This is an adventurous drive on the back roads of the Guadalupe Valley. A turn off in El Porvenir onto a dirt road heads out to the rocky foothills. It is maintained, yet has the infamous washboard experience. The blue signs will announce the turn to the right and a narrow dirt road that runs by a working horse arena and a long white fence. The olive trees line the road and the green olives are seen through the silver leaves. Pulling into the quiet rancho, the entrance is a bit of a surprise as the name conjures up images of great church spires. However, the location at the base of a massive hill of granite boulders is natural adornment. Soft Spanish conversation floats through the rows of vines as men tend to the clusters of mature grapes. A raven calls.
The patio and open areas for gatherings are shaded by old growth trees. Entering the wine tasting room is like being invited into the family’s home. Rustic stained wood floors have artfully arranged seating with heavy dark leather furniture. A guitar and several drums wait expectantly for someone to play them. Annia comes in looking natural in short bib-overalls, work boots and dark hair clasped casually off her neck. She begins to set up the tasting and it is evident that this experience is going to be fun. The wines and the labels in this tasting honor those that work in the vineyards and harvest the grapes. The first is a 100% Chardonnay. Annia points out this is a young wine and does not pass through the barrel. She tells the story of the mysterious and luminous eyes that gaze out from the label on Cosechera 2016. This is a Spanish word that honors the women who pick the grape during harvest. As the story goes, one woman cutting the grape clusters, happened to look up from her work and her eyes so startled by the winemaker passing by that this label was created. It sounds like a love story, but a different story of the love of the land, the people and the vision in winemaking. Cosechera shines like a soft glowing jewel and the aroma is fresh with a call to discover more. The first taste is cool citrus with a crisp long finish.
Annia, a self-named philosopher and traveler, shared insights into the difference between a young wine and a fine aged chardonnay. In order to do that she pours the Natal, first son, aged four months in French oak. It had a superb clarity and the aroma of fruit nearly leapt from the glass. Tasting is a pleasure of pear, floral blossom, a note of vanilla with a long buttery finish. This teaching experience showed clearly the difference between the two, when Natal followed the light-hearted Cosechera.
Annia shares the history of Reynaldo Rodriguez Jr. who followed in his father’s footsteps. He received his formal training from the Universidad de la Rioja in Spain, earning a Master's Degree in Enology and Viticulture. Reynaldo's wife, Alejandra Correa, first began designing a special line of beauty products, utilizing the natural antioxidant properties of the grape seed. This naturally led to the development of the beautiful spa on the quiet hillside. Luxurious pampering can be combined with a stay in one of the cabanas which includes breakfast and winetasting. There is a warm family atmosphere, or opportunities for romantic evenings sharing a bottle of the lovely and mysterious Cosechera.
We talked about other labels that gave insight into Reynaldo’s passion for his family and growing the grape. Renata, for his daughter; a rosé, blending Chardonnay and Zinfandel. Cosecha is a young blend of Cabernet, Tempranillo and Syrah has a rendering of Reynaldo sitting in contemplation as its label. 2014 Cosecheros, is represented with a fist of powerful determination. It honors the men who work the soil, care for the vines year round and do the heavy lifting during the harvest. Cosecheros has twelve months in American and French oak. This blend of Cabernet and Tempranillo does not mess around. It fills the nose. The palate picks up intense red fruit, plum, berry, a note of liquorish and even a hint of vanilla from the barrel.
But it is the 2014 Merlot, twelve months in French and American oak, that is the crowning glory of this tasting and admittedly Annia’s favorite. I wondered out loud, “How does this bouquet find its way to the heart?” She smiles the knowing smile of a philosopher, “It is life in a glass.” A sign hanging on the wall states, “Friends don’t let friends wine alone.” With that I said to Annia, “No one should drink this Merlot alone.” It didn’t take a second invitation. She poured and breathed in the fragrance as if it was her first time. This is how good wine is to be enjoyed, like meeting a lover, lingering outside or time. I added, “It’s like diving into a deep well.” The fragrance filled all the senses. The first tasting brought on a soft, “Wow.” The enticing nuance of flavors in perfect balance; dark berries, plum, flowers, with notes of spice and vanilla. Annia searched for words adding, “It is balanced, round, cycling, like a bubble of life.”
Merlot is a tender-skinned grape and must be handled with care and obviously with love in this Quinta Monestario Merlot. It is not the easiest of the grapes to grow. Madeline Puckette, sommelier and creator of Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine, wrote: “It’s time to set the record straight: Merlot wine is first class…it commands the highest respect in the wine world.” By her account it is the “most planted grape variety in France” and a “major player in Italy.” So before you disparage a Merlot based on the movie “Sideways,” come to Quinta Monasterio and taste-test just how Reynoldo and los chosecheros do it in Baja California.