Can it really be late July already? Must be, because we’re coming up on one of our fave fests, Verbena Campestre! This annual event proves there’s more to the Baja wine scene than Valle de Guadalupe. Verbena Campestre is held at the family-owned Vinedos San Cosme near the start of Baja’s Ruta Antigua south of Ensenada, a bit past Maneadero but north of Santo Tomas. This well-organized party is worth the drive! We’ve attended the past couple of years and have enjoyed relaxing at the tables under the trees and umbrellas, sipping wine and watching the party build around us. There’s plenty of live music and the patio in front of the stage quickly fills with dancing queens (and kings). A band we loved at the 2015 Verbena Campestre, Tinta Bohemio, is slated to play again this year; you’re sure to enjoy their very charismatic lead singer, who really works the crowd. Verbena Campestre is this Saturday, July 29 beginning at 2 pm, and the party goes on long after dark. Highly recommended; get there if you can!
We’ve been spending SO much time eating and drinking in Baja . . . we haven’t had time to blog about it! Here’s a recap of what we’ve been doing . . . and, because we’re in high season, very soon we’ll post a peek at what we’re looking forward to.
What a way to kick off the Baja food festival season! This great event, held every April at Hotel Coral just north of Ensenada, brings out the best chefs and wineries and feels like a homecoming of sorts. Yes, it DID get a bit crowded this year, so go early, grab a table and settle in for an amazing afternoon. This year’s “friendly” oyster competition had chefs striving to outdo each other . . . and we attendees were the beneficiaries!
OK, it’s not technically a food fest, but this annual FREE event offers plenty of opportunity to eat and drink . . . and serves up HUGE portions of art, music and dance. Takes place every Memorial Day weekend and for the second year was held at Rosarito’s CEART, a lovely venue south of town, just off the road to Popotla.
Held in June, this Valle de Guadalupe family-friendly fest was hosted for the first time by Finca La Carrodilla. Now, most Baja food fests we’ve attended have seating in the middle, with wine and food opportunities scattered around the edge. Probably due to lack of shade at Carrodilla, the vast majority of wineries, chefs and local product purveyors were clustered under a huge tent in the middle, with tables and hay bales for attendees strung along the outskirts. But there were great wineries represented, and of course, we managed to have a wonderful time! Gracias to Natalia of Mogor Badan, who seemed to be a ringleader of this fun event.
Gracias por fotos by Bob Gove.
Since my wonderful friend Patti and I checked out Finca La Divina in Valle de Guadalupe last year, I knew I had make it mine . . . even if for just one night. And so it was for a memorable Saturday as part of my birthday celebration! Bob’s sisters and significant others accepted my invitation, so we rocked the “whole house.” La Divina is a lovely venue that may serve as the model for my eventual Baja home.
Put me in a sheepskin-covered chair in front of the La Divina fireplace, and I may never leave! But just up the hill is Drew Deckman’s relatively new Conchas de Piedra, with fantastic oysters, clams & sparkling wine from Casa de Piedra.
We lucked into a tasting at Lechuza, which was SO memorable (we have stories about trying to get into Lechuza in the past!) Spent HOURS under the eaves of Lechuza, dodging the drizzle, sipping their wonderful wines, nibbling cheese and savoring our conversations with Ray, Kristin & Patty, eventually visiting the cava and sampling their fine Nebbiolo. (We were stunned and saddened to hear that Lechuza owner and patriarch Ray Magnussen passed away suddenly last weekend. Our hearts go out to his familia, and the entire Valle; we will make the pilgrimage to Deckman’s this week to attend the celebration of Ray’s life.)
We also dropped in on Sol y Barro (which has expanded considerably since we first visited five years ago), chatting briefly with owner and winemaker Aime Desponds and marveling at the cob structures.
After relaxing & regrouping at La Divina, we capped off the day with a fantastic dinner at Malva, one of my VERY favorite Valle restaurants.
Sunday morning dawned clear and sunny; after a substantial breakfast of chilaquilies con huevos at La Divina, we worked our way around the Valle, stopping at Clos de Tres Cantos, Quinta Monastario (had to stock up on Viniphera spa products!) and a fave, Bodegas F. Rubio, where we purchased a bottle of Montepulciano. (NOTE: If you’re in the Valle on your birthday, don’t hesitate to promote it; you’ll likely get free tastings!)
We caught up with familia again in Ensenada for almejas gratinadas and pescado sarandeado at the venerable and ever-popular Mariscos Bahia de Ensenada, packed with locals on a late Seafood Sunday afternoon. After our first-ever stay at the Hotel San Nicolas, we hit the road early Monday, and thanks to Sentri, crossed shortly after 9 am, wrapping up a very tasty and memorable Baja birthday celebration!
Imagine a sunny summer Sunday afternoon in Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe. Sure, it’s hot, but you’ve secured a great table for your entourage to soak up the atmosphere under expansive oak trees. There’s plenty of great wine for tasting, and a bevy of bottles for sale once you’ve found your fave. And with so much delicious food to go around, you’ll certainly not go hungry!
Welcome to the Ramón García Ocejo Concurso de Paella, the traditional closing event of the Valle’s annual Fiestas de la Vendimia, or grape harvest festival. Each year, Vendimia organizers add more and more events, but the Paella Fest remains one of the Valle’s best bets.
With about 90 paella-producing teams (all cooking over wood fires; no propane allowed!), 50 or so Baja wineries, and two stages with live music, it’s a most enjoyable way to spend a hot August afternoon. Tickets to this über-popular event go fast and are usually first offered online in late May. Click here for information about this and other Vendimia events. Don’t miss this perennial favorite next August!
Gracias for photos by Bob Gove, and for the friends who accompanied us!
It’s been a busy summer, filled with fun (often fantastic!) festivals. On July 30, we journeyed past Ensenada, past Maneadero to Viñedos San Cosme on the Ruta Antigua del Vino for the annual Verbena Campestre. This was our second time (we just discovered the event last year) and it’s become a fave summertime tradition. Yes, it’s a long way from our base in Rosarito – we encountered traffic back-ups at the San Miguel toll booth and through Maneadero – but totally relaxing once we nabbed a table under the trees, reconnected with Marisol (owners’ daughter), bought a bottle of vino, were joined by a bunch of friends, enjoyed the live music and made our way around the various food/wine/etc. vendors. Downside? Driving all the way back to Rosarito after too much fun! Maybe we should check out one of the cabins or teepees at nearby Las Cañadas next year . . . because we love this event. If you want to hang out with muchos Americanos, this is not for you; but if you want to spend a fun wine, food & music afternoon/evening with very gracious, non-pretentious mostly-locals, we highly recommend Verbena Campestre; ¡Nos veremos alla en 2017!
Stay tuned! Coming next: Part II – ¡Latin Food Fest! in San Diego
Gracias for photos by Bob Gove.
We felt fortunate to check out three fun festivals in Baja during May: a past favorite and two that were new (for us).
First up: on May 14 we made it to Viñedos en Flor at Vinícola Bibayoff in Valle de Guadalupe. It’s put on by Comite Pro Vino, the fine folks who organize the Vendimia events each year, as well as the Conchas festival each April, which we adore. The price was right (under $22 per ticket, including currency conversion) and dozens of top wineries were pouring. It’s really great when so many owners/winemakers are present; it’s fantastic to meet and chat with them! We were especially pleased to see Lechuza, Legado Sais and Palafox on hand. Food was not included in the ticket price, and frankly, the culinary offerings could have been more varied. And, as our amigo Rafael noted, live music would also have improved the event. But it’s a family-oriented festival with lots of kid-friendly activities, and our multi-generational entourage, ranging from a 2-year-old toddler to a 90-something grandma, definitely had fun, even though the May Gray stuck around all day.
Last Saturday we spent another May Gray day at the Rosarito Art Fest. For the first time since we’ve been attending – and, that’s been about five years – it was NOT held on Rosarito’s main street, Boulevard Benito Juarez. It had been promoted as being at Castillos del Mar, but a last minute switch pushed it to the new CEART, just a bit further southeast. This fest is a neat mix of crafts, art and photography, with plenty of food, wine and other beverages, music and dance thrown in. We purchased some art and jewelry, heard some great jazz, met new friends and enjoyed hanging with existing ones. We capped off the experience with a delicious dinner at Tapanco a bit later.Heading north mid-day Sunday after Bob’s surf session with buddies and breakfast at La Estancia, we decided to stop at the Tijuana Jazz & Blues Festival. This is an impressive, FREE event! Held on Avenida Revolucion between 4th & 6th Streets, there’s a large stage at one end and a smaller stage for in-between sets at the other. Grupo Plascencia is a big sponsor, so their food options were plentiful, but there were other offerings, as well as wine tasting, beer and the ubiquitous fruit punch drinks in clay pots found at almost every festival in Mexico. We enjoyed La Covacha Big Band and Hola Soy Lola, but unfortunately had to leave before Cuba’s Calixto Oviedo and San Diego’s wonderful Gilbert Castellanos took the stage. We’ll keep an eye out for this event next year, and will hopefully be able to stay longer!Stay tuned to eatdrinkbaja.com for news about the best upcoming Baja-related festivals!
We picked the perfect weekend for our stay at the Rosarito Beach Hotel, won at last year’s Baja Blues Fest raffle. Heading south on April Fool’s Day, we stopped at Mariscos Tito’s for a late lunch. It’s the big blue canopy-covered establishment east of McDonald’s in Rosarito, on the right just after you cross the bridge. Bob warned me about large servings, so I thought I was being conservative when I ordered just one shrimp tostada and one mariscos al ajillo taco.
HA! One would have been PLENTY. Tito’s tostadas come with two ADDITIONAL crispy tortillas, since the main one is heaped SO high, you need to spread the topping around. They were both delicious and fresh; the mariscos ajillo was definitely the most interesting. I’ll be back to try their almejas gratinadas, the pescado sarandeado and the molcajete de camaron. It’s a family atmosphere, kind funky (tacos are served on plates covered with plastic bags for easy clean-up), but the flavors – and the values – are incredible.
Highlights of our Rosarito Beach stay included a beautiful sunset from our balcony, great breakfast at Los Pelicanos (who knew they had such a wonderful fruit plate?), relaxing massages in RBH’s Casa Playa Spa (I pray the Familia Torres never tears down that lovely building), and dinner at Ollie’s Pizza with friends Ron & Terri Raposa.
The REAL reason we chose this weekend? Festival de las Conchas y el Vino Nuevo at Hotel Coral, just north of Ensenada. We spread word about the fantastic time we had last year, and were were THRILLED when two groups of friends joined us this year, increasing our entourage to nearly a dozen. The well-organized event was WAY more crowded than last year, but food (oysters, mussels, clams and an occasional paella), wine, chefs and winemakers were still VERY accessible. I love the educational component (chef demos, displays of Baja seafood products) and the opportunity to meet interesting attendees. We loved seeing and/or chatting with everyone, including Drew Deckman of Deckman’s, Diego Hernandez of Corazon de Tierra, Adria Marina of Don Ramen, Javier Plasciencia of Finca Altozano and Memo Ramirez of La Concheria (among others, to be sure). Tru Miller of Adobe Guadalupe was proudly pouring the latest release of her Uriel rosé (DELICIOUS!); great to see Natalia Badan of Mogor Badan and folks from faves Rondo del Valle, Finca la Carrodilla, Cava Maciel, Relieve Vinicola and Vinicola Retorno on hand.
The 2016 Baja festival season is JUST beginning. Stay tuned for a look ahead at the fun and delicious opportunities, and I hope you will attend the Festival de las Conchas y el Vino Nuevo in 2017!
Gracias for photos by Bob Gove & Rafael Rush
We’re really looking forward to the weekend! At last year’s Baja Blues Fest we bought a single raffle ticket and (hooray, luck!) won the grand prize, so we’ll stay at the Rosarito Beach Hotel (a tiny upgrade from Bob’s palatial seaside estate) and enjoy a couples’ massage at the RBH spa, in the beautiful edifice that was formerly the home of the RBH’s owners. The main reason we’re heading south this weekend is the Festival de las Conchas y El Vino Nuevo. It’s the culmination of four days in Baja, including abalone cultivation site visits, workshops + more. Ensenada/Valle restaurants (Boules, Malva, Manzanilla, Deckman’s, Corazon de Tierra + Traslomita) are also planning special dinners Thursday + Saturday. We’ll enjoy the Grand Festival at a lovely setting just outside Hotel Coral, north of Ensenada on Sunday, April 3 starting @ noon; it was one of our fave Baja fests last year, well organized, not too crowded, everyone in a great mood and opportunity to chat w/chefs. More than 40 restaurants (offering varied treatments of clams, mussels, oysters and abalone) + 54 wineries will participate! And tix are reasonable: about $30 online including service charge + currency conversion. HINT: pack a wine glass to avoid buying one onsite. WILL WE SEE YOU THERE?
Gracias por fotos from 2015 Festival de las Conchas y el Vino Nuevo by Bob Gove.
Spring has almost sprung. What does that mean? Festival season is upon us! Here are a few events on the eatdrinkbaja radar screen. Check back again, as more events will be posted soon!
Saturday, March 19 Sabor Latino, Fashion Valley
This event, benefiting Media Arts Center San Diego’s youth media scholarships and part of the San Diego Latino Film Festival, boasts some great Baja chefs, including Miguel Angel Guerrero of La Querencia + La Esperanza, Diego Hernandez of Corazon de Tierra, Oso Campos of Tacos Kokopelli + Martin San Roman of La Terrasse San Roman PLUS Border X Brewery, Adobe Guadalupe, Villa Montefiori, Lomita + Vena Cava. $35/advance seems quite reasonable!
Saturday, March 19 + Sunday, March 20, Latin American Art Festival, Liberty Station
We were unable to attend last year, but this FREE festival claims to feature Baja chefs + wines in addition to more than 100 artists. We think it’s worth a check-out!
Sunday, April 3, Festival de Las Conchas y El Vino Nuevo, Ensenada
This grand tasting was our runner-up for fave event of 2015, second only to the Vendimia Paella Fest, the granddaddy of all Baja food fests. At Conchas you’ll find more than 40 chefs serving up clams, mussels, oysters + abalone, raw & cooked to perfection, with about as many wineries pouring. Food station, winery lines were not long; chefs were happy to meet/chat; a great mix of locals + gringos in attendance; entertaining + educational cooking demos. A fantastic way to spend the first Sunday in April for about $30 US! Highly recommended. Read about our visit last year.
It’s always great to visit the Valle; it’s even nicer to stay in the Valle. I highly recommend Casa Mayoral as your base camp for explorations. Casa’s four modern-yet-rustic cabins/casitas are about a mile off Highway 3, so it’s uber quiet and ultra comfortable. It’s also perfectly situated, near Clos de Tres Cantos, El Mogor, Deckman’s, Tres Mujeres, and not far from Laja and the road to Finca Altozano.
We loved our delicious breakfast of chilaquiles, and enjoyed chatting with Casa’s only other guests, Devin and Beth from Colorado. We told them about the Mercado Orgánico on Saturday mornings at El Mogor. By the time we made it to the Mercado, we weren’t surprised to see them there!
The Mercado Orgánico runs from 11am to 1pm Wednesdays and Saturdays. Not a traditional farmers market, wonderful merchandise is displayed on a variety of baskets and tables. We admired fresh greens and veggies, cheeses, olives, salsas, eggs, honey, olive oil, Mexican vanilla and Viniphera bath/body products. But the piece d’resistance? The super-fresh, still-warm bread that arrived from Laja. The Mercado is a great experience; don’t miss it if you’re in the Valle Wednesday or Saturday.
Our good fortune continued as we caught Natalia Badan ready to pour at El Mogor’s outdoor tasting room. Again, the only customers (Super Bowl weekend ROCKS!) we bantered with this Valle matriarch and enjoyed hearing tales of then vs. now. It seems like Saturdays are the best time to catch El Mogor open – Natalia shared that at least 50% of her wine sales are to fancy restaurants in Mexico City, so she doesn’t rely too heavily on tastings by visitors like us.
We felt very special when Natalia invited us to their the barrel room. We bought the top-of-the-line Mogor-Badan 2012, which Natalia called a “Sunday wine” – not an everyday bottle, bound to get better with age (but can we resist consuming it sooner?)
We continued to Tres Mujeres, tasting in the artsy cave and chatting with Yvette, one of the tres mujeres (three women owners/winemakers). I tried to visit Tres Mujeres about four years ago but they were closed; we really enjoyed our visit, and their wines, especially their Merlot.
Next we dropped in on one of the newer Hwy 3 wineries. Viñas de Garza was a culture shock; it’s one of the few wineries in the Valle I consider to be “Temeculized.” The grounds are big and manicured; there’s room to park a number of buses; you gotta to pay at the register before they drop the velvet rope to let you into the tasting area, and they mark off every tasting. I’m sorry, the vibe at Viñas de Garza is NOT why I come to the Valle.
We shot over to my fave, Finca Altozano, for a some tasty snacks and sips; our food was delicious and La Finca was doing boom business on Saturday afternoon.
Then we jetted down to La Esperanza to check them out; we were fortunate to meet the father and mother of Chef Miguel Angel Guerrero’s wife, Judith, in the process! Hopefully, I’ll be able to sample La Esperanza’s cuisine soon; we love Chef Miguel’s La Querencia in Tijuana.
To be continued soon! In Part III, read about dinner at Deckman’s and visits to Clos de Tres Cantos, Finca La Divina, Vinicola Retorno, Los Globos and Malva. Stay tuned.
Photos by Patti Anderson & Carole Ravago