The term winery conjures up visions of, if not chateaux, at least some sort of estate nestled among lush vineyards. Without waxing so romantic, for us in Baja “winery” evokes operations in one of our local wine valleys: Guadalupe, San Vicente, Ojos Negros among others. This is all understandable in light of the hype about the wine region of Guadalupe Valle both locally and the major media in the US. Yet no one mentions off-center, bona-fine wineries in the downtown hear of Tijuana, Rosarito, and Ensenada.
A vineyard does not a vintner make. 1)There are those who grow grapes and make wine, 2)there are those who grow grapes to sell, and 3) there are those who buy the grapes to make wine.
In truth, it takes very little space to make wine, even a lot of wine. A press, a tank for first fermentation, another for second fermentation, and a couple of barrels is all you need. And just think-one barrel of 240 liters will yield 320 bottles or over 26 cases of wine. Oh! I almost forgot the ability to control the temperature. This is crucial and probably the hardest – to keep your winery at a constant 13 degrees Celsius. If you can do all that, presto, you have a winery.
In Tijuana, Joaquin Fernando Rizo , an architect by trade, has been making wine in his basement since 2009. It’s all perfectly legal, yet for fun, he and his wife Ceci decided to call their winery La Klandestina. Joaquin did not attend any wine-making school, but is the product of a wine connoisseur family. He has the rare merit of holding the title of Chevalier du Tastevin, the highest possible tribute in France. His production is mostly varietals: Otilia, a Grenache, Klandestino, a Syrah, Nicah-Oh, a Cabernet, and Cecilia, a sparkling Pinot Noir. There is also a blend of reds. I admit to liking them all. His wines can be enjoyed at Panevino, a charming little wine bar in Centro Comercial Rocasa at 3400 Agua Caliente. I enjoy spending a late afternoon on their sidewalk patio with a plate of imported cheeses and a glass of whatever his new release happens to be. The place attracts, should we call it the in-crowd, giving you the feeling to be in the right mix.
In addition to Panevino, Klandestina’s products are found at Erizo, a Placenscia restaurant on Sonora, and in exclusive wine stores.
Who would guess that right in Rosarito is a full-fledged winery on Sharpe Blvd? Spanish born Julio Benito, a chemical engineer by trade, has been involved in some phase of wine related activity since childhood, but fulfilled his dream to enter full production in 2010 under the label Claudius. A man of tremendous talent with ambitions to match, Julio created an impressive winery, complete with a tasting room, often staffed by his lovely wife Jezabel, and a restaurant open for pairing events or sometimes just a paella of his own creation.
The grapes are selected and bought in the valleys south of Ensenada to produce 100% varietals: Merlot, Nebbiolo, Tempranillo, and Cabernet. A recent addition is a Grenache Rose. The production at Claudius is substantial enough to be distributed country-wide in some of the most upscale restaurants. Julio Benito shares his knowledge and passion for wine in his own winemaking school for two weeks each summer.
I relish the story of Madera-5/Aragon 126 in Ensenada. Picture five men shooting the breeze at their childrens’ soccer game. The year was 2007. The conversation gets around to the topic of wine.
One of them, Victor Segura had some experience in winemaking and convinced the others to take a winemaking course at La Escuelita in the Guadalupe Valley which has spawned most local winemakers. Freshly graduated with their one barrel of wine each, they start their winery Aragon 126, in the garage of the same address in Ensenada. They moved out of the garage to El Sauzal a couple of years ago, adding the name Madera-5 or 5-wood, a golf reference. I love the humor of these men who, while still working in a profession that supports their families, have managed to establish a respectable winery.
Their only 100% varietal is the Nebbbiolo. I tasted a white, Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay blend as well a two red blends: a Cabernet/Tempranillo and a Cabernet/SanGiovese. They, too, have sufficient volume to be sold country-wide, yet they are insistent on wanting to limit their productions as all of them are professionals in their own right, wanting to keep this as a sort of a fun adventure.
As it turns out, the wine route starts at Panevino in Tijuana (closed Sunday). You could continue your own wine tasting tour by stopping over at Claudius off the free road in Rosarito and ending at Cava Aragon 126 as you enter Ensenada, all before tackling the Guadalupe Valley on another day.