Monday, June 18, 2007
Resurrects Mexico’s Wine Country
By Steve Dryden
mariachis to perform at the Cetto Winery on June 23
in Rosarito Beach, will have a special wine dinner on July 6
Vinotourism, or vino-tourism, is a word
and concept I’ve created to define a local, regional and international phenomena taking place in global wine industries
and wine cultures. This “wine phenomena” is taking place all over the world with an amazing diversity of new wines,
new wine growing regions and wine cultures evolving around these wine producing areas.
Vinotourism is the growth and development
in wine regions that includes a balance between winemaking, vineyard production, culinary operations, lodging, services, entertainment,
and managed development for housing, land and water resources. Vinotourism is a positive economic driving force in many global
wine regions, and this includes Baja California, Mexico.
The Guadalupe Valley, in northwestern Baja
California, is Mexico’s premier wine-growing region, and it is a prime example of vinotourism. Today, and over the last
several years, this region has been undergoing a resurrection and revival of traditional winemaking and vineyard management
It seems like vineyards and wineries are
popping up all over the valley. This year I observed many new vineyards being planted, old vineyards under new management
programs, and new construction throughout the valley and in the surrounding areas. In the last five years our wine industry
has grown from seven wineries to over thirty today, with more coming soon. Two Napa Valley wineries are seeking land in the
area, and a popular winery from the central coast of California, known for their fabulous Pinot Noir, has purchased a nine
hectare [22 acres] ranch across from my home where they are going to plant a vineyard and build a winery.
Once a region begins to develop a serious
wine industry with thirty to fifty wineries the vinotourism culture develops around it. Wineries and vineyards create ambiance
that brings tourists, romantics, artists and wine lovers.
Wine tours arrive, newsletters and guides
are published, cafe and restaurants appear and lodging is required to accommodate the visitors. An entire economy is formed
around the wine region. As the industry grows more investors plant grapes and build wineries and the culture continues to
grow. As the wine industry and wine culture grows people desire to live and work in that environment because of the ambiance
created by the wineries and vineyards, and to partake in the consumption of good wine and food, and to enjoy fine entertainment
and a healthy rural lifestyle.
Sooner or latter a conflict usually occurs
between the wine industry and real estate developers. Wineries and vineyard owners are land developers, using land to grow
grapes and create wines, while real estate developers use land to build homes and communities. Sometimes, as we now see in
Guadalupe Valley, wineries and real estate developers can be one in the same. Some wineries and vineyards provide lodging
and dining, and a few are now planning low and high-density real estate developments and commercial operations around a wine-theme
The reality is that it generally takes
about ten years for a vineyard and winery project to make a profit. And it takes a lot of money to purchase land, plant vines,
maintain the vineyards, hire employees and purchase wine making equipment. In California it’s not a major problem as
the wine industry is a good tax write-off (because it is agriculture based), and most owners are quite wealthy.
Here in Mexico it’s a little different
because we actually have very high taxes imposed on our wines, don’t get many tax reductions for farming, and most of
our wineries’ owners are not wealthy.
One method of entering the wine industry
is to develop a dual project with multiple land use, for instance farming and commercial development. Vineyards, wineries,
lodging, restaurants, food products and housing projects are common. This enables investors the opportunity for a quicker
return on their money because they don’t have to wait ten years for a return on their initial winery investment. Dual and multiple land use actually perpetuate the growth of the wine culture in that
region by attracting more visitors and revenue.
There is a downside too!
We’re actually experiencing land
wars with aggressive buyers trying to corrupt land transactions and take land purchases away from potential buyers. Property
that recently sold for less than US$1.00 per square meter is now being advertised (not sold) at over US$12.00 to US$20.00
per square meter!
Local, regional and international investors
are roaming the valley looking for home sites, hotel locations, wineries and vineyards. Several inn and hotel operators in
the valley say many of their guests are here looking for property. Someone is even building a theme park, probably inspired
by the recent “Disneyland-like” activities taking place here! For instance, we’ve even have tourists being
bused in from Ensenada to ride ATVs and ORVs, drinking wine and roaming the formerly quiet and peaceful neighborhoods.
And we have a limited amount of water.
Shortages of water for irrigation and development could hinder future growth of the region, and bring the wine industry and
wine culture to an abrupt halt. Hopefully wise management and development of water resources will allow the wine industry
to prosper, and too allow for planned communities that will bring addition opportunity and revenue to the area. There is a balance needed to provide multiple use of this region that could bring good things for everyone
Vinotourism is spreading beyond the wine
region of Baja California and along the coastal development corridor. Several new developments are promoting the wine region
as an attractive benefit of living in the area and plan to feature local wines in their food and beverage operations.
Another aspect of vinotourism is wine tasting
and wine dinners. Several wine shops, wine bars, and wine-theme restaurants are appearing in the region. Chabert’s,
the famous “star-studded” restaurant in the Rosarito Beach Hotel is now featuring a different winery — paired
with their gourmet meals, on the first Friday of each month. On July 6th, the Liceaga Winery will be featured and eighty lucky
guests will get the opportunity to experience their “new release” 2006 Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and their “world
famous” Grand Reserve Merlot.
And vinotourism means good entertainment,
so don’t miss the best mariachi band in the world, the Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan with Aida Cuevas, on June 23 at
the L.A. Cetto winery in Guadalupe Valley.
Vinotourism is a global phenomena, for
instance I’m in Washington and Idaho for the month of June to help bottle some of the best Syrah in the Northwest. I’ll
be telling you about these amazing wines in a future column.
Until then, enjoy the good life with Mexican
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.