Switzerland-born enologist Christoph Gartner founded Vinisterra, a small winery that’s located in San Antonio de las Minas. He came from Switzerland to work for Santo Tomás, and he produced ambitious projects such as a binational wine called Duetto, which brought together grapes from the Santo Tomás winery and from Wente Vineyards in California. When asked about the reason he decided to move to Baja in 1996, Gartner says he believes in the potential of the region and that he liked the challenge. “There’s a spirit of experimentation and freedom in the new world; there’s an absence of being chained to the previous industrial production. And we have the climate on our side; the aridity and warmth of the valley gives us wines of high concentration and maturity.”
Guadalupe, the Newest Telenovela Star
The majority of Baja wine-country visitors are local middle-class Mexican citizens, cultured and well-educated between the ages of 35 and 45 who can afford the rather expensive local production. One of the tour guides at L.A. Cetto mentioned that the winery receives around 800 visitors on a weekend, with only about 10 of them from the U.S. According to the numbers of the Comité Provino, last year during harvest season the Guadalupe Valley received 45,000 visitors, but only 3 percent were from the United States.
In order to attract consumers, some wineries offer free tours through the vineyards and wine-tastings at little or no cost. They have open areas that are used for weddings, concerts, and picnics. Many families and groups of friends spend their Sundays enjoying the local produce and wine at what is called the Ruta del Vino. There are bed-and-breakfast hotels and tiny lodges, even luxury camping. The valley’s popularity is growing and, recently, it became the main backdrop for Cuando Me Enamoro (“When I Fall in Love”), a popular Mexican soap opera. Many ensenadenses worked as extras. The telenovela brought popularity, but it also attracted a less-sophisticated consumer.
The biggest event of the year happens in August, during harvest season. Fiestas de la Vendimia offers concerts, wine-tastings, and food competitions. Most of the events are expensive (a ticket can cost from $50 to $300) and some are invitation-only gatherings, but there are also public events. In downtown Ensenada, in front of Bodegas de Santo Tomás, a popular nighttime street festival brings together art from many Baja artists. Local produce and gourmet food is sold, and lots of live music is presented on indoor and outdoor stages. Many thousands gather for this wine festival. It is attractive, indeed, but when in the late hours the hordes of men and women drinking straight from the bottle become a huge zigzagging crowd, one can only wonder what is so wrong with exclusivity after all.