors and aroma that will give the Cavas Valmar character. Once the alcoholic fermentation has completed the the wine is placed in the wood barrels where the second fermentation called malolactica begins.

At the end of the year the wine is sent to other barrels separating the sediment. They are sent to another facility with controlled temperature and humidity. They remain there aging a minimum of 12 months. After this, a bit of egg whites are added and filtrated, stabilized and bottled to be sent back to the winery where it will spend another 12 months before being labeled to be ready for sale.


Discover the Santo Tomas Vineyard of Baja California

Open since 1888, Bodegas de Santo Tomas winery has been producing wine longer than any other winery in Mexico. It is best known for having joined California's Wente Vineyard to produce Duetto, a 50-50 Santo Tomas/Wente blend. It is also known for its Santo Tomás Reserva Unico.

The origen of Santo Tomas Vineyard and Winery (Bodegas de Santo Tomas) comes from the Domincan Missionaries who settled the Baja area circa 1697. The mission of Santo Tomas de Aquino was started by Jose Loriente on April 24, 1791 in the Valle de Santo Tomas.

En 1888, Francisco Andonegul and Miguel Ormart started Santo Tomas Vineyards and Winery.

Abelardo Rodriquez acquired Santo Tomas Vineyards and Winery in 1932 and 3 years later established the business on Miramar Street in Ensenada Baja California where the first bottling plant was there was established in 1939.

Don Elias Pando continues the traditon now as the main principle owner.

Bodegas de Santo Tomas has over 118 years of business and service in the wine making business. They are one of the forefathers of the newly rediscovered wine industry here in Baja California.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Guataque wine event, Mexico (4/4)

When you put this wine event into the proper perspective, acknowledging that these dedicated, artisan and smaller producers, with limited resources and training are making a diverse mixture of drinkable wines, it’s very impressive. In deed, some of these winemakers from this event and local winemaking schools have moved up the chain and become known nationally for their artisan and boutique wines. In reality, Mexico’s wine industry is still emerging in quality and production, but it is an exciting time as the industry evolves. Due to the low production of wine, and with a growing national market for regional wine, many artisan winemakers are having success in selling their products. Handcrafted wines have the advantage of bringing to the consumer, the “bottled spirit and passion” of the individual winemakers and their intimate relationship to the vines and land. As we grow and gain experience with our craft, we offer great value for the quality, and a personal expression in the art of making small quantities of wine.

Several regional food venues were present with an abundance of gourmet delights for this event to include: Capricho’s, Casa Plasencia, Tres Misiones Cheese and Olive Oil. Cafe Tomas, Bodegas del Arte, and Hogaza pastries. The event organizers were able to artfully blend a combination of wine, cerveza, food, music, dancing and good times into a successful day in Mexico’s premium wine country. For those winemakers and wineries I didn’t mention in this article, don’t worry, I’ll be featuring several artisan operations in upcoming articles for this publication and others. Please contact me if you want further coverage of your wines and your passion for the art. Thankfully, Viña de Liceaga came through again as a graceful host for this event. Serious wine and food lovers, please note that as of July 1st, Saverios Restaurant (one of the best in the region) will be setting up their summer tent galley as Asador Campestre at Liceaga Winery in San Antonio de las Minas. They’ll be open Tuesdays through Sundays from noon until 10 p.m.

Steve Dryden is a wine, food and travel writer living in Valle de Guadalupe where he guides individual and small group wine tours. He can be reached at: or

Friday, July 17, 2009

Guateque wine event, Mexico (3/4)

Alvaro Alvarez and Hortensia Riesgo, brew-master and winemaker, have been focused an creating premium handcrafted beer and in Ensenada since 1992.
Zinfandel seems to be a “rising star” among the artisan winemaking movement. One reason for the presence of Zinfandel is that there was a small surplus left over this last season that made its way to the artisans and smaller producers who have to purchase grapes from growers. Pau Pijoan of Viñas Pijoan empowered one of his beautiful daughters and her friends to pour his Mare, a 100% Zinfandel which was a “stand-out” (the wine) at this event. Another notable Zinfandel poured is being produced by Agosto. This 2008 Zinfandel is a team effort by Laura Chanes, Monica Chanes, Gloria Guisa and Juan Antonio Fernandez. Quinta Liz Arraga, Laura Chanes was a fellow graduate of mine at the “world renowned” La Escuelita, the artisan winemaking school in El Porvenir, Valle de Guadalupe. She is one of many women in Mexico who are taking part in our emerging wine industry with great results and progress. Another 2007 Zinfandel from Serena, is another prime example for the potential of Zinfandel in the region.

To be continued

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Guateque wine event, Mexico (2/4)

Two interesting features this year was a nice presentation of regional micro-brewed beers (cerveza) and an abundance of Zinfandel wine. Labricha Cerveza Artesanal had an excellent table presentation with a fine selection of handcrafted beer, staffed with knowledgeable personnel. Their Monasterio Stout, is smooth, full-bodied, with hints of coffee and smoke flavors, that would pair-up nicely with oven-baked lamb and many mole dishes. In addition, they make a palate-pleasing light honey ale, bright golden color, clean, refreshing, with floral aromas, ending with a smooth finish with a hint of ginger. I’d love to match this brew with carne asada, or shrimp in coconut milk sauce.

To be continued ...

Guataque wine event, Mexico (1/4)

This annual wine event is probably the most enthusiastic and “down to earth” wine country event held each year in Valle de Guadalupe. The focus is on emerging winemakers, beginners, artisans, home-brewers, small operations and intermediate-level producers. This year’s event was enhanced with the use of the new multi-use activity center generously provided by Viña de Liceaga in San Antonio de las Minas. The overall event planning was brilliantly orchestrated by Leonardo Lizárraga and friends. It is remarkable to note that these events continue to advance and improve vastly with each season. The food venues, tickets sales, parking, sanitation, stage, live music, dancing area, gazebos, security, and table seating made for a fun, family-oriented event. One obvious element was that you could really feel the “enthusiasm and spirit” as you approached the grounds, filled with a diverse mix of people, micro-brewed beers, regional culinary delights and newly produced wines.

To be continued...

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Casa de Piedra Winery, what and where ?

This project was born with the desire to produce an excellent wine for the enjoyment of the group of people whose interest and enthusiasm lay in the initiation of the winery. At Casa de Piedra, we have endeavored to make our "Estate Wine" using the grapes from the area and its diverse microclimates. Utilizing the latest technology combined with the expertise and sensibility of our winemakers, we have attained a level upon which, each bottle exclusively reflects the personality of the land.

The vineyard is located at km 93.5 in valley of San Antonio de las Minas, Baja California. The Casa de Piedra and its vineyards, is uniquely situated, lending its geometric rhythm and harmony to the vines. The building has an intimate farmhouse ambiance, but is well equipped with small capacity stainless steel tanks complete with computerized processing control, a semi-gravitational system and underground caves. Eight years have passed since our first harvest, and we have received high acclaim of our wine both nationally and internationally.

Interested in their products ? Find them here:

Discovering Mexican Wines

I recently returned from a wonderful two-week vacation in Mexico. It was my first time there as a tourist, and I thoroughly enjoyed discovering the diversity of the country from the hustle of Mexico City to the vibrant traditions of Chiapas and the ancient cultures of the Mayas in the Yucatán. One of the most enjoyable parts of the trip was the food and drink.

From dishes traditionally associated with Mexico (burritos, fajitas, empanadas), to more regional dishes we sampled (cochinita pibil, relleno negro, poc-chuc), everything was as good as I had hoped. I also enjoyed the variety of Mexican beers, from the ubiquitous Corona to lesser-known brands such as Modelo Especial, Pacifico and Superior to name just a few. The real surprise, however, was the discovery that Mexico produces wine — and that some of it is quite good.

I should warn you that I make no pretenses to have tasted the full gamut of Mexican wines. Indeed, a Mexican friend who imports French wines into Mexico warned me that the best wines — which are usually produced in low volumes — are not available in ordinary restaurants. They are snapped up by top restaurants and collectors. That said, this review will offer the normal tourist a reasonable guide to what is found on most restaurant menus. Note that all prices are in US dollars and reflect the price I paid in the restaurant.

In all, I tasted only eight different wines: one sparkling, two whites and five reds. The rest of the time, I was drinking beer or Chilean and Argentine wines. Half the wines I tasted were from producer Pedro Domecq, part of the Pernod Ricard wines and spirits group. Though good distribution has clearly helped Pedro Domecq, the wines are in fact reliable. Domecq’s 2006 XA Blanc de Blancs made from Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling was the “value” find of the trip. It was slightly buttery on the palate with hints of apricot and honey. The finish had just enough acidity so that it wasn’t cloying. Widely available, it only costs $18 in most restaurants, and it is often available in a half bottle (for a little less than half the price).

The reds from Pedro Domecq run the gamut. The 2003 XA Cabernet Sauvignon is like the dozens of average Cabs you see from Chile. Medium bodied, it has flavors of lush ripe red berries with soft tannins. In all, it is a flabby but very drinkable wine for only $20. Moving up the quality scale is the 2003 Chateau Domecq Cosecha Seleccionada. This wine is round and supple with flavors of wild berries. Made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Niebbelo, it is a better deal at $23; I only saw it twice on the wine lists however. In what I tasted from Pedro Domecq, the 2005 Reserva Real was by far the best. Made from Merlot and Petit Syrah, the wine has a burnt cherry taste with firm tannins. We definitely drank this one too young, but, at $26 a bottle, it did not hurt the pocketbook.

The other producer prevalent on wine lists is L.A. Cetto. I tasted at least two of their wines and both were disappointing. The 2005 Fumé Blanc was completely flat, with no freshness at all. At $24 this was a heavy price to pay. The 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, at $15 a bottle, was at least cheaper, but the wine was just awful. It reminded me of all the really bad wines I used to drink when I did not know any better and could not afford any better, even if I did.

The star of the trip was from producer Monte Xanic. The 2002 Merlot was a perfect expression of what Merlot can be: full of flavors of lush, overripe cherries, and smooth as silk tannins. It was perhaps a bit past its prime, but it was the wine of the trip, with a $65 price tag to show for it. It was the only wine I tasted that showcased the caliber of high-end Mexican wines.

Finally, the bottle of sparkling wine we purchased to toast the end of a successful trip fell flat. The Vino Blanco Espumoso Brut from Champbrule ($12) is a mix of Chardonnay and French Colombard. It tasted like the worst of both. My notes literally read “bland creamy white with bubbles forced through it.” Celebrate with some Chilean sparkling instead, or better yet just splurge on French champagne.

So if you are off to Mexico for vacation, my advice is to choose your local wine carefully because there are indeed good ones to be had. For higher quality wines, you will need to head to a top restaurant and pay the price, if the Monte Xanic is indicative. In the mainstream, Pedro Domecq is widely available and offers, on the whole, good value for the money. Nevertheless, if you find yourself at a simple home-style joint without good wine options, the varied local beers make perfect chasers. I look forward to exploring more Mexican wines when they are widely available on the export market or on future trips to Mexico. I know now I’ve only scratched the surface.