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A warmer and sunnier than average winter season in 2012 has been the barer of good news for the wine producers in Baja Norte’s Valle de Guadalupe, which lies just a few miles to the northeast of Ensenada. Many of the most popular varietals grown here hail originally from the Mediterranean region, where dry and sunny weather entices the robust Graciano and marvelously rich Tempranillo grapes in Spain as well as the rich, complex Nebbiolo and Sangiovese strains in Italy to grow ripe, plump and juicy on the vine.

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A majority of the local wineries in Valle Guadalupe, a region which annually produces over 90% of Mexican wines, focus their attention upon growing red varietals; although the area also offers a few notable whites such as oaky Chardonnays and crisp Chenin Blancs. Weather is the number one factor relating to the quality of the fruit, followed by proper vineyard management, quantity control, site selection and irrigation. But, however encouraging the growth of the relatively fledgling Baja wine industry has been, there are a couple of obstacles that stand between its current level of operation and achieving the ultimate goal of world class recognition, which many noted wine connoisseurs believe it well deserves.

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The most important of these is water, a precious commodity that has become incrementally shorter in supply as population in the burgeoning city of Ensenada continues to grow. However, a number of solutions have been proposed in recent years, including the building of desalination facilities to supply Ensenada. But one of the most innovative proposals is to pipe in gray water from the huge metropolis of Tijuana to use for crop irrigation.

Another issue that inhibits expansion of the industry is the high tax that is levied on wines in Mexico. Once perceived to be the beverage of the wealthy, beer and tequila were viewed as the official libations of the masses and high domestic tariffs were established to make sure that those who enjoyed the privilege of savoring a bottle of fine wine paid their fair share.

The sales and excise tax on wine in the state of Baja California is currently 41%. It was supposed to jump up to 45.5% back in February, but Baja’s governor signed a last minute reprieve that postponed the tax on local wine producers for at least a year. As a point of comparison, the tax total on an equivalent bottle of California wine sold just across the border is only between 7 and 10 percent.

These days, several of our local wineries are producing high quality wines that seem to get better with each passing vintage. Amongst them, some of the most prominent and popular vineyards are Malagon, Fuentes. Vinisterra, Tres Valles, Liceaga and Roganto, but there are many smaller operations in the area that also kick out some top flight products.

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Simply drive south on coastal toll road toward Ensenada and about 1.5 miles past the third and final toll station at Playa San Miguel look for a sign reading Tecate Highway 3 or "Ruta del Vino". Exit to the right onto Highway 3 and drive up and over the foothills for seven miles until you drop down into the wine country at San Antonio de las Minas.

You can read about fine wines, you can talk about them …but it’s more fun to actually sample them before committing to buy a bottle. And the very best way to get the real flavor and complexity of the Baja wine experience is to visit Valle de Guadalupe yourself!

READ MORE ABOUT BAJA: http://www.countrymanpress.com/titles/HookedBaja.html

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