The Founders Pre-2005
In 2005, there was a solid core of wineries beginning with the big volume guys: LA Cetto, Santo Tomás and Domecq. Monte Xanic, which claims to be the first boutique winery, opened for business in 1989. Then in 1997 Tru Miller from the Netherlands started a winery that is also a horse ranch and six-bedroom resort, Adobe Guadalupe. Soon, other local families followed her lead and developed a winery and lodging such as Malagón and El Cielo.
She remains one of the key people today and it was interesting to learn that Guadalupe has several female winemakers along with a couple of female-owned wineries. Another much referenced personality is ‘Lulú’ Martínez Ojeda who worked in Bordeaux at Brane-Cantenac for 10 years, before returning to her native Ensenada to start Bodegas Henri Lurton. She is now a winemaker and partner at Bruma, a new winery with a B&B and award-winning restaurant.
Today, the Valley’s wineries balance an international cast of characters and local families. Many of the new wineries are locally owned. That door opened in 2004 when Hugo D'Acosta who studied at Montpellier in France and the Agrarian University of Turin in Italy, organized La Escuelita, a school teaching local farmers and families the fundamentals of winemaking and cellar procedures. The school also functioned as a cooperative, providing the necessary equipment to growers and future winemakers to make wine.
The New Generation
As new wineries began settling in from 2005 onwards, most were started by home winemakers, by cellar workers from one of the big wineries or by career changers. I am very much reminded of Napa Valley waking up in the early 1970s.
With the focus on the tourist market, the annual production of these Guadalupe newbies is generally under 7,500 cases. Then, typically, a winery features somewhere between 12 to 24 wines. Most have attractive tasting areas that offer food as well as wine.
So far, the approach seems to be working very well. The main concern shared by many is that the region must guard against growing too fast. These concerns seem genuine since the key to the region’s success is being a getaway destination. Wineries like El Cielo, Monte Xanic and Adobe Guadalupe have paved the way and in an ironic way… in that they have placed Guadalupe on the radar by not paving the roads, by selling their natural beauty. And, of course, the special wines.
Based upon my visit, I’ve singled out five wineries that have what it takes to sustain the momentum and help secure Guadalupe’s reputation as a unique wine region:
Now in the hands of the second generation, Magoni recently opened a beautiful new tasting room located, like so many others, along a dusty, bumpy dirt road. Camillo Magoni made wines for Cetto and others before founding his own in 2013. The estate vineyard of 120 hectares is planted to over 100 varieties. I was impressed by all of Magoni wines, including the Viognier blended with Fiano, the 2020 Origin 43 blended red and the elegant 2020 Merlot-Malbec. The winery also houses a wine library and produces its own olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Perched on a steep hillside overlooking the valley, this winery farms 38 hectares and the property includes a popular resort, Villa Montefiori. Montefiori is also a label for many wines while the high-end Paoloni line is made from older vines. Paoloni offers a rich, unusual Sangiovese rosé and a fresh lively Chardonnay. But the reds are among the most impressive, and most unusual. The 2020 Ross del Valle made from 100% Montepulciano is amazingly concentrated. Even more exciting was the 2019 Nebbiolo, a dark-coloured, deeply flavoured version, aged for 15 months in French oak. The house speciality is Nero d’Avola, its the 2018 aged 12 months in oak is stunning for its depth and layers of flavour. A dare-to-be-different winery that will have much to say about Guadalupe’s future.
Nestled up against a steep rocky hillside and enjoying panoramic views, Las Nubes began in 2008 and now farms 19 hectares. Among the dozen wines produced, Jaak is the name for the winery’s popular rosé. The full-flavoured 2020 was made from 50% Grenache, 40% Carignan and 10% Zinfandel. Kuiiy is the name of its lively and typical white wine that combines 70% Sauvignon and 30% Chardonnay. Among its red wines, the 2019 barrel (barricas) selection is aged six months in oak and showcases the elegant, nuanced style possible in Guadalupe.
Casta del Vinos
Whether it was sheer luck or fate, my visit to Casta was truly eye-opening. Opened in 2010, Casta is an authentic mom-and-pop family winery with Sergio Castañeda as owner and winemaker and Claudia, his wife, as hospitality director. With an annual output of 4,500 cases, Casta makes 12 wines, 10 red. The 2018 Domina, a 100% Merlot exudes charm in an elegant style, and the 2019 Cirio, a Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvedre blend is big with multi-layered flavours. Casta Tinta, a Bordeaux blend, could easily be mistaken for a young Médoc. Another amazing accomplishment, the 2020 Syrah is heavenly and stylishly refined for a young Syrah. Clearly, the winemaking shows a subtle use of small oak and tannin management that makes this one a genuine superstar.
Emevé was started by Mario Villarreal, a highly successful businessman living in Guadalupe. He slowly ventured into winemaking. In 2004, He planted a small vineyard and began taking wine courses. He was the typical home winemaker through 2007, but he was hooked and expanded the vineyard near his home and made his first commercial wine in 2008. Today, the winery draws from 18 hectares and produces around 5,000 cases a year. In addition to a lovely Rose of Cabernet, Emevé is best known for its proprietary blends. Isabella brings together Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier in a bright, full-bodied style. There’s a red Bordeaux named Los Nietos and another red blend, Armonia de Tintos, that adds a dollop of Shiraz. And just for a little variation there’s a 100% Shiraz that’s bottle aged for five years before its release.
Yes, Guadalupe is an exciting and newsworthy wine region.