Photos by Martina and Bill Veale Graphics
Over the bridge and through a humble neighborhood, I watch for the left turn onto a dirt road that will take me to La Hacienda restaurant in the Guadalupe Valley. Crossing a dry river bed, I glance in the rear view mirror and see dust rising like clouds behind the car. It struck me as funny, most stories I write start out on a dirt road and, in fact, here I was again. I can’t seem to help myself as I always find such surprises off the main road. It’s as if the story itself likes to play hide and seek, beckoning us to go the distance. Or maybe “easy” roads take the mystery out of it all.
Historically, there were many people who found their way into the Guadalupe Valley where the Kumiai Indian groups had been living for thousands of years. Baja has a rich ethnic history from the Spanish Jesuit fathers planting grapes for their sacramental wine to the Russian Molokanes who developed large commercial vineyards in 1906. The Chinese found a foothold and have significant historical impact in Baja California. Passing through the little town of San Antonio de Las Minas hasn’t changed too much, but it has come into the 21st century with solar lights on the main roadway. Today in the Guadalupe Valley, wine tasting is becoming an art form amongst the locals. Indeed, people from all over the world now visit. There is an amazing array of fine restaurant and boutique wineries each featuring their own special chef.
One of the older and well established retreats for a weekend exploration is La Hacienda restaurant. Forty years ago it was a small rancho built under ancient live oaks purported to be five hundred years old. Just consider the wonder that these very same trees here were seen by the Kumiai Indians of the time. These first people would have collected the acorns from these trees for a main food source. Now, however, these giants welcome the traveler into their dense shade and a unique dining experience. The massive branches overhead are a canopy. Birds flit through with their particularly sweet songs. Lush greenery and gigantic Boston ferns create private nooks, separating the white linen covered tables and making you feel as if you have the place all to yourself.
I meander around the gardens taking in all the sights, sounds and textures of the once humble adobe homestead that sold tacos to the locals. They also operated a small nursery, which obviously grew to undreamed-of proportions, creating a jungle-like experience. A huge stage on the far side of the gardens invites music, parties and dance. It is not hard to picture a wedding here with the bride in stunning white against the deep shadowy greens. There is a plethora of seating, if you just want to join a friend in quiet conversation with a nice red wine.
As I make my way back to the restaurant, I notice tree size ficus and split leaf philodendron, normally thought of as “indoor plants,” now rooted in the historic grounds. I am met by Victor Daniel Lopez Soto, he graciously assists me in selecting a table. I must admit, it wasn’t an easy choice as all the options were beautiful. Finally, the cooing of big fluffy white doves called me to a table near enough to enjoy them. Well, I was already happy before I even ordered a very nice L.A. Cetto, Chenin Blanc. Its chilly gem-like clarity was perfect for the warm sunny day. Dreamy music carried by the breeze filtered through the greenery. I swear I saw a human size plant with long slender leaves, like a many armed deva, swaying with the soft rhythms. Daniel left me a menu and time to muse, making notes on these moments of being present in this beauty.
Daniel returns and we both share the sight of a small lizard in a very big hurry, scurrying under a shadowy rock. Daniel is one of the nicest waiters I’ve run across and he enjoyed the idea that he would be part of the story. I ordered from a diverse menu an intriguing combination of pineapple and shrimp. I never expected to be served half of a fresh pineapple, filled to overflowing with shrimp. Lovely. As I ate and sipped my wine, I picked up my pen and made another note, “Oh, how I love my job!"
Directions: From the north heading south to Ensenada, through the toll booth, continue several miles until you see the sign Highway #3 Tecate, the Ruta del Vino. Go east. A new road into the valley is a breeze and takes 15 minutes. Proceed to the first and only stoplight; turn right. Traveling uphill, through the little community, go on to the 3rd stop sign. You will see a small billboard with a list of names and directions. Turn left onto the dirt road, watch that tope! A speed bump that might set you airborne.