Searching for new wine varietals is almost like a treasure hunt for devoted wine drinkers. Since early 2000 there has been a virtual explosion of new wineries in the Guadalupe Valley. While the numbers vary some say, including all the artisanal wine makers, there are nearly a hundred. Now I don’t know about you, but this poses a bit of a challenge. So many wineries, so little time. The attention on Baja California wines is growing as it did in the early 1970s in Napa Valley. Even Mike Dunne, writer for the Sacramento Bee, believes Baja California wines will be giving Napa Valley a run for its money one day soon.
Curious about the hidden winemakers on the outskirts of the more popular wine tasting routes, I contacted Jo Ann Knox Martino, Enologist of VinTango Winery, known locally as Joanna Jones. She was happy to take me on an off-road tour as this issue is close to her heart. Most of the vineyards off the Tecate 3 highway are found by way of dirt roads. Jo Ann was excited about opening up the possibility of creating a group of small wineries sufficient to cause the traveler to make the 15-minute drive on dirt roads from the town of Francisco Zarco. We stopped first at VinTango cava so I could get a sneak preview tasting of Tango Mio, a Chardonnay from her first barrel of white wine. Aging in the barrel, the tasting she shared was already buttery and smooth. Her award winning Two to Tango and Tango Pasión are making themselves known locally for their full dark richness and a number of local restaurants carry her Tango wines.
Just a few minutes away from the VinTango cava, Jo Ann turned into a long winding drive up into the foothills where an unassuming and neatly manicured outdoor area welcomed us with a million dollar view of the valley below. Having called ahead for an appointment, we were met as soon as we drove up and greeted warmly by Alvaro and Mirentxu Ptacnik. They took us down the steps to the bar that was already prepared for us.
Shimul, meaning "clan," offers a choice of three or six tastings that are accompanied by a bread and cheese plate with Mirentxu’s handmade olive oil with hints of herbs and crushed citrus. Alvaro’s first offering was Yumano 2010, its clarity was like the flash of a ruby ring catching the sunlight. Yumano is the name of an Indian Tribe in southern California, part of Arizona and the northern part of Baja California. While savoring the freshness of the Petite Sirah and Delcetto blend, Alvaro told us of his life making his way to this hillside.
The breeze comes up and moves through the vines, touches the mesquite tree, and rustles the silver olive leaves. Conversation is lively as we go on to the second tasting. Alvaro says there is a very special "micro climate" here in this area. The south exposure on the hillside and near the bottom of granite hills is significant. The wind is important for vines' health, free of fungus and molds. The soil is a significant part of the grape growing. Here at Shimul and VinTango there is granite soil. Below in the valley there is clay. The granite is rich in certain minerals which are "sweeter" than what the clay contains. One is not better than the other he hastens to say, just different. The granite does not hold the water like the clay soil, therefore stresses the vines which produces a concentration of flavor. He continues to talk enthusiastically about the perfect conditions and bursts out with "We are the Rodeo Drive of the Guadalupe Valley!"
The second tasting was Korima, an Indian name meaning, "to share in a special social meeting." This bottle carries the first Braille label in Mexico. Korima is a blend of 50% Misión, with Petite Sirah and Dolcetto. As we relish the deep dark berry color and breathe in the lively bouquet, Alvaro says that for him it is important to preserve the history of Mexico in his wines. Korima blends three important influences: the Spanish brought the Misión table grape for their sacramental wines, the French with the petite Sirah and the Italian influence of the Dolcetto. Alvaro shared that the Misión grape is difficult to work with therefore most wineries do not use it. Although this does seem to be changing as people are introduced to it as I was. I have been a fan of the Misión grape for years and was pleased with Korima. The essence of Misión came forward first, followed by what Alvaro calls distinctive layers of Mexican fruit bouquet. The finish was surprisingly complex and so pleasant; I hated to move on to the last selection.
Albarolo 2010 was a standing ovation Nebbiolo. Dark rich color and what Alvaro calls a wine for the serious wine drinker. Both Jo Ann and Alvaro agreed that the Nebbiolo is becoming one of the region’s most popular wines and he went so far as to say that Baja California Nebbiolo is second only to the Italians. There is nothing like moving through a third tasting with passionate wine makers. It is instant friendship. In the warmth of the moment Alvaro boldly stated that the vines tell him what they need, “We learn to ‘hear’ what we are told....of course most people think we are crazy.” We smile a knowing smile, we know it is true.
With Jo Ann's vision of the small vintners joining together "on the outskirts" of the Guadalupe Valley, wine connoisseurs will be invited to explore and enjoy an intimate experience with the passionate wine makers and learn the secrets that the vines have to tell.
Read about Jo Ann and VinTango Winery.