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Valle de Guadalupe

The Valle de Guadalupe, northeast of Ensenada on Carretera 3, is filled with vineyards, wineries, and rambling hacienda-style estates. Although Mexican wines are still relatively unknown in the United States, the industry is exploding in Mexico, and the Valle de Gaudalupe is responsible for some 90% of the country’s production. In 2004, there were five wineries in production, and less than a decade later there are more than 100.

With a region that combines the right heat, soil, and a thin morning fog, some truly world-class boutique wineries have developed in the Valle de Guadalupe, most in the past decade. Many of these are open to the public; some require appointments. Several tour companies, including Bajarama (646/178–3252 www.bajarama.com), leave from Ensenada on tours that include visits to wineries, a historical overview, transportation, and lunch. Better yet, visit the wineries yourself by car, as they all cluster in a relatively small area. Also worth a look is winemaker Hugo D'Acosta's school, which brings in some 30 young winemakers to use common facilities to make their own blends. The facilities are on the site of an old olive oil press (a few antique presses remain in the outlying buildings), and the grounds are augmented with artwork made from recycled wine bottles and other materials.

Several changes are in store, which may alter the isolation of the valley, and in five years the place may have a different, more upscale, feel. The newly constructed El Cielo winery has announced plans to build a 50-villa resort and spa on its property overlooking the vineyards. It seems that it's not only Mexican wine that's being discovered, but the potential of Guadalupe as a "wine destination," along with the mixed blessings that accompany such discovery. Still, many locals are fighting to keep it from becoming the next Napa Valley.

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