In search of the perfect place to leave all stress behind and venture into the hills of the Guadalupe Valley wine country? Look no further. Rancho Malagón is the destination place for those who love the full expression of nature at her best. Traveling on Emiliano Zapata to Francisco Zarco, look for the signage pointing left into the hills. The main entrance is just a couple of city blocks on a wide-open dirt road. Infrequent rains could pose a problem. But today there is a bursting blue sky filled with great mounds of white clouds. There is an adventure waiting as you turn into Rancho Malagón’s open landscape framed by hills of sculptured granite boulders. An old rusting tractor is a reminder of days gone by, when this was Russian farmland.
On the right is the tasting room, an addition to one of the oldest buildings in the valley, an icon of the Russian past when they came to farm in the early 1900s. They planted the Grenache grape, which is now considered “old vine” and highly sought after by winemakers. To the left a narrow dirt road curves out into the valley through the vineyard to Bed & Breakfast. A beautiful church with twin towers was built by the Malagóns and is reminiscent of earlier colonial days. The bell still rings out to call the faithful. What a wonderful surprise awaits at the Bed & Breakfast and restaurant. Mature rose bushes are covered with fragrant white blooms. The four accommodations have a décor of rustic elegance, combined with a feel of peaceful seclusion. Here, there is a central patio where sunlight filters through lovely trees filled with birds’ songs and wood is provided for an evening fire. Below is a deep green lawn and garden setting for wine tasting as well as events. An anything you want for a delicious breakfast is prepared by the ranch chef, served in the bright and airy lounge. Evenings are clear and magical and the stars cover the night sky, their brilliance not inhibited by ambient light. It is only a few minutes away from many fine restaurants in the Guadalupe Valley and only 20 minutes from the night life of Ensenada.
Jose Luis and Rachel Malagón began a “serious focus” in 2000, after purchasing the rancho, wanting to begin to produce their own wine. They had a clear goal of excellence and consistency, each year working in partnership with nature and its cycles. The recognition of Malagón wines has grown so rapidly that they often sell out of a full year’s production. The land is blessed with deep wells which provide through dry seasons; a gift of insight from the first Russian farmers who understood the preciousness of water. Rachel tells the story about how she suggested that Jose Luis plant by the Farmer’s Almanac. At first a little skeptical, he was game and he grins, “It was the best and tallest barely I have harvested for the animals that year.” He now swears by the cycle of the moon and lives closely with the signs from Mother Nature. Jose Luis talks with a passion about the energy that fills the grape clusters which then transforms with lots of love into the wine making. “We are blessed that we are here. We take nothing for granted.”
Just behind the wine tasting room is a grand old tree with a nesting owl and a nesting hawk. This unusual phenomenon allows visitors to see and hear the screech of the hawk overhead. The owl is a bit more elusive. Beyond, a pure white foal, frolics with its moth. Jose Luis and Rachel are very proud parents. The tasting area promotes an intimate setting focused on the enjoyment of Malagón wines. During the tasting, the history, the family and their spirit comes forward, like a rich fruit forward wine. Each one of their many labels tells a wonderful story. 4 M tells of a family’s love and their young daughter’s miraculous recovery from near death. The 2015 100% merlot is so rich it makes you want to swim around in it. Their estate wine comes from 100% old vine Grenache 2014 and dedicated to a significant uncle, while the blend of Grenache and Petite Syrah 2014, Equua, honors water itself; without which there would be no life. It is evident that humor and patience is a big part of a wine’s success. Often there is a surprise for the winemaker and this was so for the bottling of the 2016 Tinto, that Jose Luis called his “Crazy Blend” of five variables. The story is too good to be told here and is worth the drive just to hear the tales of the rancho. The best of all is the legend of the most popular Malagón label, Whistling Donkey, a 100% Nebbiolo. Besides the wine being so good, when combined with Jose Luis’s imitation of the donkey’s bray, there is no way to leave without a bottle. The label reads, “A rich juice inspired by the shriek of the distant whistling donkey, a legend heard from the hills in the late evenings at the Rancho Malagón.”
And just like the wine, a visit or a weekend is a rich experience filled with the wonder of nature’s wildlife, open lands and vast blue skies. And yes, the blessing of stillness. The Malagón family’s philosophy of life, respect for the land, along with their storytelling makes this winery stand out as a one of a kind destination.