Insider’s 3-Day Valle de Guadalupe Wine & Culinary Tour | 2017

Your choice of 12 tour dates.
All tours max out at 55 guests as that’s how many seats are on the bus.

TOUR #01 ~ Sep 10-12, 2017 (Sunday through Tuesday) ~ SOLD OUT
TOUR #02 ~ Sep 17-19, 2017 (Sunday through Tuesday) ~ SOLD OUT
TOUR #02B ~ Sep 20-22, 2017 (Wednesday through Friday) ~ SOLD OUT
TOUR #03 ~ Sep 24-26, 2017 (Sunday through Tuesday) ~ SOLD OUT
TOUR #03B ~ Sep 27-29, 2017 (Wednesday through Friday) ~ SOLD OUT
TOUR #04 ~ Oct 01-03, 2017 (Sunday through Tuesday) ~ SOLD OUT
TOUR #05 ~ Oct 08-10, 2017 (Sunday through Tuesday) ~ SOLD OUT
TOUR #06 ~ Oct 15-17, 2017 (Sunday through Tuesday) ~ SOLD OUT
TOUR #07 ~ Oct 22-24, 2017 (Sunday through Tuesday) ~ SOLD OUT
TOUR #08 ~ Oct 29-31, 2017 (Sunday through Tuesday) ~ SOLD OUT
TOUR #09 ~ Nov 05-07, 2017 (Sunday through Tuesday) ~ SOLD OUT
TOUR #10 ~ Nov 12-14, 2017 (Sunday through Tuesday) ~ SOLD OUT

$785 per person based on double occupancy
Single occupancy upcharge is $150
Deluxe suite upgrade (see below) is $85 per person based on double occupancy

Please make sure to read the deluxe suite option info below so that when you do make your reservation you’re prepared to tell us if you want a regular suite or a deluxe suite. This is VERY IMPORTANT as there are a limited number of deluxe suites available and they will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The differences between the regular suites and the deluxe suites are that the deluxe suites have been remodeled, are on the top floors with sweeping ocean views, have huge walk-in showers, have upgraded bedding, and the bedroom and living room layout is flip-flopped so that the bedroom faces the ocean instead of the living room. While both suites are nice, the deluxe suites are worth the extra eighty-five bucks if you want to indulge yourself with a few more creature comforts … and want to wake up with the ocean in your face!

$150 non-refundable initial deposit due immediately
$235 non-refundable second deposit due 75 days before the tour start date
$400 non-refundable final payment (+ any single occupancy upcharges or deluxe suite upgrades if applicable) due 45 days before the tour start date

Please call 619-295-3939 to RSVP.

1. Pre-boarding Bloody Mediterraneans and Mexican Coffees at WV&B
2. Transportation to Mexico and back via luxury motorcoach with on-board restroom
3. All transportation within Mexico via luxury motorcoach
4. Two nights deluxe oceanfront lodging at Hotel Coral y Marina
5. Sunday morning pre-brunch cocktails and seafood appetizers in an oceanfront fishing village
6. Sunday morning brunch with unlimited Bloody Marys, Margaritas and Mexican Coffees at La Fonda
7. All breakfasts
8. All lunches
9. All dinners
10. All winery tours and tastings

1. One bottle of Valle de Guadalupe wine that you can purchase (plan on $15-20) Sunday night at Boules that you’ll share with the group at dinner that night
2. Bus driver tips (plan on $15 per person). We’ll collect this Sunday morning and give to the driver when we board.
3. Optional extra drinks
4. Optional side trip to Ensenada Sunday afternoon (about $3 for cab fare)
5. Tips at the hotel and restaurants (plan on $15-20 total per person)

>>> Please SCROLL DOWN for the hour-by-hour itinerary below, but here’s an overview of the highlights:

Everyone will meet at Wine Vault & Bistro Sunday morning for our legendary Bloody Mediterraneans and Mexican Coffees. After checking in and socializing a bit with your soon-to-become new best friends, we’ll board the bus out front. Depending upon the border wait (usually about 30 minutes), we should arrive to Puerto Popotla, a quaint seaside fishing village, around thirty minutes later for pre-brunch Margaritas and seafood appetizers.

Puerto Popotla is a tiny port just south of Fox Studios in the southernmost end of Rosarita Beach. Access is via one easily missed dirt road off the free road – which probably explains why most Americans have never been there in spite of having driven past it a thousand times on the way to Ensenada on the toll road. The village is mostly run-down restaurants perched on oceanfront cliffs with million dollar views serving uber fresh seafood caught literally hours before. Fishing boats line the secluded half-moon beach (that also acts as an impromptu harbor) while the fishermen set up tents on the beach to sell their catch of the day. Think typical California farmers’ market except that instead of vegetables the wares are fresh seafood and, instead of having to dodge an occasional unleashed dog (or toddler), you sometimes have to dodge the incoming tide – which will lap right up to the edge of a vendor’s canopy at the most inopportune moment while you’re obliviously standing there haggling over a purchase. Anyway, you’ll be able to explore this beach later if you’d like but our first stop will be at Juquila, one of my favorite seafood joints where we’ll enjoy huge platters of mariscos (chef’s choice of fresh seafood like oysters, clams, shrimp, pulpo, ceviche, aguachiles, etc., etc.) served with premium margaritas on a rooftop deck overlooking the ocean. But wait. Don’t get too settled in here. This is just a minor detour on the way to brunch.

After pre-brunch mariscos and margaritas at Popotla we’ll hop back on the bus for the thirty minute drive south to La Fonda. Here we’ll enjoy one of the best brunches on the coast including unlimited Bloody Marys, Mexican Coffees, and Margaritas. For those of you who have not been here before, La Fonda is an aging oceanfront hotel/resort/spa perched on the cliffs of La Mision overlooking the Pacific Ocean between Rosarito Beach and Ensenada. I’ve been going there for over forty years (yikes), and have some fond memories and more than just a few great stories. The spectacular ocean views from their dining patio are simply magical, and the food ain’t bad either. It’s going to be difficult to tear everyone away from here to get back on the bus but the silver lining is that we’ll return here for sunset cocktails on the way home Tuesday evening (Friday evening for the mid-week tours).

Next stop thirty minutes later will be Hotel Coral y Marina. The drive south on Hwy 1 is one of the most scenic in Mexico, with picturesque, Big Sur-like views from atop the rugged cliffs hugging the ocean’s edge. Hotel Coral y Marina is hands down the best hotel in the Ensenada area. It’s located right in the marina halfway between the last toll booth and the entrance to the city. 100% of the rooms are suites, 100% of the rooms have balconies, and 100% of the rooms have in-your-face ocean views. It has two outdoor pools, one indoor pool, two Jacuzzis, an exercise room, a spa, and beautiful grounds. You’re not going to want to leave! Once you check in, the afternoon is free for you to:

1) stay in your ocean view room and just hang out on your balcony, and/or
2) have a massage or spa treatment, and/or
3) walk around the marina, and/or
4) hang out at the pool bar and enjoy an adult beverage(s), and/or
5) rent a paddle boat or kayak and sail around the harbor, and/or
6) take the bus into Ensenada to do some shopping, etc. I’ll take anyone who’s interested in going into Ensenada to see the famous fish market (home of the original fish taco), to La Guerrerense (arguably one of the most famous food carts in the world – continuously operating on the same street corner serving the best seafood coctels since 1960), and to Hussong’s (oldest bar in Baja and supposedly where the Margarita was invented). You’ll be right in the middle of town so there’s plenty of shopping afterwards if you’re interested or you can take a taxi back to the hotel (less than ten minutes) for about six bucks.

After an afternoon of relaxation, dinner will be at Boules, one of my favorite restaurants in Ensenada. Boules is managed by veteran restauranteur Javiar Martinez who will be our host at this eclectic wine-centric restaurant. They’re normally closed on Sundays but are opening just for us so we’ll have free rein of the entire place – including their namesake boules court (similar to bocce only played with steel balls – and yes, you can play a game of boules before dinner if you’d like). But what makes this place even more special is that there’s a wine shop attached to it that carries almost 500 different Valle de Guadalupe wines. As we’ve done in years past, this will be our bring-your-own-bottle-to-share-with-others dinner. Once we arrive everyone will visit the extensive wine shop to select a bottle to purchase to share at the communal dinner table later. Most wines are in the $15-20 range and, yes, corkage is included, so this is an amazingly affordable way to support the Valle and sample wines from way more wineries than we’ll possibly be able to visit. Should be a win-win experience all the way around.

I know some of you will want to maximize R&R time at the hotel and others of you will be raring to go so we’ve got two dinner start time options as follows:

1) For those of you who want to indulge in a pre-dinner libation at Boules (and perhaps try your hand at the game) the bus will leave the hotel at 5:45 to get you to Boules by 6:00. Then you can leisurely browse the wine shop to make your selection, and/or have a drink, and/or participate in an optional wine tasting ($5) or mescal tasting ($10).

2) For those of you who would prefer to maximize your time at the hotel, the bus will return an hour later to pick up everyone who stayed behind. Once the entire group is together at the restaurant, we’ll enjoy a delicious 4-course meal served family style with everyone’s shared bottles on the communal tables. Should be a comfortable, laid back way to spend the evening with your new friends while leisurely enjoying some good eats and some good libations.

After dinner the bus will take us back to the hotel (ten minutes away) and then the evening is free for you to hang out in the lobby bar for a final nightcap with your new friends or to just call it an early night and relax on your private balcony overlooking the ocean.

Breakfast (included) Monday morning (Thursday morning for the mid-week tours) will be in the hotel’s restaurant with your choice of indoor or outdoor seating. It’s a first-class, all-you-can-eat buffet with many of the items made to order (omelets, eggs any style, smoothies to your specifications and even hand-pressed tortillas made right in front of you). In addition to many traditional Mexican specialties, you’ll also find plenty of typical American fare plus a delicious fresh tropical fruit station if you want to do something on the lighter/healthier side. (That’s where you’ll find me because I know what’s coming up for lunch and dinner and definitely want to save my appetite … hint, hint.)

And because it takes a lot of beer to make good wine (how many times have you heard that line from winemakers?!), after breakfast we’ll hop on the bus for a five minute jaunt up the road to Agua Mala, an artisanal micro-brewery right on the ocean owned by my friends Ashley and Nathaniel. This husband-wife team is rocking the Baja cerveza world with some amazing brews. We’ll tour the original brewery and tasting room which is constructed out of steel shipping containers welded on top of each other. (Building materials are scarce in Mexico so you’ll see a lot of creative uses of things that are typically discarded or recycled in the states.) You’ll have an opportunity to taste different malts roasted at different levels and to smell the various strains of hops used to make their beers before actually sampling them so that once you actually do taste them, you’ll be able to recognize and have a much greater appreciation for the specific malts and hops used to make the different styles. (No promises but Nathaniel and I are also working on a special Wine Vault only beer … stay tuned.) Even though we went here on both the 2013 and 2015 tours, so much has changed over the past four years that even if you’ve been here before, you’ll definitely enjoy this repeat visit just to see all the progress they’ve made … including their new, currently-under-construction, oceanfront home behind the brewery which hopefully will be done in time for us to see.

Now is when the wine part of the tour officially starts. On Monday (Thursday for the mid-week tours) we’ll concentrate on the west side of the Valle; on Tuesday (Friday for the mid-week tours) it’ll be the east side. Totally random side note but if you’ve not been to the Valle before, it’s laid out very similar to Napa Valley. There is a main north-south road on the west side of the Valle simply called the “New Road” (because for many years it was an unnamed dirt road and when it finally got paved the locals just referred to it as the new road). Then there’s another main north-south road paralleling the New Road about a mile or so to the east. That road is Mexico Hwy 3 which runs from Ensenada to Tecate. Both roads converge at the northern tip of the Valle in a town called Francisco Zarco. If you were in Napa Valley, the New Road would be Hwy 29, Mexico Hwy 3 would be the Silverado Trail, and Francisco Zarco would be Calistoga. That’s a vast over-simplification but hopefully makes a wee bit of sense … and gives you a better sense of place … or not!

Anyway, sorry for the digression. First stop will be at Relieve (pronounced rell-ee-vay) Winery located on a dirt road (which is currently in the process of being paved … fingers crossed that work will be done by autumn) connecting Hwy 3 to the New Road. The winery is currently under construction but should be near completion when we visit. It’s a huge facility literally carved out of the side of the mountain with a huge man-made reservoir in front. A short walk past the reservoir is their seasonal outdoor restaurant in the vineyards. After touring the winery we’ll end up there where their chef will prepare five amuse bouches to pair with each of their five wines. I personally have always loved wine tastings that are paired with complementary foods because I think it takes the experience to the next level and adds a depth of complexity that’s missing when just tasting wine by itself … and what better way to do this than right in the vineyards where the grapes were grown that made the wines you’re drinking. Talk about a sense of place!

After this pre-lunch lunch, we’ll head north on the New Road to Vina de Frannes. Frannes is a bit off the beaten path on a dirt road just past Chateau Camou. The drive there through the perfectly manicured and trellised vines will be your first indication that his winery is going to be exceptional. And walking into the reception area and seeing the sweeping vistas through the floor-to-ceiling windows will only confirm that you’re in for a real treat. The place just reeks of class. The quality of the wines from Valle de Guadalupe has improved so dramatically over the last decade and finally many renown outsiders have begun to take notice of this little sleepy corner of the wine world. Case in point here: Globe-trotting, uber-influential, Bordeaux-based oenologist Michel Rolland is the consulting winemaker at Frannes … to my knowledge the only winery in Mexico using his services. Ten years ago I doubt he would have even let him name be associated with the region. But the Valle is blowing up now folks, and I’m delighted to share yet another winery with you that is influential in making this happen. Frannes has really stepped up to the plate in raising the bar for the quality of Valle de Guadalupe wines. And in addition to awesome wines, Frannes also has an awesome restaurant so what better place to stop for lunch than here. Their chef is preparing a beautiful 5-course tasting menu paired with five of their wines that we’ll enjoy on their patio overlooking the vineyards. And I promise that we’ll keep the portions not-overly-large so you’ll still have room for an equally awesome dinner in three short hours!

The next winery is going to have a tough act to follow after Frannes but I think I know just the folks who can pull it off. We’ll head back south a few miles on the New Road and then detour off yet another dirt road to Emeve, one of my favorite wineries. I’ve been trying their wines for the past five or six years now, and they started out great and just keep getting better. They just finished construction on a new tasting pavilion which is where we’ll meet to have a private tasting with the winemaker and owner. Should be pretty special!

Hungry? I hope so … lunch at Vina de Frannes was about three hours ago and we’ve all been drinking heavily, err, I mean professionally tasting and spitting wine, at a break neck pace ever since and are probably ready to chillax. So we’ve got a special final stop for you – dinner at Malva, a new restaurant in a treehouse-like setting that also houses micro winery, Mina Penelope. Upon arrival you’ll have an opportunity to unwind with a glass of wine, cerveza or other adult libation. After that you can relax a while longer or take a five minute tour of the on-site winery. Then chef/owner Roberto of Malva and winemaker Veronica of Mina Penelope will join forces to host a simple yet elegant multi-course winemaker dinner featuring Roberto’s food paired with Veronica’s wines. Roberto is known for his creative 10-course tasting menus but we thought that might be a bit much after the day’s festivities so he’s pairing it down to five courses paired with five wines for us which I guarantee will be more than plenty! Great food, great wine, great company, the warm smell of carnitas rising up to the air, stars you can actually see … does it get any better?! After dinner I know it’s going to be difficult to tear everyone away from this idyllic, Swiss Family Robinson-like setting but the good news is that the hotel is only twenty minutes away and the ocean view (or lobby bar) beckons.

So after a dinner you’ll wish would never end, we’ll make the twenty minute drive back to the hotel for the night where, here again, you’re welcome to hang out in the lobby bar for a final, final nightcap with your new friends or to just call it a night and relax on your private balcony before peacefully (comatosely?) drifting off.

Breakfast is included again at the hotel Tuesday morning (Friday morning for the mid-week tours). After breakfast we’ll pack up and hit the road, but this time we’ll concentrate on the eastern, or Mexico Hwy 3 side of the valley (AKA Silverado Trail).

First stop will be at Casa de Piedra, Valle de Guadalupe wine pioneer Hugo D’Acosta’s first winery. Hugo and his wife Gloria (who owns the wine shop at Boules that we will have visited Sunday night) also used to live on site in a home above the winery that has since been converted into their winery offices. I’m especially excited about this visit as this will be the first time ever groups our size have been allow to visit this tiny yet iconic winery. It took me eight years of groveling and begging, err, I mean persistence, before they granted my request to bring our groups to this special place that most visitors never have the opportunity to see. (You’re welcome!) Anyway, because the winery is so small, we’ll divide the group in two and have half visit the winery for a tasting and a tour while the other half treks up the hill to Conchas de Piedra. Conchas is Michelin-star chef Drew Deckman’s new (well not so new by the time we get there) oyster bar. Casa de Piedra also makes a premium sparkling wine so we’ll enjoy a glass of their Blanc de Noir bubbly paired with oysters on the half shell while soaking in the vistas from their upper patio. Then the groups will switch places and, don’t worry, I’ll make sure there are plenty of oysters left for the second group!

After this post-breakfast breakfast (or pre-lunch lunch), we’ll head a few miles north on Hwy 3 to Bodegas Henri Lurton, another one of the newest and most cutting edge wineries in the Valle. Henri Lurton, who also owns renown Bordeaux winery Château Brane-Cantenac in Margaux, feels so strongly about the future of the Valle that he started this winery recently with the help of his sons. Lulu is their winemaker, an energetic young lady who worked at Brane-Cantenac for almost ten years before returning to her hometown of Ensenada to get the new winery up and running. She employs some ultra-innovative winemaking techniques not currently found in the Valle so the tour here promises to be especially informative. And it goes without saying that their wines are amazing … and surprisingly affordable too.

Finally, just like all of our past tours, we’ll end at our friends Ray and Patty Magnussen’s Lechuza Vineyard. (Lechuza is Spanish for “burrowing ground owl” which used to be prevalent there.) They’re hosting a sumptuous, one-for-the-record-books outdoor feast prepared by the chefs next door at Laja – also known as the “French Laundry” of Mexico. Ray’s being pretty tight lipped about the menu but I did hear him mumble something about fresh local seafood appetizers, an oyster station, something whole roasted in a caja china and some sort of special welcome cocktail made with a spirit they’re distilling on site. Needless to say, there aren’t enough adjectives to describe how off-the-charts this finale lunch will be. After lunch Ray will take everyone into the cellar for barrel tasting and then for a tour of the vineyards. In addition to their Lechuza wines which will be paired with lunch, there will also be plenty of cold cervezas and other libations, and maybe even a cigar or two.

Then it’s back to reality. All good things must come to an end sometime … but not before one last, scenic drive up the Big Sur-like coastline. As a random side note: I’ve personally seen the “green flash” only three times in my life. Once from our balcony at home and twice on these tours coming back from Ensenada! Fingers crossed!

Oops, well almost back to reality … we’ll prolong the magic for another hour or so to sneak in a final sunset cocktail(s) at La Fonda, where we stopped for brunch on the way down. Then from La Fonda it’s about 45 minutes to the border, and then roughly 15-30 minutes to go through customs (remember your passport or Sentri card!), and then about 20 minutes back to WV&B.

Itinerary: Sunday (Wednesday for the mid-week tours)
08:45 AM Meet at WV&B for pre-boarding Bloody Mediterraneans and Mexican Coffees
09:30 AM Bus picks everyone up
11:00 AM Arrive Puerto Popotla for morning Margaritas and mariscos on the ocean
12:15 PM Depart Popotla
12:45 AM Arrive La Fonda for Sunday brunch
02:30 PM Depart La Fonda
03:00 PM Arrive Hotel Coral
03:15 PM Afternoon on your own (hang out at pool or bus into Ensenada)
06:00 PM No-host cocktails at Boules … or wine tasting or Mezcal tasting (for early group)
07:00 PM Rest of group (late group) arrives to purchase wine bottles, etc.
07:30 PM Dinner and wine contributed by guests at Boules
10:00 PM Back to the hotel for the night

Itinerary: Monday (Thursday for the mid-week tours)
07:30 AM Breakfast at the hotel
09:00 AM Depart hotel
09:15 AM Agua Mala brewery tour and tasting
10:45 AM Depart Agua Mala
11:15 AM Relieve for tasting with small bites
12:45 PM Depart Relieve
01:15 PM Arrive Frannes for lunch and tasting
03:15 PM Depart Frannes
03:30 PM Arrive Emeve for tasting
04:45 PM Depart Emeve
05:00 PM No-host cocktails at Malva
06:00 PM Winemaker Dinner at Malva with Mina Penelope Winery
08:30 PM Back to the hotel for the night

Itinerary: Tuesday (Friday for the mid-week tours)
07:30 AM Breakfast at the hotel
09:00 AM Depart hotel
09:30 AM Oysters and bubbly at Casa de Piedra
11:00 AM Depart Casa de Piedra
11:15 AM Henri Lurton mini winery tour and tasting with Lulu
12:15 PM Depart Henri Lurton
12:30 PM Lechuza Vineyards tour, tasting and lunch
03:15 PM Depart Lechuza
04:30 PM Arrive La Fonda for no-host sunset cocktails
06:00 PM Depart La Fonda
08:00 PM Arrive San Diego (+/- depending on border wait)

1. You MUST have a current passport (or passport card) to get INTO Mexico. If you have Sentri or Global Entry you still need to bring your passport to get INTO Mexico.

2. You MUST have a current passport or Sentri or Global Entry pass to get back into the USA!

3. If you are a California resident, you can bring ONE bottle of wine per person back into the US. If you are a non-California resident (or have an out-of-state driver’s license) you can bring back up to 5 cases of wine per person. (NOTE: In the past we’ve usually had several guests with out-of-state licenses. If you’re a California resident and want to bring back more than one bottle, my recommendation is that you make friends with these people … if you get my drift.)

4. If you’re unfamiliar with Valle de Guadalupe wines, or have only experienced the “supermarket quality” wines from some of the larger producers, you’re in for a very pleasant surprise. Most of the wineries we’ll be visiting are small, super-premium producers that will give you a whole new perspective on south of the border wines. Be prepared to be wowed!

5. Please note that this is a physical tour that involves lots of walking. Day time to night time temperature swings can vary as much as 30-40 degrees, so in addition to a pair of comfortable walking shoes, make sure to dress in layers. If you are not in decent physical shape please do not sign up for this tour.

6. If you’re looking ahead for future tours we’re planning a Tuscan wine and culinary tour in April/May/June 2018. It will be a week-long tour beginning in Florence and going through Tuscany and ending on the coast of Italy. Stay tuned for more details but the first tour is tentatively slated for April 15-21, 2018 and continuing each subsequent week as long as demand lasts.