Early spring in the Guadalupe Valley is filled with light and damp soil after the rains. The wild flowers are a striking display of colors and the heavy clouds hang over the green hills. The vineyards look dormant with bare and twisted vines, but showing tender green leafing; the promise of this year’s harvest. Casa Frida’s location is an easy one. You can take the scenic route and enjoy the backcountry, or come in from Highway 1 along the coast to Ruta Del Vino #3 and both will converge at Casa Frida. The dark cobalt blue buildings facing the road cannot be missed. This striking blue is the first introduction to the life of Frida Kahlo for which the winery is named. Frida was born in Mexico City in a home called Casa Azul, where she lived most of her life.
Pull into the entrance between the two blue buildings and park near the impressive two story reclaimed-wood building which is immediately seen as the unique design by well-known architect, Alejandro D’Acosta. The grounds around the building are set for outdoor tastings. On the outside of the building a long hallway is created out of slender tree limbs, cut at similar lengths, a D’Acosta signature. This leads to an extreme set of stairs to the second floor. The restaurant and bar with tequila tasting is settled in one corner, leaving the rest open to the breeze from the ocean. This can be a lively place in the evenings and the reasons that reservations are required for Saturdays. The restaurant serves what they call Urban Baja Cuisine. All local ingredients come from the sea and farms in the area. It is very easy to imagine a weekend stay.
Just inside the massive main door to the wine tasting room. Take one moment to enjoy the first impressions leaping out in stunning colors and light. Everywhere there is the touch and the flavor of the era in which Frida painted. The massive canvases of Frida herself were done by Vango, who captured Frida’s essence of dark mystery. Over the long bar features Vango’s work on an elongated canvas portraying only her eyes and above the bar three hundred and sixty-five wine bottles hang closely together, creating soft illumination with flowers vines trailing downward. On the opposite wall dark blue velvet draping is a rich backdrop for intimate seating areas around glass tables and dark green velvet chairs. Casa Frida was created by two sisters in honor of the memory of this Mexican painter. Some call Frida’s work “naïve folk art style.” She was inspired by life that combined elements of realism and fantasy and later began to incorporate graphic and surrealistic elements. Stepping into the Casa Frida tasting room is like entering the world or Frida Kahlo. The final touch is the powerful songs of Chavela Vargas whose throaty voice is a reminder of Frida and Chavela intense relationship, even though Frida never stopped loving her Diego Rivera. Diego is thought by many to be one of the leading artists of the 20th century. Frida and Diego’s romance is legendary, and was made into a movie, Frida, with Selma Hayek and Alfred Molina.
Luis meets me and invites me to sit in one of the lovely chairs. We start with a 2017 chardonnay aged 8 months in American and French oak. This white wine is uniquely presented in a soft yellow-green bottle and compliments the label covered with flowers. It is wonderfully fresh with a bouquet of apricot, green apple and a hint of creaminess. Luis explains that the family began making wine for their own use many years ago. The matriarch of the family, while visiting Casa Azul in Mexico City, became enthralled with the life and art of Frida Kahlo. She then opened the first art gallery in Ensenada seventy years ago and Galeria Garcia is still open today. This love was passed on to her daughter and to her daughter’s daughters.
Next comes the wine called, “Diego,” named after Frida’s scoundrel husband. Diego is a 2016 blend of Nebbiolo and Cabernet with twelve months in French oak. A flowery bouquet spills out of the first sip with flavors of plum, spices and just a hint of fresh tobacco. The label is interesting. It has Diego facing a canvas with his back to us as he is painting Frida. It hints at the passionate yet turbulent relationship the two artists had together. Raul Carrillo of Ensenada created the labels as well as being the painter known as Vango. Only 31 years old, he never formally studied the arts, all of his talent came naturally.
Luis admits that the next tasting is his favorite. A 2015 Corazón en Flor with 12 months in new American and French oak. This is a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet, Cab Franc and Merlot. The label is one large physical heart which often appears in Frida’s painting and expressed the struggle with her pain and her love of Diego. Oh, yes, Luis is right, this is so very good. This is a wine for which you spend time and invited a friend to enjoy. Although both Luis and I admit, it is so good, there might be a hesitancy to share it. It is full and rich with spice and red pepper. Its complexity brings out flavors of cherry, sweet plum and cranberry. Taking time to truly enjoy this wine, I pondered the crystal chandeliers overhead. It was hard to move on from the Corazón en Flor. But the last tasting awaited. The Passion de Frida, is a 2015 100% Nebbiolo with 14 months in French and American new oak. This label is very brave and very dark. For Frida’s life was full of intense physical pain after the accident which broke her spine and almost killed her. Most of her life she had to wear a back brace. The label shows Frida’s back encased in the metal brace in black and gray tones. The wine is deep and intense and reflects the complexity of the artist’s life. The Passion de Frida is elegant and brings about an almost emotional response as we savor the hibiscus and dark plum that lingers to the finish. The passion of Frida Kahlo is captured in so many ways. This beautiful experience at Casa Frida combines nightlife on the weekends with the opportunity to stay in one of the Casa Azul casitas, making this a favorite weekend destination.