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One of North America's Most Exciting Wine Regions is Hiding Out Just South of the Border | Frommer's Encuentro Guadalupe

One of North America's Most Exciting Wine Regions is Hiding Out Just South of the Border

Barely an hour from the border near San Diego and minutes from the busy port city of Ensenada, Baja California's dry and sunny Valle de Guadalupe is one of the most compelling destinations for food and wine in North America right now.
Seeking the sun in Southern California this winter? Head down to Baja California for a long lunch, or even settle in for a long weekend—there's no right or wrong way to do it. Just get here, before everyone else does. With the arrival of Uber in the region, getting around is no longer the hassle it once was. No more excuses. 

Valle de Guadalupe has been gaining gastronomic credibility for decades, but recently an impressive amount of new talent has been drawn in. Travelers willing to cross the border from San Diego are rewarded with a booming array of must-try limited-release wines, some of the best olive oils in the New World, remarkable aged cheeses, and top-notch cooking at some of Latin America's most-talked-about restaurants. 
This will change, eventually, but for now, there are just a few hotels worth talking about. The most polished is La Villa del Valle, a six-room inn offering spa treatments, visits to the on-property vineyard, horseback riding, and one of the valley's most ambitious restaurants, Corazón de Tierra, right on premises. Up valley, lovers of modern architecture will find Encuentro Guadalupe (pictured) rather breathtaking—20 striking, modular, mini-suites dot a hillside above the valley floor. Decor is stark, simple, and, for some, the spot feels more like upscale camping than a luxe hotel stay. Still, an evening of watching the stars from your private patio (complete with blazing fire pit and uninterrupted views for miles) is all but essential to the valley experience.
As in many wine regions, leisurely tastings are the best way to spend your time in the Valle de Guadalupe. Founded in 2008, Las Nubes is as impressive to architecture lovers as it is to wine connoisseurs—the tasting room offers panoramic views of the valley, and the blends offered here showcase the regional affinity for experimentation.

Mogor Badan has a long history—it's here you'll taste some of the valley's most critically acclaimed vintages; there's also a farmers' market and restaurant on site. A relatively new entrant, Clos de Tres Cantos, is making waves both for its looks—think Mayan temple meets historic monastery, built mostly with reclaimed materials—and its red wines.

Rather have beer? Ensenada and its two top-notch microbreweries, Wendtland and Agua Mala, are just down the hill. For many American visitors, the first visit to the valley can be somewhat daunting: The tourism industry isn't quite as organized as it could be, English can be scarce, many roads are of the rutted dirt variety, and the hours at some of the better wineries are minimal.

Club Tengo Hambre, founded by a group of writers and bloggers living on both sides of the border, hosts popular events and guided tours centered around the region's food and wine that will have you feeling like an insider in no time.

Baja's ranches and vineyards, perched up above the Pacific, have long delivered good things to local tables. These days, the regional style—referred to increasingly as Baja Mediterranean, or Baja Med—is drawing foodies from all over Mexico, Southern California, and beyond.

Javier Plascencia is perhaps Baja Norte's best-known chef, overseeing excellent restaurants located on both sides of the border. His Finca Altozano is an indoor-outdoor hangout with the casual air of a roadside shack and a menu showcasing Baja's best: Start with a marlin carpaccio before moving on to tacos stuffed with succulent lamb roasted on the restaurant's wood-fired grill. Tacos, charcuterie and salads are on the menu at Troika, for those desiring a quick and tasty lunch—it's a food truck, but there's shaded seating with sweeping valley views. (If you're staying at La Villa del Valle, it's right next door.)

For fine dining, you have some terrific options, but after all these years, still none better than Laja, one of the grandfathers of the Baja Med genre. Visitors who only have time for one meal in the valley really should eat here. Inside a lovely farmhouse, Chef Jair Tellez's cheerful cooking provides an unforgettable, affordable tasting tour of the region, starting outside in the restaurant's vegetable garden. After just a single meal, you'll be a Baja convert, too.