What a wanderlust it is seeking out new wineries in the hills of the Baja California wine country. The Guadalupe Valley has hidden destinations everywhere you turn. Large blue signs clearly point to the next new delight. We are going to visit Cava Maciel and the journey takes us on wide dirt roads, through old oak groves up through the hills and down the other side. It is a landscape of open homesteads dotting the hills, a quaint Inn, and wineries. The traveler will not see vast vineyards, instead be given a new view of what the Guadalupe Valley has to offer. The weather is unseasonably cool today at the end of September, the first signs of the seasons changing. The clouds crack open to let a ray of light through.
It is a steep drive to access the last turn into Cava Maciel, but the view is worth it. The entrance is stone lined with a little green house on the right that grows fresh veggies for the salsas. The terracing leads down into the production area where an outdoor kitchen and barbecue share the patio near long wooden tables overlooking the valley below. All the buildings take advantage of the natural rock of the area. The new winetasting room is nearly complete and has a great view of the surrounding hills.
A truck has pulled in with five tons of Petite Syrah. There is a focused intent on unloading the precious contents as the grapes must maintain a cool temperature during this process of destemming before entering the fermentation tanks. Young men leap into the truck, hand off a box to the fellow below who nearly staggers under the weight as he walks to the production area. Jorge Maciel invites me in to see the process of destemming. He is a one-man crew. He feeds the plump bunches of grape into a special machine that gently turns the bunches at the same time removing the stems. The grapes then vanish down into a large tube that feeds into the top of a stainless-steel tank. Jorge says that the grapes will remain cooled for a period of time to allow for flavor and aroma to build, before fermentation is allowed be begin. This is just one part of the art that is required by the winemaker and it is always according to what he calls, “my style.” Jorge lets me pick a grape. The juice squirts into the mouth and is perfectly delicious in its process to become a great 2017 wine.
At the present moment the winetasting bar is also part of this production area which is a nice feeling of being part of the life of a winemaker. Just beyond and looking down is the title roof of the new tasting room. Today Jorge will pour his four wines starting with a 2016 Chardonnay labeled Venus. Jorge’s labels are delightful, depicting the celestial bodies. Each wine has a star or planet’s name. Venus is delightfully fresh with a hint of pineapple and pear. Very nice for a summer outing. Jorge shares that he and his wife have a telescope for star gazing. Here in the hills there is little ambient light. “It is so dark the stars blaze overhead, you never see this in the city.”
Next Jorge pours the 100% 2013 Mourvédre. This is a French grape and is light and easy to drink every day. He calls this Lúneo, Full Moon. Both white and red wine drinkers will enjoy this wine with fish dishes. The kitchen is preparing a late luncheon for a group coming in soon. Recently, a group of 30 expat ladies got together for “Let’s Do Lunch.” They consumed two cases of wine and had a great time. If you do the math, that is only about two and a half glasses per lady, just enough to put a rose on the cheek and start feeling like the lovely Venus on the label.
Next comes a 100% 2012 Merlot called Via Láctea, The Milky Way. The label is embossed with swirling silver dots around a central star. It is smooth with a nice balance and very easy to drink. I asked Jorge if the dialogue in the movie Sideways, about Merlot wine, did in fact kill the Merlot market. He shook his head and said, “Yes, it did, and it hurt a lot of people. It’s amazing how powerful a movie can be.” Jorge started producing wine in 2009. “I didn’t intend to continue to grow as I have. I will not make money doing this, but it is the only thing I want to do.” This is a common thread that is found here in the valley. A winemaker must be many things and one of them is having great passion for producing great wine that people can enjoy. They also need patience beyond anything that is found in the 21st century. The process of waiting for just the right time to act on each stage of production is all up to nature. The art is catching nature at the height of perfection.
Last, Jorge pours a 100% 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon called Alba, Dawn or First Light. A unique label embossed with the rising sun. Jorge says he is just planting his own grapes now. He has been buying from growers for ten years. He walks through the vineyards as if they were his own. He watches for all the things that must be involved. “I do my homework, I spend a lot of time in the vineyard. I take the brix readings for sugar content that is a factor in the acidity of a wine. Did you know that you can tell when the grape is just right if the seeds inside are brown and crunchy? Kind of like a coffee bean. Picked too green will leave a bitter taste in the wine." Alba is rich and dark and well balanced and Jorge suggests it would be in good company with a juicy rib eye. Visit the Cava Maciel Facebook page for a virtual peek of the drive into the hills and some of the recent events. Plan a day for lunch and winetasting here at Cava Maciel, where the stars shine even in the middle of the day.