Great white clouds move across the winter sky, floating above the 3000 ft Miracielo Mountains where the Vinisterra winery nestles at its base. Getting here is easy, just a right turn at the only stop light in San Antonio de las Minas. A series of signs point upward through the community foothills, until one instructs to turn left onto a dirt road. Watch for another small sign pointing to the right. This will bring you to the front portal of an impressive brick and adobe, almost castle like, structure. Take note of the brickwork, which was handmade from the very soil of the valley. Lively sounds of Mexican ranchero music combine with a rooster’s crow, creating a sense of old Mexico.
Walking into the courtyard the vines slumber, leafless. This year, the winter weather has been unseasonably warm with little rain. Miguel Olano extends a warm welcome and brings three wines to the table for tasting. He explains that the vines are a little confused, because they prefer cold and rainy winter months to regroup for the spring growth. “It is kind of like going to bed at night and suddenly someone turns on the lights! The next morning you don’t feel energetic because of the interruption.” Winemakers, always vigilant, will compensate should the rains not come this year. Miguel pours the Domino line, a 2014 tinto blend with 16 months in the barrel. “We are at work for 365 days a year with some phase of winemaking, from tending the soil, grooming the vines as they grow, harvesting, fermenting, aging and finally bottling.” He goes on to tell the story of the Domino line that is actually based on the game of Dominos. Owner, Guillermo Rodriguez, and friends would get together on the ranch, before it was Vinnisterra. They enjoyed sampling wine from the few scattered wineries which were producing at the time. The conversation always included how much they loved the wine. Around the table the idea of making their own was born. The Domino red is a light and fruity blend for those who are being introduced to red wine. It is easy to drink and enjoy in casual settings. Miguel says, “When we first start out drinking wine, we will probably start with something sweeter and easy to drink. But, then comes a time, we become curious and branch out into trying other more developed wines. This way, little by little, we acquire a more mature appreciation.”
Next, Miguel introduces the 2014 Pies de Tierra, loosely translated to footprints of the earth. It is a blend of Petite Syrah and Tempranillo with 17 months in French and American oak. Pies de Tierra is their bestselling label. Guillermo wanted to honor those men and women who work diligently in the vineyards every year, caring for the tender new shoots to the final harvest of the fruit. He envisioned creating a label that would represent their heart and soul. He asked Luis, the foreman, to walk with him into the vineyard. With his own camera he caught the perfect shot, creating the insightful label. Pies de Tierra is the next step for a discerning palate. It is fuller and bolder than the Domino line. It has a beautiful ruby color, with a light bouquet and is well balanced. It begins with a friendly invitation, yet delivers a full rich taste that lingers.
Miguel begins his presentation of the premium wine while Agnes and Frieda, the campo dogs, lay in the sunshine nearby. Miguel pours the 2012 Cascabel, a blend of Tempranillo and Grenache and says, “The Tempranillo grape gives the wine a full body and structure, while Grenache adds light fruit notes.” Winemakers are artists when it comes to using all the elements that go into making very good wine. It starts with the grape, of course. The weather elements of sun, sea breeze and rain are extremely important, patience and passion bring it all to completion. The word Cascabel has several meanings. This label honors the rattlesnake. The Cascabel grapes come from the vineyard in the Santo Tomas Valley, which was the first wine region in Baja. It is much hotter there than the Guadalupe Valley and the rattlesnakes are frequently seen winding their way between the rows soaking up the warmth. They are part of the life of those who maintain the vineyard. “The rattlesnakes were here before we were. When they rattle it is just a nice way of saying, ‘Hey, I’m here.’ They are not aggressive unless you aren’t paying attention, then they don’t mess around.” The snakes are stewards of the vineyard as they keep the moles and other ground animals from feeding on the roots of the plants. Without the snake’s help, there would be less grapes to harvest. The Cascabel blend has 18 months in French oak and shines with a deep ruby red. It opens with a hint of dry fruits, rich in flavors with a nice long finish for pairing.A stately brick home on site can be rented for Vendimia or to watch harvest. Near here is a massive building built into the side of the hill that houses the production area. Trucks pull onto the roof, workers destem the grape, then grape and juice are gravity fed into the massive stainless-steel fermentation tanks below. “It is madness in here during the harvest,” grins Miguel, “people are running all over the place!” Time and temperature are critical at this point. Just across the walkway is the barrel room built above ground, but insulated with the same earthen bricks. As you enter, the stillness is palatable, each barrel is a living thing, resting here for nearly two years. The quality of the aging wine is monitored until just the special moment when Christopher Gaertner, the Swiss Enologist says, “That’s it!” And the bottling begins. When asked why Christopher left Switzerland to come to Baja to partner with Guillermo, he said, “Everything has already been done there.” Baja wines are ever evolving and becoming world renowned for their uniqueness. Visitors are welcomed to walk around the lovely grounds, sit in the shade of a gracious old oak tree and sip a favorite wine. Miracielo mountain rises above this setting, its name translates, Look to Heaven, and is a perfect way to end the day.