Sunday, September 6, 2009

Valle de Guadalupe, Part Two - Vinisterra & Tres Mujeres

We were fortunate to have the proprietor of Villa del Valle, Eileen Gregory, and her assistant, Alejandro, make appointments for us at a few more wineries the next day: Vinisterra and Tres Mujeres. Joan and I set off first, however, back up to the east end of the valley to find a store called “Dona Lupe”. It was tucked behind L.A. Cetto (the biggest and most commercial winery in the valley), down a wide dirt road (not surprised?) and backed up against the mountains. Dona Lupe is known for their organic jams, jellies, chile sauces and other hand made goods. I was excited when we entered to earthy herbal scents and wafts of who-knows-what that they were stirring in the small open kitchen behind the cash register.

The store was filled on every wall, in some areas 3 deep, with jams of all kinds: jalapeno, quince and guava, rose petal, pineapple, basil, mint. Everything they grew in their organic gardens were cooked up and canned. I had discovered earlier that all of the jams at our hotel come from this place, as they supply the entire valley with their concoctions. Not only did they have jams, they had a wall of dried herbs with explanations of what medicinal effects they had. They also make their own cheese and even their own cosmetic oils and face creams.

This kind of store affects me like a kid in a candy store, as I am always eager to return home with as much expression of a place as I can fit in my bag. Good thing I drove on this trip, as I suspect my car will be filled by the time I make it back to Sausalito.

After spending about $100 on various items and gifts (all of those 60 and 70 peso prices really added up! BTW the exchange rate is $1 = 13 pesos), we jumped back into the car and zoomed our way to the western side of the valley, to Vinisterra Winery, near a town called San Antonio de las Minas. San Antonio de las Minas looked from the map to be about the same as Francisco Zarco, really a nothing of a town. But in person it was really much more “charming” and condensed, with a colorful row of shops and farmacias lining the main road.

We followed the signs, after turning around a few times. I finally mustered up the nerve to declare outloud to my sister that she was a terrible navigator. I suppose if she wore her glasses more regularly she would have been better, maybe… We eventually pulled up to a beautiful adobe colored building, very modern with sleek lines and grape vines coming right up to edge of the path leading to the front door. A small French woman named Agnes greeted us and we proceeded to a tour of the buildings, the cellar and the grounds. As we looked out onto a vineyard next door where the grapes were not trellised, but grew in “bush” style near the ground without pruning or training, she proceeded to tell us about the history of grape growing in Mexico and how winemaking had been thriving until the President of Spain forbade it. All of the vineyards in the various growing regions had been ripped out. Tequila became the alcoholic beverage of choice and the Mexican people from then on knew very little if nothing about wine. In the last 20-30 years winemaking has helped to stir that a bit, and the bush style vines we looked out on were done in the traditional, old way. According to the serious winemakers though, training and trellising do much to improve the quality and expression of the grapes and so you won’t see anyone who is selling their wine not pruning their vines. It was interesting though, because I did see much of these bush style plantings in small plots around the valley.

The tasting room was cool as we tasted 5 – 6 wines, each paired with a little piece of cheese, or chorizo, and finally, a lavender flavored chocolate truffle. The wines here were the best I had tasted so far, Tempranillo being the main varietal in unusual mixes with Zinfandel, Cabernet, and Syrah. The enologists of this valley are trying to create a specific flavor profile that is uniquely mexico, without trying to emulate the other wine regions of the world: Rhone, Bordeaux, Rioja, etc which is why you won’t find any “traditional style” blends, but a mix of juices one would never think of putting together.

We had to rush out, as I had hoped for a quick taco and we had our last appointment of the day in a half hour. Back out on the main road we looked for that fish taco stand we had been told about. Hmmm, not there. We flipped around at the next break in the road and settled on a roadside stand that was little more than a dilapidated motor home with I am sure no running water, the kind of place you don’t want to look very closely at. My hunger wiped out any reminant of care as I ordered a carne asada taco and my sister ordered a queso taco, sin carne. The wonderful array of salsas in a clean and iced down container were reassuring even as we declined lettuce on the tacos but did say yes to the cilantro and onions (go figure). Our logic was skewed which I was well aware of and intentionally ignored. (which may or may not have contributed to a small bout of Montezuma’s revenge the following day…) The tacos were small, good and piled with chile sauce and guacamole which I ate in about 3 bites. “Hurry up sister, we gotta go”, as she wiped the sauce from her chin and I reved the motor.

Tres Mujeres couldn’t have been more opposite in style, where Yvette and a dog greeted us and we entered their wine cave. The cave was basically a very small adobe room with wine racks lining the walls, hand made ceramics scattered about. A small barrel held a few clean glasses and some open bottles. They only produce about 900 cases of wine here per year, 300 cases each. It a collective, where the women each support one another in making their individual wines, while support themselves financially with “day” jobs. One is a business administrator, the other a biologist, and Yvette is a ceramist. The wines were a bit thin but unique, as they expressed the salinity of the soil and the valley the most of any we had tasted so far. Some others were in the room with us and we enjoyed listening to their lullabic Spanish, understanding a bit here and there. I bought a few bottles of the most interesting wine we tasted, an eclectic blend of they produce by mixing their three wines together. We picked out some ceramic tiles to purchase as we waited for Yvette to label the bottles by hand writing on them in gold pen.

Needing to mix things up a bit, Joan and I decided to stop for a beer and some chips and salsa at Mustafas, a restaurant we had passed many times and was familiar from my research. Mustafa himself was there, in fact his name is Mustafa Ali, originally from Morocco. His English was perfect though, and we chatted with him for a few hours at in the shade of large Ficus trees, views of the southern mountains of the valley in the background.

Back at our hotel and after a much needed swim and recline while watching the sunset, we had a simple dinner which started with a green salad served by Eileen herself with her small granddaughter trailing her closely. This was followed by a filet of beef for me and tombo tuna for my sister, served by our handsome young chef. We shared the dining room with a couple who were celebrating their wedding anniversary that weekend. They had married here in the valley 2 years before.

Grabbing another bottle of wine from the room, Joan and I relaxed on the patio and admired the full moon and lacy clouds that dotted the sky. The weather was perfect and all we could hear was a dog barking way off in the distance. I savored this evening, the patio, the breeze and the peacefulness, as I knew it would be my last for a long while.

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