Mexico’s Wine Country: A day in Valle de Guadalupe

Last weekend we packed our bags and headed into Baja California, Mexico to spend time exploring the Valle de Guadalupe near Ensenada. It takes about an hour to drive to Ensenada from the San Diego-Tijuana border (San Ysidro crossing), but once you reach the town, it’s only 20 minutes to Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico’s wine country.

Once we reached Ensenada, we followed the highway clearly marked “Wine Route” and after about 20 minutes, started seeing wineries and clearly marked signs. As you can see, not all the roads are paved, so be prepared for a few potholes and to kick up some dust. We have heard there is a map of Valle de Guadalupe wineries, but couldn’t verify if they actually exist. If you get your hands on one, keep it for your next trip and send me a digital copy!

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We spent a full day driving through this beautiful valley with a vague list of the wineries we wanted to experience. We shared tastings at three wineries, shopped for local cheese, and explored the area.

We ushered in our adventure with a tasting at Viña de Liceaga.

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The Viña de Liceaga tasting room offers ample seating if you’d prefer to take your time wine tasting or share a bottle. Just as we were leaving, a band was setting up to play live music.

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Most wineries in Valle de Guadalupe are open from 11am to 5pm on weekends with extended summer hours. If there’s a particular vineyard you can’t miss, it’s important to verify before you make the trip.

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Viña de Liceaga also offers outdoor lounge-style seating.

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On our way to Barón Balch’e, we passed the famous Adobe Guadalupe. One of these days we’ll splurge and stay at this classy Bed & Breakfast right in the heart of Mexico’s wine country.

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Barón Balch’e’s tastings are a unique experience. You buy your tastings from the menu (see photo below)  and a guide takes you downstairs to a semi-private cellar for the tasting. It sure beats being in a tasting room and standing at a counter with 75 other people! The downside: It felt a bit sales-y… our guide talked up their premium wines which are nice wines, just not worth the high $100+ USD mark-up, in my opinion. The guide also spent time proudly bragging about Barón Balch’e having the most expensive wines in Mexico. A minor annoyance.

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Am I glad we visited Barón Balch’e? Yes, because we knocked it off our Valle de Guadalupe “to do and taste” list. Would I go back? Not for a wine tasting, but I’d give their restaurant a try.

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Spend some time driving through Valle de Guadalupe with no set itinerary. You’ll want to stop for views like this:

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We had no set plans for a third winery, so we made a last minute decision to check out Emevé Winery. It turned out to be our favorite of the day. The wines were great and sitting on the front porch while we tasted was relaxing.

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Our peaceful table. Next time we’ll bring a picnic.

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At Emevé, we decided not to share our tastings. I chose a white, rosé, and a few reds. Ricardo decided to go with exclusively reds. While the white is worth writing about, the reds take home the accolades at Emevé. Next time I’ll get his tasting.

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It’s just too bad we couldn’t take a case of Emevé wines back home. If you live in California and are driving back over the border, you’re allowed ONE bottle of wine per person. It’s so sad.

So we bought a bottle each and smiled for the camera in the vineyards at Emevé before driving back to Ensenada for the night.

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On our way home, we passed by this wine and cheese shop. Rumor has it, they make amazing cheese in Valle de Guadalupe, so we needed to see for ourselves.

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And sure enough, the shop is lined with local cheeses you can taste.

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A favorite was the Queso con Chipotle. We bought a few different cheeses and tostadas to enjoy with a bottle of wine back at our hotel suite in Ensenada.

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Supporting Conservation: The Gift of #JustOneRhino

Photo by Bret Love-Green Global Travel-2Photo by Bret Love, Green Global Travel

It has been a sad week in the rhino world. A few days ago, one of the six remaining white rhinos in the world passed away at the San Diego Zoo, leaving only five left in the entire world (all of which are in captivity). The black rhino is facing a similar dilemma, which is why TravelPlusWine is supporting the #JustOneRhino campaign.

Unfortunately, poaching is a profitable business and will continue unless economics change. Rhino horns are valued at about $45,000 a pound on the black market due to their supposed healing and aphrodisiac properties, although there’s no scientific evidence to back any claims.

A rhino is poached every 7 hours and if this continues, they’ll be extinct in 20 years.

About the #JustOneRhino campaign

TravelPlusWine is proud to join forces with 125 of the world’s top travel bloggers to support the efforts of the #JustOneRhino campaign. Travellers Building Change and Green Travel Media are generously donating their time and contacts to help pull this together.

In a nutshell, the #JustOneRhino campaign supports the Rhinos Without Borders project run by National Geographic Explorers in Residence and wildlife conservation advocates, Dereck and Beverly Joubert of the Great Plains Foundation.

Their plan is to aid conservation efforts by moving 100 rhinos from South Africa (where efforts to save these animals have been in vain) to Botswana, where the rhinos can be more easily protected. Although the campaign costs over $5 million, the #JustOneRhino campaign is looking to raise $45,000 to help – you guessed it- just one rhino.

Photo courtesy Susan Portnoy-The Insatiable Traveler-5Photo courtesy Susan Portnoy - The Insatiable Traveler

Donate and win

For those who donate to the #JustOneRhino campaign, about 20+ sponsors are offering up more than $30,000 worth of travel-friendly prizes to raffle including safari tours and resort stays! The more you donate, the better your odds of winning.

Prizes to be raffled include a 10-day Galapagos voyage with International Expeditions, an African Big Five Safari with Adventure Life, seven nights at Cobblers Cove Hotel in Barbados, a 10 nights’ stay and wellness package at Yemaya Island Hideaway & Spa in Nicaragua, amazing offerings from Secret Retreats in Asia, and so much more…

This campaign is entirely volunteer- based, so rest-assured every penny donated will go to help save the rhinos in South Africa.

If you’re not sure what to give that friend or family member for a birthday or holiday gift, consider the gift of #JustOneRhino by donating in their name. Maybe they’ll invite you on that South African Safari they win, thanks to you!

- DONATE NOW -

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Musings from home base: Travel the world, appreciate home

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As much as I love to travel, I also appreciate my time at home. Nomadic life has its privileges, but so does spending time at home base between trips.

The routine: Once upon a time, I was anti-routine. Perhaps having a kid changed this, but now I love to establish little routines whether I’m at home or on the road. I’m a huge fan of slow travel for this reason. When we’re in Los Angeles, I embrace the “me” time that I can’t get sharing a hotel room with the family.

My kitchen: There comes a point in time when I don’t want to sit in a restaurant for another meal. When I’m not traveling, I get my organic produce box from Abundant Harvest Organics and create the most amazing dishes, often inspired by my travels and the wine in my cellar. In my kitchen, I know I’ll have all the tools I need (like my Vita Mix, not exactly travel friendly!).

An evening glass of wine: Ok, so I typically enjoy a glass of wine when I’m traveling too. But when I’m at home, there’s something so peaceful about dimming the lights and savoring a leisurely glass of wine at the end of a long, productive day. Sometimes I just don’t feel like paying restaurant prices or a feeling obligated to tip.

2012 OZV Lodi wine

Here’s a wine I recently tasted : 2012 OZV. I first experienced a taste of this winery at a wonderful little Italian restaurant near our house in Los Angeles. When I was given the opportunity to taste this Old Zin Vines Zinfandel from Lodi, I jumped at the chance. The first thing you need to know: It’s a total food wine. If you drink this Zin alone, it’ll come off as too jammy. This intense, vibrant, and fruity wine deserves a pizza or steak. Rich, fatty foods will soften the wine and improve both the eating and drinking experience. You’ll be happy to know this winery sells their good cheer throughout the US.

(Top photo by .shock)

Gift of Travel: Why Hurtigruten is a different kind of cruise


Torghatten, near Brønnøysund, Nordland.

If you’re considering a trip to Norway to see the Northern Lights or want a different kind of winter escape, it’s worth researching Hurtigruten Cruises. There are huge savings ahead of the holidays on a few Norway voyages (see the Northern Lights from only $879 per person!).

Here are 5 reasons why you’ll experience a different kind of winter getaway with a Northern Lights Norway cruise with Hurtigruten:

Gift yourself or loved ones a different kind of experience.

Instead of gifting things this holiday season, consider the gift of a unique experience. The latest tablet will be old news 6 months from now, but the memories (and photos) of seeing the Northern Lights from a Hurtigruten cruise in Norway will be around for many years to come.

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See the Northern Lights and cross the Arctic Circle… from the comfort of a warm cruise ship!

If you’re like me and aren’t a huge fan of standing outside in the freezing cold for long periods of time, you’ll appreciate seeing the Northern Lights from the window of a warm, dark room on the ship. Or, if you dare, sign up for the Arctic Wonders cruise and enjoy a night in the Snow Hotel, constructed entirely from snow and ice each year.

between Tromso and Skjervoy

Enjoy different kind of excursions and winter activities.

As much as I love a good Nordic ski trip, I can do this back home. I can’t, however, sleep in a Snow Hotel, enjoy a hearty Lofotr Viking Feast, pet a reindeer, buzz around the Arctic Wilderness on a snow mobile, or dog sled through the night as the Northern Lights dazzle above.

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Select Winter Coastal Voyages have savings up to 30% RIGHT NOW!

Hurtigruten operates on a variable pricing system whereby prices remain low until higher occupancy levels are reached. Right now, a lot of prime space is still available meaning… it’s the perfect time to book! The 6-day Northern Lights Package with 1 night hotel is starting at only $879 per person.

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Travel with purpose.

Each Hurtigruten cruise is a purposeful voyage covering more than 1,000 miles of Norway’s pristine costal waterway. You’ll explore stunning fjords, beautiful villages, and UNESCO World Heritage sites. I love that you can select a number of Hurtigruten voyages with educational components, including guest experts. It satisfies my intellectual curiosity.

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Whether you’re looking to book this winter or considering a Northern Lights cruise in the near future, it’s worth exploring Hurtigruten’s website or signing up for their mailing list for the latest updates and travel deals.

A special thanks to Hurtigruten Cruises for sponsoring this discussion. I have had my eye on cruising Norway for several years, so the enthusiasm is my own.

5 Things to Love About Bordeaux Wines

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As a wine enthusiast, one of my favorite things to do is taste dozens of wines from the same geographical region or a varietal side-by-side.

Last week I had an opportunity to attend a Bordeaux Master Class and taste a hundred plus wines at the Bordeaux Under One Roof event in West Hollywood.

I know what you’re thinking, so I’ll answer the question that I know is on your mind: Yes, I spit. No, I don’t get drunk or even buzzed.

Now back to business…

I’ve always been passionate about French wines and particularly interested in Bordeaux. If you’re looking to know a few basics, here you go:

1. Bordeaux wine is affordable.

And there are obviously some amazing wines out there. Many of the Bordeaux wines you can find in the United States are priced between $10-$55. In fact, some of my favorite wines at the Bordeaux Under One Roof tasting were under $15. Now you can make a wonderful bottle of Bordeaux your next “table wine.” I love a big bang for my buck and Bordeaux delivers on quality.

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2. Bordeaux wines are (almost) all blends.

The reason? Winemakers believe each grape variety contributes its own unique characteristics to create a higher quality wine. That’s my kind of sipping!

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3. Bordeaux reds rock.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. I noted small percentages of Malbec, and Petit Verdot in a few wines, but not many. In fact, 89 percent of the wines made in Bordeaux are Red and Rosé. Unfortunately they only had one Rosé at the tasting and this Rosé fan (oui, moi!) was disappointed to not see adequate representation.

Impress your friends with this knowledge: Bordeaux is geographically divided between what they refer to as the Left Bank and Right Bank. Turns out, the Left Bank is perfect to grow Cabernet Sauvignon due to the gravel in the soil. The Right Bank is best for Merlot thanks to the clay and limestone.

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4. Bordeaux Whites… so few, yet so delightful.

Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, and Muscadelle. A few blends have a bit of Sauvignon Gris, which adds a rich lush depth to the wine and added aromatics. Eight percent of Bordeaux production is comprised of dry white wine. Love ‘em, love ‘em, love ‘em!

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Image via Bordeaux.com

5.  Dessert wine? Sauternes is amazing. 

This is a sweet wine from the Sauternais region of Bordeaux and made from Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle.

While I’ve never loved sweet wines, Port and Sauternes are exceptions to my rule. I love how the acidity balances the sweetness of this delectable wine. It would pair well with anything from a Ginger Crème Brulée to Wild Mushroom Tacos (Mexican food lovers rejoice!). Three percent of the wines made in Bordeaux are sweet white. My personal favorite and not represented here is Château Coutet.

PS- If you want to geek out on everything Bordeaux Wine related, head over to Bordeaux.com and knock yourself out!

**I was invited as press to attend the Bordeaux Under One Roof event in West Hollywood. All opinions and tasting/spitting are my own.**

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