When he was growing up in coastal Southern California back in the mid '50s, Jay Dworsky had absolutely no idea that he might end up becoming involved in the farming of grapes, let alone in making wine out of them.
As a matter of fact, aside from having an occasional glass at the dinner table, he never really gave wine too much thought until a little over 20 years ago when he met his wife, Trisha, who possessed an extensive background as a restaurateur and aficionado of fine wines.
Under her skillful stewardship, he began to gradually expand his horizons to the point where he developed a cultured palate, along with distinct preferences in regard to his favorite varietals. It was not, however, until after the couple eventually decided to retire and move down near Ensenada in northern Baja that Jay’s passion and desire to learn more about the actual making of wine came into full fruition.
Baja’s primary wine-growing region, which includes the areas of nearby Valle Guadalupe and San Antonio de Las Minas, accounts for over 90% of Mexico’s total wine production. This distinction is regularly celebrated at Ensenada’s annual Fiestas de la Vendimia celebration that draws wine lovers from around the globe. And it was at one of these events over six years ago that Jay Dworsky made the fateful decision to sign up for a series of classes that would introduce him to the art of winemaking.
A majority of the red grape producers in Baja Norte’s wine region focus their attentions on growing market-proven strains like Cabernet, Merlot, Spanish Tempranillo and Italian Sangiovese. Petit Verdot, on the other hand, tends to mature rather late; its deep violet color, delightfully dry fruitiness and light touch of tannin makes it a favorite for use in wine blends in its native region of Bordeaux, France. But when grown in a sunny, dry climate with an extended season like that in northern Baja, Petit Verdot is able to easily stand on its own merit as a single varietal; it offers a rich flavor profile that suggests dense, dark fruits like ripe blackberry, black cherry and plum.
Dworsky found this potential intriguing, so he made the decision to initiate a planting of the exotic varietal despite the fact it was his first attempt at wine production. Some may have thought this was taking an unnecessary risk.
Nonetheless, some four years after his first bottling, Dworsky’s dense and velvety-smooth Petit Verdot, Merengue, neatly snatched a gold medal at the 2012 Concurso Internacional Wine Expo and Competition that was recently held at Ensenada’s Hotel Coral. This win was particularly noteworthy, since it was the first time at the annual event a regional gold medal of this nature had been won by someone who was not a Mexican producer in the area.
To many, this turn of events has also marked the beginning of a new era when a fresh input of ideas and strategies will help further enhance the reputation of Baja’s wine country. Dworsky’s fledgling boutique, Bodegas Marilena, also enjoyed a bronze medal win at a Long Beach wine competition a little over a year ago, and they look forward to even greater success in years to come.
As a non-fluent-Spanish-speaking American living and producing wine in Mexico, he has certainly encountered his share of challenges on the road to success – mostly involving the language barrier, government red tape and occasional water issues in this arid locale. But it's not necessarily the promise of more medals that fuels his passion.
“The goal is not to get big,” Dworsky insists. “The goal is not to make a ton of money; the goal is not to have 10 different wines in our line. I want to be very specific and very direct. I just want to make some great new wines for the Mexican market.”
And in that regard, he's already succeeded.
(Read more about Baja food, wine and fishing in Tom Gatch's blog BAJA-4-U.)