Photos Bill Veale Graphics
Impressive is the first word that comes to mind when entering the Cava Entre Santos wine tasting room in downtown Ensenada. This surprising treat run by the Santo Tomás winery is hidden just off the main tourist area of Lopez Mateos. A visit here is too good to not put on your Baja destination list, and it is certain that you will need a leisurely afternoon to receive the full benefit of what is offered. Not only will you be filled with the flavors of an extensive wine selection, you will learn how it has all been brought into being by the passionate hearts of their winemakers for over 125 years.
We step off the street into a building that was once the office of Mexican President Abelardo Rodriquez from 1932 - 1934. The checkerboard floors and a massive steel vault are originals from that time period. The contemporary décor in charcoal-black is filled with a sprawling display of Santo Tomás wines. The subdued lighting gives a powerful first impression. The eyes cannot take it in all at once, but we are rescued by the charming welcome of Edgar Cardenas who directs us to the perfect place to start. We learn that Santo Tomás creates more than just an outstanding wine. Bottles are unique in shape and wrapped in artful labels with a poetic story unique to each. The wine labels are filled with heart-felt words by those that are creating the surprising blends and rich aged reserves. Edgar comments, “We are not looking to be like everyone else.”
Edgar never falters as the information pours from what can only be described as a passionate love affair with winemaking in all its aspects. He generously takes his time. We start with Pitxos 2008, a fruity red wine with a label depicting a little girl with pigtails on a swing. I had to ask about the significance. Edgar translated the poem: It is told in the valley, when the moon rises, it shines on the fruit that transforms into two young girls, Las Niñas. This is not the only wine that is held in tribute to some facet of the country, the people of México and even the staff of Santo Tomás. The Misión 73 wine honors the Spanish padres who first brought the sacramental grape to Mexico while Tinto México, a Barbera and Merlot blend, is a tribute to 500 years of winemaking history.
The Barbera grape has recently grown in popularity although it was only introduced into the Baja winemaking within the last ten years. It is considered “The Teacher” of grapes as it was the first grape used in wine production. Oenologist Laura Zamora has been developing Santo Tomás wines for 38 years and it could be said that she is a force for change in the Baja California wines. Edgar treated us to a number of tantalizing expressions. A unique Barbera rosé, Sanaura 2012, is one of the experimental reserves and is 100% Barbera. When tasted it brought a vision of romantic warm summer days on the patio overlooking the vast vineyards. Chilled to perfection both the bouquet and the finish were delightfully surprising. The name Sanaura is a tribute to Aura, the mother of one of the wine makers. The next offering that Edgar was eager to share was a mature 2012, 100% Barbera. I could have stayed with the bouquet that filled the nose, but it beckoned to the senses to dive in and the finish was long and satisfying. The Teacher grape indeed.
So many wines so little time. Edgar finished with, Cierzo, a 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve that was aged three months in stainless vats and 18 months in the barrel. Edgar was pleased to say that the current president of Mexico drinks their Unico Reserve, a cab and merlot blend. I laughed and said you don’t have to be a president to love what Santo Tomás is doing. We never made it to the wall of varietals with an exciting number of table wines for under $10.
The late afternoon sun was lighting up a charming outdoor patio with its unique wall of empty wine bottles shooting golden rays into the air. We had barely scratched the surface of what makes Santo Tomás special. As we sipped the rich reserve, Edgar told a great story about how they had received a first place award in 2012 for the “World’s Best Olive Oil.” He said, on a whim they sent a bottle to the International Harvest competition in Italy. Edgar laughs, “Italy, can you imagine?!” They had forgotten all about it when a call came in asking why Santo Tomás had not sent a representative to receive their award. The first taste of the virgin oil was like being transported into the branches of an olive tree and biting down on one of its leaves. It was a startling experience, but then we had been tasting wine all afternoon.
Cava Entre Santos de Santo Tomás is in Zona Centro minutes from the Lopez Mateos tourist area and is one of three locations. It is a good option for those who might not have the time to drive out to the Guadalupe Valley to visit their wine cellar or their main vineyard in Santo Tomás valley. However, if you have a full day and really want to understand the heart of winemaking from the soil to the bottling, taking one of their tours is highly recommended. For the true wine enthusiast there is a seven hour tour with 13 wines to taste. You’ll visit the museum and see the laboratories where Señora Zamora does the ongoing experimentation with new varietals. Included in the tour is the opportunity to create your own wine and bottle it with your personal label. This is a weekend experience not soon to be forgotten. During the fall harvest known as Vendimia you can experience the traditional stomping of the grape. You’ll return home filled with awesome stories and proud to show off your purple feet!
Visit the Santo Tomás website