The Valle de la Grulla: Baja Wineries Off the Beaten Path

While many people have heard of the vineyards of the Baja located in Mexico’s Guadalupe Valley, many don’t realize that the Baja is home to many more wine producing regions, some of which have still yet escaped the massive influx of wine tourists to the area. One of such regions is the Valle de la Grulla, nestled away to the south in a scenic mountainous valley.

Located along the Baja’s Historic Wine Route (La Antigua Ruta del Vino in Spanish) to the south of Ensenada just off Highway 1, the Valle de la Grulla (literally, “Crane Valley”) takes its name from the birds that would typically come visit its riverbed in the winter. Also known by its municipal name of Ejido Uruapan, this area is not particularly well-known for its vineyards, despite being a very significant producer of wine grapes, the majority of which are sold to producers that vinify them in the Valle de Guadalupe to the northeast.

View from MD Vinos
There’s no shortage of scenic vineyard moments in the Valle de la Grulla…

With a slightly lower temperature protecting against crop losses that can be caused by the occasional excessively high summertime temperatures in other regions in the Baja, and with a tradition of grape growing and agriculture that dates back generations, it’s only a matter of time until more people start to discover this hidden alcove off the beaten wine path. Plus, if you’re drinking wine from the Valle de Guadalupe, there’s a pretty good chance that some of the grapes actually come from down here…

A Brief History of Wine in the Valle de la Grulla

Along the path of the Baja’s Historic Wine Route, the Valle de la Grulla was one of the stopovers of the Jesuit missionaries as they spread their religion and grape growing from south to north through the country and the Baja in particular. While nowadays, the Valle de Santo Tomas tends to be better known for this heritage, grape growing in the Valle de la Grulla dates back to the end of the 1800s, and it is one of the oldest grape growing regions in the Baja.

Entrance to the Valle de la Grulla
The entrance leading into the Valle de la Grulla from Highway 1

Today, many of its wineries are ranches that have been owned by generations of grape farmers, although the focus on quality wine came more recently during the past decades, as it did in the remainder of Mexico.

Wineries in the Valle de la Grulla

Today, this region is only home to three wineries: Vinos Aldo Cesar Palafox, Santo Domingo and MD Vinos.

Vinos Aldo Cesar Palafox

Located in a stunning building not far from the entrance to the Valle de la Grulla, Vinos Palafox came into existence in 1997 following generations of grape growing on the family ranch, later coming to focus on quality and a product of value on the national market.

Drinking Quercus Blanco at Palafox Vineyards
Nothing like a nice refreshing glass of Quercus Blanco white wine on a giant wood table overlooking the vineyards in the Valle de la Grulla…

Palafox produces white, rosé and red wines, all of which are blends. Its Quercus Blanco white wine, made from 80% Chenin Blanc and 20% Chardonnay is a refreshing Baja white that comes with a touch of acidity that is all too often absent in whites from the region. As for its reds, we particularly liked Pionero, a Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend with only minimum oak, resulting in a friendly and fruit forward young wine. This producer also offers the option of rosé in its Quercus Rosado, as well as its premium red blend Tributo.

Overall, Palafox’s wines can be refreshing for the pallet after spending days in the Valle de Guadalupe tasting red wines that have spent 24 to 36 months in oak, as their use of oak is much more sparing, resulting in much more fruit forward wines.

Palafox has facilities that are well-suited to receiving visits, and is open for tastings every day except Tuesday. You don’t need a reservation, so it’s an easy and sure stop on any trip to the Valle de la Grulla.

Vinos Santo Domingo

Cava Santo Domingo is an approximately 40-hectare grape growing ranch owned by multiple generations of the Mesa family. While the ranch dates back many decades and in the past mainly focused on selling grapes, in 2006 the family owning it decided to start up their own winery, making wines with a careful selection of their own grapes. Today, the majority of their grapes continue to be sold to other producers in the Baja, with a select few being transformed into their wines, all of which are red.

Santo Domingo2

While all of their wines are excellent, particular credit goes to their Cabernet Sauvignon, which is simultaneously robust and dense as well as fruit forward, not letting the oak mask the varietal’s true nature. With hints of chili pepper combined with the classic blueberry pie and blackberries, this Cabernet is elegant and isn’t trying to hide anything with time in the barrel. Their other wines include a monovarietal Syrah, a monovarietal Nebbiolo and their Tinteros premium red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo, Syrah, Merlot and Tempranillo.

While Santo Domingo is absolutely worth visiting for the sole purpose of drinking their wines, the establishment isn’t yet open to the public, so if you want a tasting there, you are going to have to contact them to make an appointment. The facilities are basic and are not yet designed to welcome large groups of tourists.

MD Vinos

Like the other wineries in the valley, MD Vinos is also the extension of a larger-scale agricultural project. As a part of a company that also produces produce for export and which owns multiple farms along the Baja Peninsula, wine is only a portion of its business. It has 32 hectares dedicated to wine grapes, 30% of which goes to producing its own wines, and the remainder of which are sold to other producers.

View from MD Vinos
Overlooking one of MD’s water reservoirs and a portion of its vast vineyards

The company has recently been undergoing a change in image in terms of its wines, hiring a new enologist a few years back, which means that some of the wines that it currently has on the market – some of which date back to 2011 or earlier – greatly contrast with its more recent productions from 2015 to date. Its white wine, named La Grulla after the valley where it was grown, has been particularly in demand and completely sold out, though it’s interesting to note that the grapes come from the vineyards of Santo Domingo.

Its Flamingo Rosado 2016, made from 100% Syrah, is a complex and full-bodied rosé that is worth trying. As for its red wines, at the winery in the tasting room, they are currently only selling labels from 2011 and earlier, while not their more recent releases, and some of these wines now taste quite tired, which is unfortunate.

MD Tasting Room
The tasting room open to the public at MD Vinos

MD is open to visit from Wednesday to Sunday and no appointment is required. The property itself is spectacular if you get a chance to explore it a bit, with panoramic views of its vineyards overlooking the Valle de la Grulla.

To conclude…

The Valle de la Grulla is well worth a visit if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the Valle de Guadalupe, especially during busy weekend days. While it might take a bit more effort, it’s definitely worthwhile to get to know the family-owned producers in this valley, and to get a first-hand glimpse of the terroir that produces a significant proportion of the grapes that go into wines that might be labeled as being from the Valle de Guadalupe.

By Raquel Boucher & Omar Torres

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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