A sea of sparkling silver and red foils dance on the breeze over the green vines, now heavy with ripe fruit. It is harvest time in the Guadalupe Valley. The vines are also wrapped in netting to keep the birds from feeding on the juicy grapes. Turning in off Highway 3 to Tecate, is the main entrance to several vineyards including Solybarro. The vineyard is beautifully groomed with a meandering dirt lane posted at 2mph, as a thoughtful precaution to raising dust that lands on the vines. The Pacific breeze ruffles the silver leaves of the olive trees. The quiet is palatable and alive. Leading off from the visitor-parking is a path to the tasting room, surrounded by lush trees, native cactus and plants. The buildings are one of the main features of Solybarro, built in the cob style using the earth itself and created by traveler, artist, designer and winemaker Aime Desponds. The effect is a beautiful simplicity of building that is a natural part of the landscape.
Swiss born, Aime Desponds first built a round cob home for he and his wife. The vision was already very alive to produce his own wine. Patience is one of the most important qualities for a winemaker and in Aime’s case it also extended to the cob construction of his winery. His whole heart is aligned with nature and how to embrace sustainability in production. He utilized both sandy soil carved out from the construction site, then added a clay soil and hay to create the mud. Layer upon layer, allowed to dry, creates a structure that is two feet thick and withstands all weather situations. One might think that rain would harm the outer wall, but in fact this method of building can be dated back 800 years where 11th century buildings still stand.
Entering into the almost hobbit like winetasting room is like stepping into another world, surrounded by the thick mud walls. Subdued lighting sets an ideal ambiance. A cozy bar with sparkling glasses and dark wine bottles invites the serious wine lover to relax and enjoy. Silvia Decolatti is pouring today. She is a bright spirit that exclaims, “This isn’t my work!” then laughs and says, “It’s my joy! I love my job and everything about.” Wine lovers will not find a drop of grandiosity as they sip the superb handcrafted wines. Silvia herself is a sommelier and also serves as administrator. With lively banter she pours the Malvoisie. A unique grape to the region that goes back to the Greek Islands. This white wine does not pass through the barrel. It is fresh and crisp with a very pale sparkle. The aroma had notes of pineapple and green apple. A nice leggy run on the glass suggested a balanced alcohol and the finish lingered nicely. Malvoisie calls for a deep chilling and promises fun under a stately shade tree or nice luncheon.
One of the things that is important to Aime Desponds is that people bring with them a deep appreciation and understanding of what it takes to produce very good wine. Each glass contains the sun, soil, rain and climate. Each glass contains the heart of the vintner. All this is transferred to the person in each tasting. There is a relationship between the wine and those who come to explore this region. For those that have an interest in expanding their experiences of Baja wines, Solybarro gives special care while informing. Aime kindly suggests that parents let their children play outside on the shady patio. This allows the adults to fully engage in the tasting experience, while Silvia carries on a lively banter telling of the origins of the original grapes. The 2014 blend of Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon has a unique color of a dark red beer. The bouquet is rich with fruit and the taste has an enjoyable elegance with perfect balance. The next sample in this very juicy lineup is the Barbera and Nebbiolo blend. What a treat. It dazzles with vibrant dark red cherry color and fruity aromas with a note of spice. Silvia reveals her appreciation for this blend, “This is an old wine with an ancient soul.” Aime has labeled this red wine as “a well-balanced Italian style red wine that pairs nicely with steak, pizza, cheese and pasta.
Aime leads us from the winetasting room to the production area which is spacious and open, allowing the Pacific breeze to blow through. The white washed walls are lined with his art and several of Silvia’s work. All attention goes into making the wine with natural resources that create a sustainable off-grid production. Water runs through tubing for cooling the fermenting grape has to be watched and never allowed to go past a certain temperature. The production of moving the fermented juices to barrels is done with a gravity feed system. We venture down to the cava. This quiet and intelligent man stops to describe the construction. The land was carved out to accommodate a portion of the cava to be underground. The earth removed was then used to create the walls, finishing the cava with the thick cob insulation. Aime runs his hand over the rough sod, remembering the days when it was slick dark mud. He used an ancient form of creating archways that required only a heavy chain and gravity. The arches are one of the many features that makes this architecture so special. Entering a cava is always a special time. There is a drop in temperature and a sense of reverence as the barrels come into view. Like sleeping giants, the wine inside is very much alive and going through the aging process, always changing, until Aime deems it perfect for bottling. Solybarro maintains a small production each year. This choice comes with a pure intention to maintain the winemaker’s standard of perfection. Solybarro is an exemplar of true artful living.