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Guadelupe Valley Mexican Wine

Monday, June 25, 2007

On the Road with Mexican Wine

By Steve Dryden

“Wine, don’t leave home without it,” could very well be my motto each year as I go on the road in search of new wines, and to expose unsuspecting wine lovers to the new quality wines coming from Baja California, Mexico. This June I’ve flown to eastern Washington state and into northern Idaho looking for new wines and culinary adventures.

I graduated from college here, worked as a natural resource manager for several government agencies, and I am no stranger to this beautiful region. In the next several days, I’ll be touring over to central Washington to explore the wine region of Lake Chelan and then make my way, winery by winery, up into British Columbia to the wine culture of Okanogan Valley and Osoyoos Lake.

Coming from Guadalupe Valley in Baja California I’m always amazed with the over-abundance of water here in lakes, rivers, streams, springs, ponds, dams and reservoirs! Of course, with that comes rain, rain and more rain. But, after five years in Mexico this enchanting, water-based ecosystem is welcomed and much appreciated. And, one benefit of having an abundance of pure water and fertile soil is the ability to grow quality grapes and create fantastic wine.

Washington state is second only to California for wine production in North America. In 2003 there were about 250 wineries statewide, and today there are more than 500 wineries scattered throughout the state.  The overall production has reached 7.5 million cases per year, in comparison to Mexico’s annual production of 2 million cases.

Of course Mexico has less than fifty wineries countrywide, and the L.A. Cetto Winery produces half of all Mexican wine at about one million cases per year.

There is an interesting connection in Washington with the Mexican wine industry, as one of the leading winemakers in the state, at the Quilceda Creek Winery, is Paul Golitzin, the grandnephew of wine legend André Tchelistcheff. The son of André, Dimitri Tchelistcheff, is the former technical director at Bodegas Santo Tomas Winery in Ensenada. In fact, Paul Golizin creates one of the top Washington wines with Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2004. Wine Spectator magazine rated it with 95 points, and it retails for US$100 a bottle.

Washington has been known over the years for producing remarkable Merlot, but now it seems that Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah are the new standouts in a wine industry that is booming.

This year I’ve explored some previously visited wineries, and I have discovered some stunning surprises.

Last week I was invited to a garden party at the home of the Gates family, owners of Coeur d’Alene Cellars. They’ve been producing some of the top Syrah and Viognier in Washington and Idaho since their first releases in 2003. One of my favorites is their 2003 Syrah, with a smoky nose, berry aromas of cherry and currant, slight hint of cocoa and coffee, with fruit forward blackberry and cherry taste. Winemaker Warren Schutz (UC-Davis) uses selected grapes grown in eastern Washington’s Columbia Valley, from Stillwater Creek Vineyards, Royal Slope of Frenchman Hill, Alder Ridge, Horse Heaven Hills, Elephant Mountain and Yakima Valley.

In addition to creating fine wine, co-owner Sarah Jane Gates features her watercolor landscapes and wine-related paintings on their wine labels. Sarah Gates maintains an incredible garden where she gains inspiration for her renowned works of art.

I took two bottles of wine with me from L.A. Cetto (a Viognier and a Nebbiolo) to share with lucky guests. Kimber Gates, Robin Chisholm, Warren Schutz, Charlie and Sarah Jane Gates, and Dr. Steven Moss and his wife tasted these Mexican wines with a favorable response. As usual, most people are impressed and pleasantly surprised with the quality of Mexican wine.

So far I’ve made some wonderful discoveries in Idaho and Washington. Downtown Coeur d’Alene, Idaho has embraced the wine culture and features several wine tasting bars and wine shops, and there are world class wine lists at several upscale culinary operations.

During a weekend event and wine tasting at a boutique shop named Possibilities I experienced the wines of Vin du Lac, of Lake Chelan in Washington. This is an amazing story of a small winery where wine comes from oak barrels and is almost immediately turned into gold medals at regional and international competitions.

Fortune and luck allowed me to sample some of their awesome wine. Their 2004 Barrel Select Syrah has been awarded a double gold medal and “Unanimous Judge’s Choice.” Their Cabernet Franc was selected “Top Wine of the Year,” and honored with a Double Platinum award at a recent competition in Washington. I was very impressed with their 2004 Les Amis, a Riesling-Muscat blend, as well as the 2003 Barrel Select Cabernet Sauvignon and 2003 Barrel Select Merlot. All of the wine from Vin du Lac fully represents the character of each grape variety, they are high quality, and they match or exceed the quality of wines I’ve tasted in the last few years.

Further research and dedication will uncover more data as time and wine permits!

I’ll be back in Baja California on July 6th, where I will host the wine dinner at Chabert’s in the Rosarito Beach Hotel, along with Laura Torres and representatives of Liceaga Winery. Don’t miss this event, as we’ll be making a “premier release” of their new Chardonnay and other wines, along with culinary delights from the gourmet chefs.

I’m also putting together a special event for Friday, August 3rd at Chabert’s Restaurant. “Artisan August” will feature handmade artisan and hard to find wines from small producers in Guadalupe Valley. The gourmet chef and hotel staff will pair these amazing wines with fabulous culinary wonders. Come and discover why we have become Rosarito Beach’s “best wine and dining venue.”


Steve Dryden, a MexiData.info guest columnist, is a wine, travel and history writer for the Baja Times.  Mr. Dryden lives in Guadalupe Valley, Baja California where he also guides private and motor coach tours.  He can be reached at sbdryden@hotmail.com.

Published Monday, June 25, 2007 9:43 AM by Laura Tierney


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