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Column 061807 Dryden

Monday, June 18, 2007

Vino-tourism Resurrects Mexico’s Wine Country

By Steve Dryden

  • World-renowned mariachis to perform at the Cetto Winery on June 23
  • Chabert’s, 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 projects.

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 project.

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 involved.

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 wine.


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.