My Birthday in Baja

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.

Welcome to Finca La Divina!

The great room lives up to its name.

The pool and jacuzzi were not heated, however.

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.)

The late, great Ray Magnussen was the consummate host at Lechuza.

Team! In the Lechuza cava.

We couldn’t leave without buying bottles of Lechuza’s Amantes, cookbooks and more.

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.

Inside the cob tasting room at Sol y Barro.

After relaxing & regrouping at La Divina, we capped off the day with a fantastic dinner at Malva, one of my VERY favorite Valle restaurants.

Malva’s pickled rabbit tostada.

Delicious octopus.

Lamb of Malva.

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!)

Breakfast at Finca La Divina.

Our hostess at Clos de Tres Cantos.

Enjoying Bodegas F. Rubio.

We caught up with familia again in Ensenada for almejas gratinadas and pescado sarandeado at the venerable and ever-popular Mariscos Bahia de Ensenadapacked 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!

You know? This simple pescado sarandeado may have been my favorite dish of the trip.

Girls’ Weekend in the Valle: A Trilogy (Part II)

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.

Mayoral 1

Mayoral 2Mayoral 4

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!

Mercado 2

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.

Mercado 1

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.

Badan 1

Badan 2We 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.

Tres MujeresNext 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.

Garza 1

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.

Finca 2

Finca 3

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.IMG_20160206_161730

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

Girls’ Weekend in the Valle: A Trilogy (Part I)

My good friend Patti and I have been talking about a girls’ trip to Valle de Guadalupe for ages. She hadn’t been in more than a decade, and after hearing my tales of fabulous new places in which to eat, drink and stay, she wanted to experience it for herself. Once Patti got her GOES card and could cross in my SENTRI-fied vehicle . . . game ON! Speaking of game, we chose Super Bowl weekend for our Friday-to-Sunday adventure, figuring the football-frenzied fans would be glued to their big-screen TVs and out of our way. And, although weather can be a crap shoot in February – especially during a much-ballyhooed El Niño year – we lucked out, with beautiful, summery, sun-splashed days and clear, star-studded nights.

We moseyed down the coast, turning inland at La Misión in order to approach the Valle via the El Tigre/El Porvenir/Francisco Zarco road – my favorite way to arrive. The hillsides were beautiful and green – not something you see during the summer! Our inaugural tasting was at Lomita, a favorite Valle first stop. The only customers, we enjoyed having our run of the tasting room. Our host suggested Finca La Carrodilla as our next stop – turns out they are sister wineries.


Jasmine & Jude 500px

Carrodilla patio

Again, the only customers at La Carodilla, we enjoyed chatting with our hostess, Jasmine (with the sparkly sneakers and Jude the cat) and checking out the lovely garden patio. The ambiance was great and the wines, very tasty!

Jasmine & CR

Stop number three was Adobe Guadalupe; since I last visited, AG has added a new chapel-like tasting room in front of the B&B. AG’s red blends, named for archangels, were as delicious as ever; I was tempted, but had to stop myself, from tasting Lucifer, their mezcal. We enjoyed their shopping opportunities and bought a bottle of Miguel – a wonderful blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache & Merlot – for our casita. TIP: if you can get reservations for the VIP tasting at AG, DO IT: the special experience is well worth it.


AG horses


Time to travel to Viníphera for our spa appointment! This tiny refuge, located in modified shipping containers perched against a Valle hillside behind Quinta Monasterio, is a true gem. At first I thought their package prices were a bit high by Mexico standards, but now I understand – each is intended to be a true experience – Viníphera is not a massage-by-the-minute machine.


In the past, I had purchased their wine-infused bath & body products (including my favorite exfoliating scrub with grape seeds & peels) at the Rosarito Art Fair, and when I learned they opened a spa, I HAD to visit! Patti and I were the only customers in the facility, which has a changing area, bath with indoor/outdoor showers, sauna, two massage tables and a lovely terraza. We enjoyed our hands-and-feet ritual (soak, scrub, massage, moisturize) while watching the sun slip behind the hills. This was followed by a special request “fango” (mud) treatment, and a neck/shoulder massage to conclude. Feeling ultra-relaxed, we pulled on our clothes and headed to the cozy tasting room for the delicious glass of wine and salad included in our spa package.


One disadvantage of staying in the Valle in wintertime: the days are short. And, it REALLY gets dark in the Valle once that sun goes down! Plus, even if it doesn’t rain while you’re visiting, mud abounds, since nothing is paved once you get off the three main roads.

Mud-caked tire

We left the spa in pitch darkness. I had planned to cut across the Valle to stop at Finca Altozano  – but we were faced with a HUGE mud bog, stretching from edge to edge of the dirt road to La Finca. Begrudgingly, we turned around and stayed on pavement through Francisco Zarco to Highway 3, hell-bent on finding Casa Mayoral, our lodging.

This was not easy. It was super dark, no moonlight and traffic on the highway does not tolerate those who don’t know where the heck they’re going! I pulled off on the shoulder, realizing we were close . . . and lo and behold, the access road to Casa was right across the highway. Now, Casa Mayoral is not big; it consists of four modern & comfortable cabins/casitas approximately one mile off the highway toward the hills, hidden behind a cluster of trees. We followed the low-key signage and, gracias a dios, safely arrived at Casa! We were warmly welcomed by Eduardo Mayoral, the wonderful host who speaks excellent English. Gratefully, we checked in, made ourselves at home in our cabin/casita, and uncorked a bottle of wine. We’d already had a grand adventure, and this was just Day One!

NEXT UP: More on Casa Mayoral; Mercado Orgánico; El Mogor & Natalia Badan; Tres Mujeres; Viñas de Garza; Finca Altozano; Deckman’s; Clos de Tres Cantos; Vinícola Retorno; Malva. Stay tuned!

Photos by Patti Anderson & Carole Ravago