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December 12, 2017

Wine Time in Baja

My kid brother, Marty, teaches English in Mazatlan, where he has a nice house just off the malecon and where he spends most of the year.  His friend the bonita senorita Juanita was not approved for a visa to travel to the US.  Less than 10% of visa applications are approved, and none are approved without the applicant having a compelling reason to return to Mexico.

Hence for us to meet Juanita it would have to be in Mexico.  For them it’s an easy flight from Mazatlan to Tijuana and a short drive from there to the pueblo of Tecate.  And for us it’s an easy drive from home.  We decided to meet up there for a long weekend at Rancho Tecate.
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More on the rancho and the region, but let me introduce you to Marty and Juanita.  Her English is on par with my Spanish (nearly non-existent), but Marty is fluent in both.
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From the square we head over to the main shopping mall and the adjacent stalls, called the Swap Meet los Encinos (the Oaks).  We were looking for a few bargains that Juanita could take back to Mazatlan.  But alas most items were new and more expensive than they would be in Mazatlan.  But it is still a very popular local destination for the locals.
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The services offered include hair stylists, manicure and pedicure, makeup, etc.  Most of the shops seem to offer clothes or toys, some cater to the higher end, like boots and suits.  Still there is lots of repetition here, but there was a single craft winery offering tastings of various fruit based wines from the valley.  The blueberry was ok, the pineapple awful, but the date wine was one Juanita liked.  Date wine ??? hope we do not have to share Smile.
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Not just mirco-breweries are popping up around Tecate so are craft wineries.  Tecate has seven small wineries that are trying to make a name for themselves.  We returned to the square for lunch at El Inicio (the beginning), where we can sample the local wines over lunch.
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The lunch menu is either a wrap or a panni sandwich.  The local wines are all craft blends, with nothing really jumping out at us.

The following day we followed the Ruta del Vino (the wine route) south to the Guadalupe Valley and the heart of the Mexican wine industry.  And the home of the real El Inicio – Monte Xanic, which was the first to provide an excellent commercial wine from the valley.  BTW - it is still our favorite of the estate wineries in the valley.
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Monte Xanic translates from the local Indian dialect (coral?) for the first flower of the spring rain, or commonly called the morning flower.  For me, I say it is the maker of the premium Mexican wines.  Their policy statement is on proud display in their bodega which is an above ground warehouse.  Looking close at the side of the warehouse that is hemp rope hanging to provide additional shade, but not enough to allow the air conditioners to get much rest.
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At the high end they offer a well reviewed Ricardo, but at $47 a bottle, I’ll have to trust the reviews!  I do pick up their world class (IMHO) Merlot whenever I see it.  To that I add their Selection, a blend of Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet – and signed by Hans Backhoff himself, I've never tried this one before and it’s still too young to open now.

Hardly worth mentioning is the small Bodegas Entrevez and the restaurant La Casona not far away, where we planned to have lunch.  But we found the bodega a fun small place to just relax a bit and with a platter of breads and cheeses we really didn’t need a lunch.

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Adding to the charm of the botega was a private tour of vineyard and access to their underground aging room.  The ultimate definition of a botega!  An awsome way to spend a couple hours.
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Back to my Rancho Tecate review.  The rancho still belongs to the original family, since its founding in 1893.  The cattle grazing lands have been reduced, with the addition of the vineyards.  Homesite lots are also offered, as are campsites. 

We booked a room in Casa Mayor (main house).  The rooms here can be hit and miss, our room was huge but very dated with quirky furnishings.  Marty and Juanita had a much smaller room but clean and modern.  We did have a corner room with nice views out the windows over the vineyards to some of the older sections of the rancho.
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I’m a morning person and each morning I’d pick a distant view out one of the windows and walk the vineyards for an hour or so.
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The rancho has its own bodega where it ages and stores its estate wines.  Entrance is down a staircase of a realistic old wine barrel.
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The dusty bottles at the front of the storage room are under locked glass.  These are for the personal use of the dueƱo (owner).  Altho we did meet the owner he did not offer to share!
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The bar is above the Wine Cellar.  The Reserva #2 was a favorite of the housse wines and the bar munchies included calamari ceviche, chorizo sausage and ahi.  Almost like AM/PM with too-much-good-stuff!
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In the older section the vines were not trellised as they typically are now.  But left alone to grow into some pretty grotesque shapes suitable for a Harry potter movie.
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In addition to meeting Juanita, we were here for tastings and we do have a winner!  The winner is ….
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Since we are only allowed to bring back a liter of alcohol for each person of legal age….  There must have been couple stow-aways, that are now illegal alien wines.  I know there was a 2015 Monte Xanic Merlot (not in the picture), that went to Hans and Lisa of Metamorphosis Road, who I enjoyed meeting this evening, and Lisa thanks for introducing me to the TJ Beet Crisps, I’ll be looking for those.
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BTW – Monte Xanic is sometimes available at the Wine Bank downtown.