January 13, 2006

El Valle de Guadalupe: Wine with a distinct flavor

By Katia Lopez-Hodoyan

Most people have heard of its existence, its wines and its non-commercialized charm and in essence, these factors have somewhat contributed to the area’s mystery and attraction. Now, thousands living in the border region have begun to take a higher interest in El Valle de Guadalupe and it’s not hard to see why.

Around 1995, there were only about 10 wineries in the valley. Today, there are over 40. Nonetheless, despite this growth, the area has been able to maintain the rustic scenery that contributes to its originality. One must pass through unpaved streets to arrive at the valley, and once there, one won’t find dozens of booths to lure tourists.

Monte Xanic winery is one of the most popular in the valley. It was founded in 1987 when Hans Backhoff’s father decided to develop a vineyard along with other business partners. Today, Backhoff proudly passes through the rows of crops that will one day be his. His work is his passion and wine making is his art.

Backhoff studied Enology in all sectors of the world including France, where he most recently finished a Master’s program.

He often provides extremely personalized tours through the valley where one can begin to comprehend the complexity of wine making.

There, one is able to see the type of care different grapes receive during the reaping process. And only a few yards away, the actual transformation from fruit to wine takes place with a series of pressure tanks and storage units.

But despite, the use of high tech machinery, Monte Xanic is still considered one of the young wineries in the valley. Yet a few minutes away, stands one of the region’s legendary vineyards: L.A C.E.T.T.O. It was founded decades ago by an Italian entrepreneur who resided in Baja California. His descendants now live in Mexico and own one of the most successful wineries in the country. With distributions to over 50 countries, L.A.C.E.T.T.O wines are at the same level as its European and Chilean counterparts.

The past years have definitely brought success to the Valle del Guadalupe, yet other challenges still remain. The core of this business is water. When grapes receive it, they are able to blossom and develop an ideal texture. With the Pacific Ocean only miles away, the soils salty consistency also contributes to the crops’ distinctive taste. However, according to Backhoff, the valley’s limited water supply has instilled fear in vineyard owners. With the population growth of neighboring Ensenada, municipal authorities have transferred much of the water supply to suburban areas that are quickly filling up with new residents. This problem has reached such heights, that a few years ago, top winery representatives met with Mexican president Vicente Fox in El Valle de Guadalupe to address the issue. Federal authorities took notice of the problem because, amongst other reasons, the vineyards pay high amount of taxes on their products, land and exports to the government. Nonetheless, with a simple comment of “there is fear,” Backhoff is lucid about the persisting problem.

The quality of the wines of “El Valle de Guadalupe,” are often compared to those of in the Nappa Valley, but Backhoff differs. He takes great pride in the taste of their wines and says that close to 70 percent of the wine’s taste stems from its soil. A soil that, according to him, can’t be found in any other part of the world. No amount of sunlight, rain, midst or soil consistency is the same in any other region, local or global.

Whether it be France, Italy, New Zealand, The U.S or Mexico, each wine has its own distinctive taste that is unique to what Mother Nature offers in that area. A fact, that El Valle de Guadalupe employees take great pride in.

As time passes, and one continues to see the dozens of wine crops that fill the valley, wine begins to be more than just something to drink. Like the experts and the wine connoisseurs say, the transformation from crop to work of art is evident. Employees personify their grapes, by saying that they are tired, stressed and even happy and by that same token, the crops have covers that protect them from too much sun and water is sprinkled on them to maintain its moistness. At some point in time, it seems as if the grapes are taken away from the fruit category to be placed in the same category where artists keep their paints and brushes. Their work shines on a canvas. An enologist uses a bottle.

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