Salud! Glasses and conversation clicked. Three of us were deep into happy hour at Baja Betty’s in San Diego but the talk was all about our travels on the other side of the border. I’m fortunate to live close to Mexico and wander there as often as I can. Not one to skip an opportunity to dine deliciously and commiserate with fellow foodies, the year ended with a spontaneous escape to join a party full of Baja wine and food.
Our van from San Diego rumbled down a dirt road and into the parking lot of Dona Esthela’s Cocina in the midst of the Valle Guadalupe. We tumbled out after the two-hour ride, stretching as we wandered to the backyard, past the small group of men tending to outdoor grills and paused at the field fence where a small cadre of pigs, cows, and geese wandered.
Dona Esthela’s is always morphing (Read about her accomplishments in this earlier post.) On this morning several workers were demolishing the old latrines. The new ones, shiny with their fresh tile, were open across the yard just steps from the dining patio. As she has many times over the past decade, it appears that Dona Esthela’s home restaurant is expanding again. It was Monday and the restaurant was closed to the public while a celebration of Baja wine and food was in progress.
Well into the afternoon we were feted with platters of Dona Esthela’s famous machaca, grilled pork, spiced chicken and endless bowls of gravy-like pinto beans to slather over toasty-warm tortillas. Most of us started drinking well before noon. It would’ve been impolite not to! Wine bottles were cradled like favorite sons as vineyard owners appeared in the doorway and were ushered in with hugs and back slaps. Throughout the day they came and departed, their bottles uncorked and prized vintages savored. Soon a chorus line of empties stood near the door.
Largesse brought me there. Fernando Gaxiola, the founder of Baja Wine and Food, is a master at curating experiences. This time he ushered a small group across the border but not before picking up four ‘special guests’ – pinatas – from a house outside of Tijuana’s Zona Rio.
After our meal, we stepped into the covered patio to swing and cheer as the pinatas were demolished. Surprisingly enough my American compatriots swung hardest. There was no rancor from our hosts about the pinata model. In fact, one of the vintners said,”Kicking Mexicans out of the Napa Valley? Fine, come to the Valle. We have jobs here.”
Sunset at Cuatro Cuatros
The day wore on in sweet companionship then we piled into the van to ride back to San Diego, but not without another treat engineered by Fernando and company. On a hillside above the wide Pacific, through a gated arch we rode into the Cuatro Cuatros property, less than ten miles north of Ensenada. Sunset was racing to its conclusion and soon gilded everyone at the platform bar.
A few ‘very special bottles’ emerged alongside shots of Mescal. The views from the bar swept south to Ensenada and far north. Not far from where I stood, rows of swanky tents waited for guests to tuck in for the night. I look forward to resting there one day and waking to the sunrise glimmering on the waves below. This time, however, it was reward enough to have my Sentri pass help me cross the border swiftly. I was home in time to share tales of my Baja wine and food adventure with my family before bedtime.
Where to go on a Baja wine and food excursion:
- Cocina de Dona Esthela, award-winning chef in the Valle Guadalupe
- Join Baja Wine and Food Tours and events with Fernando Gaxiola and team.
- Cuatro Cuatros – A premier glamping experience above the sea near the Valle.
Wineries to visit: (There’s dozens more!)
- Pick up a Valle Wine Map at any establishment on the way to the Valle
- Monte Xanic – Bodega Vinicola
- Lomita – Hacienda & Viticulture
- Cava Maciel – Vineyards and Restaurants
- Villa Montefiori – Italian viticulture in the Valle
Thank you to Fernando Gaxiola and his team for making the trip possible. As always all opinions are my own.
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I am just planning a trip to Baja, thanks for this informative post!:-)
You are most welcome. There are new places appearing there almost weekly. Let me know if I can be of any help.
I’m sipping on wine as I type this, Salud! Glasses and conversation clicked indeed, this is wonderful!
Salud, Alyssa. I need to pour a glass now myself and relive that fun day.
Looks like a fun day food and wine flowing freely my kind if celebration. … the view by the deck is spectacular with the sun setting!
It was a day I won’t be forgetting any time soon.
What a fun adventure and the pinatas were hilarious! How great to live so close to this region, I sure hope it doesn’t change too much in the coming years.
Their Sonoran Chicken almost makes it worth the trip. That pan is really huge. I wouldn’t mind staying over in a place like this
You’d love the Valle, Karla. So delicious and so much beauty.
Incredible scenery! Looks like a lot of fun being had at the restaurant too, and I secretly want a pot as big as that one held by the cook.
I want the strength she has to use it too!
Firstly I’m so jealous you live so close, San Diego has a special place in my heart. Secondly, this sounds amazing!! There are so many personal touches you must have really felt so special. I love that you were given pinatas – I would visit here for that reason alone! No seriously, it sounds wonderful and I’m really glad you enjoyed yourself.
Thanks, Maddy. It was a pretty special day.
Aw that pig is so cute. The chicken dish looks delicious. I guess you cant really go wrong with wine either well I cant lol
Sitting down to eat delicious homestyle food with wine before noon sounds like an amazing vacation to me. That machaca looks yummy. Now I’m hungry!
It was a quick trip from San Diego but a world apart.
You are very lucky to live near the border, there is nothing better than mexican food and wine. Oh and I would love to stay at the Cuatro Cuatros, it looks so luxurious and the view is breathtaking.
I have to agree about Mexican food with the caveat that every region of Mexico has it’s own cuisine. I haven’t tried them all yet.
Thanks for all the food recommendations. I love al little cheese dishes that can be combined with wine. Soo tasty!
What a great way to spend a day (weekend would be even better). Somehow, I never thought of Mexico as a wine country. Come to think of it, I can’t find any logical reason for that. What type of wines Mexico produces?
The Valle Guadalupe region is one of five around the world with a very particular soil and minerality. Think of Tuscany and Napa. The wines are mostly red with several rare varietals.
This is an area I doubt we will ever get to! But so nice to have it on your doorstep so to speak!
Sunset looks beautiful. Such a fun adventure for the day, right in your own backyard. The pinata would top off my day and make me feel like I really traveled to Mexico.
It was a treat. Not candy filled though!
The food, wine, scenery, and people all make for an absolutely perfect day! If ever in Baja, I won’t hesitate to check out your recommendations. I’d especially love to go glamping Cuatro Cuatros.
BTW- those Piñatas are hysterical.
I hope you get the chance to visit.
Such so lucky to just crossed the border and experience the hospitality and amazing food and wine! Sounds a great day out to the wineries too!
I am so very lucky. From my home to the border takes about half an hour and with my Sentri Pass it’s a swift return as well.
This looks like such a fun time. I love that you finished up the fiesta with piñata bashing. Cool. The food looks so yummy.
The pinatas were a big plus. Bad Hombres.
I am so jealous! The food looks amazing! I was in San Diego a few weeks ago and wanted to cross the border to Tijuana but my family did not let me. They said it was dangerous. 🙁 maybe next time…
Unfortunately, too many people feel as your family does. No matter there’s more fun for the rest of us and Mexicans of all lifestyles know how to celebrate their riches.
The sunset view at Cuatro Cuatros looks amazing. Very romantic! Would love to go there with my husband.
Definitely a romantic viewpoint!
Looks like a good time. You’re lucky to live so close. What will you do after the wall is built:-)
Thanks, Vicki. We’ve had a wall extending into the ocean and far east past Tecate. The border crossings nearby are some of the busiest in the world. People and businesses make do.
Dona Esthela’s Sonoran chicken looks to be enough reason to make this trip south to Baja, but visiting the wineries you mention pushes the idea over the top. Hope I get there soon.
You’d love the area, Carole. So much to enjoy on many levels.
Dona Esthela’s pan of Sonoran chicken looks amazing. Sounds like a wonderful travel and culinary experience.
Truly a special day and place. One of those memorable ones.
Sounds wonderful! I’ll come for a visit! 😉 How is the Baja wine? Hopefully, you had a “designated driver” after all the celebrating!
Come on over, Debbra! The wine is exquisite – especially if you like reds. We were shuttled about in a luxury van – no designated driver woes.