I have heard Drew’s name around the campfire when traveling with my Off Road buddies. It didn’t mean anything at the time, I guess I was not thinking clearly. My partner, Eric Morley, had been telling me for months that, just like the wine, Deckman’s was a “Must” experience in the Valle.
Eric and I finally found ourselves at Deckman’s, late in the evening, on a Sunday. They were happy to take us in as the last guests of the night. I dropped Eric and our guest off at the front entrance while I parked. Remember—in the Valle at night, it is pitch black!
This was where my love affair with Deckman’s restaurant and Drew began. As I walked into the open-air kitchen, I saw Eric talking to Drew like they were long lost friends. I assumed that Eric knew Drew and had just never eaten at the restaurant. That’s when Drew walked over to me with a big smile on his face, a firm handshake and a hug. He showed us a table right in the heart of the action and told us he had some special wine for us to try. We were given one of his best servers who quickly showed us around the menu and made some great recommendations.
At Deckman’s, the entire kitchen is outside and in plain view as you walk into the seating area. The flames roasting vegetables, the open fire cooking tortillas, and the variety of meats on the grill all make for an incredible aroma begging you to order everything on the menu. I am a steak person so I immediately notice a rib eye on the grill, the size of a small car. It’s perfectly seasoned with sea salt and flame. I already know that’s what I am going to order.
Drew is known for his seafood and, more specifically, his oysters. You do not want to miss the oysters. The corn tortillas and fresh bread show up to the table with a wonderful green dipping sauce. This is about the time where the grilled items start showing up along with more fresh seafood, eclectic vegetables seasoned and cooked to perfection, platters of yellow tail sashimi with peppers and fresh olive oil, grilled quail, and the most amazing, roasted, melt in your mouth, bone marrow you have ever tried.
It’s at this time that the grilled rib eye shows up. It is always cooked to perfection, served on a family size platter, sliced thin for the table to enjoy, and has the most incredible flavor I have ever tasted in a steak. The combination of sea salt, a hot fire on the grill, the wood used to make that fire, and the time it has been cooked, all equal absolute perfection.
On a few occasions the meal has been accompanied with the smoothest and most delicious mashed potatoes I have ever tasted. Drew was happy to share the recipe—Butter, Cream, Potatoes!
If you have room for dessert, order up. I have tasted a little bit of everything he has on the menu. I suppose it’s the farm to table aspect of collecting fresh eggs, milk, and cheese (and I am sure the list goes on) that makes his desserts stand above all others in the Valle. My favorite is his chocolate tarts and vanilla ice cream.
Deckman’s is a special place for everyone to enjoy. Plan on a wonderful experience that you will never forget. Come early and enjoy the landscape and the views. Stay for the food and wine. Introduce yourself to Drew and feel at home just like I have this last year. Hopefully I will see you there.
Cheers! Jim Riley - CEO of Adventure
My trips to Baja traditionally start early in the day so I can beat San Diego traffic as I blast towards the border as I crave some street tacos and a Mexican Coca Cola in a bottle. I have Motown music on the radio, thanks to Candela Bar in LA. I know that after crossing the border, a few quick rights, and one big left towards the toll road, a little more than five dollars in toll payments, and a terrific view, I will be just north of Ensenada.
My first stop is always El Trailero Taco Stand along the highway. My standard order is three Al Pastor tacos with fresh avocado, no onion, and an ice cold Coke. There is something about sitting in an open-air restaurant looking out at the busy streets that immediately transports me to another time and place. Maybe it’s the year’s worth of race team stickers posted all over the walls and air ducts above the grill. Or maybe it’s just the incredible memories I have shared on that patio with fellow racers and friends that have helped me support the orphanages over the years. Regardless, I feel like I’m at home.
After a great meal and a few bucks, I am ready to hit the Valle. My first stop is at the Santo Tomas winery. They are the oldest winery in the Valle and have an incredible selection of wines and olive oil. I am always greeted with a smile from Ruben as he dazzles me with some new knowledge at the wine counter. Ask him to take a tour and you will never think of wine the same way. He is a master at description and Baja wines.
When I leave Santo Tomas I like to make a quick stop at the local cheese store. It’s just east of Santo Tomas winery before the first light on the right. And yes, directions are that easy in Mexico. The cheese is fresh and they have over a dozen choices to choose from. It’s my wife’s favorite thing to enjoy down there or when I bring it home. Besides, if the border wait is long, it could be your dinner.
My next stop is Monte Xanic. They have been producing luxury wines in the Valle for thirty years. You must have an appointment to tour the facility but it’s worth the extra effort. Besides, you know Baja United if you are reading this—they will surely get you an appointment if you ask. The drive up to Monte Xanic is stunning. Some of their oldest vines are at the entrance on the East side and on the West side is a flower farm where you can see them harvest almost year around. You gain access to the property by passing a lake and the hillside winery. You are able to taste through a number of varietals but I like to try the ones that are not available anywhere else but there. You can’t go wrong with the Gran Ricardo or the latest Grenache for 2018. Take your time and enjoy the view.
Sometimes when I leave Monte Xanic I head over to the Russian Empanada restaurant. Most people don’t know that the Valle is filled with Russian immigrants but in 1905 the Mexican President, Porfirio Diaz granted a Russian sect 13,000 acres in the Valle De Guadalupe. It’s worth the stop and it’s only five minutes from the winery. The easiest way to order is just ask for one of each type of empanada. Another major discovery for me in the area. They have a great little store there to buy dipping sauces and olive oils.
The final winery for my day is always El Cielo. This is one of the most beautiful properties in the Valle with all the amenities you might need. The winery itself is a must see with the barrel aging rooms and beautiful area for tasting wines. This is the place that I realized Baja Mexico had some of the most incredible wines. I was introduced to the Cappicornes Chardonnay here and knew that would be my next favorite wine. Period.
Jim Riley, CEO of Adventure
A few weeks ago, on a warm Los Angeles day, I opened up the Monte Xanic 2016 Sauvignon Blanc from the Valle de Guadalupe in Baja, Mexico, and was immediately was taken back to the first time I visited the region. I recalled standing on the deck of Monte Xanic on a hot summer day, looking out at the spectacular view of the Valle de Guadalupe. It was my first trip to Valle de Guadalupe and I was in awe of the modern winery that sat in the middle of the rustic valley.
The Monte Xanic 2016 Sauvignon Blanc is a straw gold color with a green tinge. Tiny little bubbles show the youthfulness of the wine which looks like it is jumping within the glass. Putting my nose to the glass, fruit aromas rush to the front. We are not talking New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with strong aromas of gooseberry and green grass. Rather, citrus notes such as lemon and passion fruit and tropical notes such as pineapple are all in the glass, as well as a sour-patch character. On the palate, the wine is subtler. It fills the palate and coats the tongue with notes of sour lemon. There is medium acidity and a medium finish. But just when you think you have finished tasting the wine, your mouth will water, and you will want another sip.
The Monte Xanic 2016 Chenin-Colombard offers a bit more body than the Sauvignon Blanc. A pale gold color, it is made with 98% Chenin Blanc and 2% Colombard. The wine has aromas of red apple, apple skins, lemon and notes of hibiscus flower. The wine hits the front of the palate with notes of lemon and tart pineapple and then tucks under the tongue, making the mouth water. The elegance in the nose of the wine and delicate acidity on the palate make me crave food.
The Monte Xanic Chardonnay 2015 is a bright yellow-gold color with aromas of lemon curd, apple, passion fruit and brown spices. The wine hits the back of the palate, leaving a little tingle of acidity on the front of the palate. More fruit driven than other Chardonnays, I enjoyed this wine over two days and found the wine opened up more on the second day, expressing notes of pear and lemon.
Located 15 miles from the coast, the Valle de Guadalupe experiences hot and dry summers, little rain and a breeze that travels in from the coast. These conditions make the area also conducive to ripening red grapes and the Monte Xanic red wines are fruit driven but not over the top. The Monte Xanic 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot is made with 65% Cabernet Sauvignon and 35% Merlot. The wine is a beautiful deep cranberry red color. On the nose, the aromas are intense. There are notes of blackberry, raspberry, pomegranate, sweet tobacco, cedar box and brown spices. On the palate, the wine has soft tannins and the fruits and bramble notes prevail. The acidity is fresh and makes the mouth water, wanting a second sip.
I saved my Monte Xanic Calixa 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah, made with 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Syrah, for a rainy day. A vivid cherry red color, just the color of the wine brightened my day. The aromas of dark cherries, plum, cassis and raspberry jump out of the glass, dominating the vanilla, licorice and spices that poke through. While the nose is quite big on this wine, the palate is less aggressive. This is just a drinkable wine.
As I drink the wines of Monte Xanic, not only do I dream about returning to the Valle de Guadalupe but I am also happy to know that a percentage of ALL of the wine sales goes to Orphanages in Baja.
Allison Levine - Freelance Writing for Wine, Spirits, Food, Travel
Certifications: WSET Level 3, Italian Wine Specialist, Barsmarts wired
Contributor: Napa Valley Register, California Winery Advisor, ATOD, Drizly and more
Baja Is Calling
If you don’t know what I’m talking about then you have never been to Baja. This is a magical place that hits your soul and never leaves. I am fortunate enough to have been traveling South since 1983.
In the 80’s, the roadside was plastered with Corona Beer stands where you could buy beer by the case and you had to return the empty bottles. Those were the days when the surf line-up consisted of one local on a swap meet board and a couple dolphins in the distance. We bought cheap roadside tacos and fresh bread from the Panaderia.
Now it’s tough to find a surf line-up not filled with surfers and fisherman. The Corona beer stands are overrun by OXXA stores (selling all kinds of good stuff) and the taco stands still sit in the same places.
I like to go on a weekday to avoid the crowds and discover the real adventure that now resides on the roads of the Valle De Guadalupe. The best parts can be found in the wineries and the restaurants. Almost every place is down a dirt road and feels undiscovered. The doors are open, the signs are welcoming, and the wine is terrific.
It’s nothing like Napa where you feel like you need a reservation and a Porsche to get through the gate. As a matter of fact – a good old fashioned pick-up truck does just fine in the Baja wine country. I have made countless friends in the last twelve months of traveling through the Valle. All you have to do is stop and say, “Hello.”
Most wine owners are unassuming and willing to tell their story. I was surprised to hear how successful many of them were. They are almost untouchable amongst their corporate lives in Mexico City, yet here they want to share every detail of their passion for wine.
I could talk about each and every wine and what I love most about them but this story is more about encouraging you to get in your car and drive South. In less then an hour from the Tijuana border you will reach Hwy 1. From there, head East and look for the first sign that catches your eye. Don’t be afraid to hit the dirt road and create your own adventure.
Get out of your comfort zone and see what genuine Baja hospitality is all about. The restaurants are a little harder to find but if you ask a local, they will tell you where the best chilaquiles are every time. After you spend a day down there, you will know why Baja is calling.
CEO of Adventure
To be honest, I feel like a review of “current vintage” Gran Ricardo is premature. Everything about this bottle – thick glass, waxed over cork, deep punt - screams “take me seriously!” and “give me time,” but I also think it’s fair to treat this wine with the immediacy expected by consumers.
One of the more traditional blends produced in the Valle, the Gran Ricardo is arguably also one of the best-known prestige bottlings. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot, this herbaceous, dusty, Mercurial presentation showcases a graphitic minerality not often associated with Mexican wines. New French Oak is a recent hallmark of top bottlings from the Valle de Guadalupe, and is no stranger here, but the cedar and spice add a rustic edge to Gran Ricardo, keeping it complex and subdued at once.
Full-bodied but not jammy, I am intrigued with the generous blackberry, plummy fruit and savory green herb notes of the wine. The current vintage is rocky and structure-heavy, which makes me curious to see older vintages, as this wine has staying power. Still showy a day after being opened, this is an easy pairing for the spectacular pasture-raised, local grass-fed beef of Baja, or for richer, gamier meats as well. The Valle de Guadalupe is known for unconventional blends, but the quality of Gran Ricardo is a testament to both the time-honored Bordeaux blend of grapes, the terroir of the region, and the quality of Monte Xanic’s winemaking capabilities. Cheers! Molly Brooks Advanced Sommelier WSET Level III
My experience with the Cabernet/Syrah blend comes primarily from Australia, where the two grapes are commonly planted in the various regions of South Australia, both as single variety or as blends. Perhaps the most commercially renowned wine of Australia, Penfolds Grange, is a bold, intense blend of Cabernet and Syrah. The wines of the Valle de Guadalupe, likewise, tend to be big on fruit, oak, body, and general intensity. My expectations for this wine, then were colored by my previous experience. I was pleasantly surprised by the wine in the glass.
Though dark ruby in color, the wine itself was clear, glassy, and somewhat transparent, rather than inky or opaque. Ripe fruit hovers in the bowl of the glass – dark cherries, plum skin, rich crème de cassis, soft raspberry. A smokiness wafts through the wine as well, like sweet mesquite. This wine sees some oak, as many red wines from the Valle do, but the vanilla is subdued by bright fruit.
On the palate, juicy red fruit dominates, with raspberry again, cranberry, dried currant, and black cherry. A pillow of fruit is corralled by moderate tannin and a savory, sweet-tomato note. A hint of cedar, toast, and caramel – or should I say dulce de leche? I’ll admit that it’s a bit softer than I expect from these to grapes, but it works. A wine that makes me salivate and think about adobada pork, mole, and grilled, charred chicken.
This wine is downright drinkable! And that’s no knock on it. As wine professionals, we learn to love a little jarring of the palate: monstrously tannic Barolo, enamel-lifting Riesling, austere and mysterious Chablis. Our guests are not always looking for those tasting notes, or price tags. This is an easy-going “red blend” with a little adventure. Cheers! Molly Brooks Advanced Sommelier WSET Level III
I’m not new to wines from the Valle de Guadalupe, and Monte Xanic’s wines are not new to the region, either. The winery just turned 30, making it one of the oldest in the Valle de Guadalupe (and, let’s be honest, older than the majority of wine labels up and down the California/Baja California coastline!).
The Valle de Guadalupe is an arid climate with warm, sunny days throughout much of the year. Breezes and cool air sucked in from the Pacific Ocean cause a pretty shocking diurnal shift. I check the temperature against my hometown of San Diego daily, and while daytime temperatures may be a few degrees warmer in the Valle de Guadalupe, nighttime temperatures routinely see a dramatic 35-40 degree drop in temperature. Still, in a land of abundant warmth and sunshine, producers focus on white grapes that maintain acidity throughout ripeness.
The Vina Kristel is just that; crystal clear bordering on green in the glass. Pretty, clean, packaging that screams “no oak here!” I am not misled. The fruit in the glass is ripe, but still green. Fresh pear, lime juice, tropical notes of dragon fruit and honeydew, lime blossom, and healthy, wet green grass. This fruit profile is echoed on the palate. Sweet grassy notes, juicy but moderate in body. Acidity on the palate is pleasantly bright, and the wine is texturally rounded, almost oily but not flabby.
This Sauvignon Blanc is not as assertive as New Zealand, not as linear, mineral, or chalky as Sancerre, and doesn’t see the oak of Bordeaux or more voluptuous California styles. In an approachable style that steers down the straight and narrow of Sauvignon Blanc, this would be a great “goes-together-goes-together” pairing for soft, fresh cotija cheese, or richer goats milk, and as a palate-cleanser for the fresh shellfish & seafood for which Mexico’s northwest coast has become famous. An excellent pairing as well for Caesar salad, which was, after all, invented in Baja California’s capital city, Tijuana! Molly Brooks - Advanced Sommelier WSET Level III
Monte Xanic Winery is the reason I believe people ask me if the Valle De Guadalupe is the next Napa Valley. Monte Xanic was the first to produce a luxury wine from Mexico recognized around the world. They have a state of the art facility with the wine to back up any and all claims. In order to get a tour you must first obtain a reservation which is not that hard to do but don’t forget – the gate security is on point. Once you pass through the gates you will immediately notice the size of the property and the natural setting of the winery itself. On the west side of the dirt road there is a flower farm with several varietals that are seen around town on the tables. Arranged with perfection. The balance of the property is grape vines and a large water reservoir. The winery itself sits in the hillside utilizing the granite as the walls for the barrel room. There is a small cottage on the waters edge for picnics and wine tasting if you want to stay outdoors. I would highly recommend heading straight to the main tasting room and enjoy the views and some top-notch wine education. They have several varietals to choose from and I have a hard time picking a favorite. My wife is a big fan of the Calixa Cabernet Syrah, which is soft on the pallet and easy to enjoy. The winery just celebrated its 30th anniversary and they have a rich history amongst its founders. Even at this major operation that is intimidating, you can often find Hans Backhoff the owner, driving around in his new Jeep. Monte Xanic is the first partner to believe in the vision of Baja United and its mission to “Live with a Purpose”. It’s not easy to pick just one varietal from Monte Xanic so plan on grabbing a few online at www.bajaunitedwines.com. We are proud to be partnered with Monte Xanic and celebrate our vision together.
Jim Riley – CEO of Adventure
“Make a right and two left turns down a dirt road and you are there,” I am told by the waiter at the Russian Empanada restaurant down the highway. Of course, his definition of a dirt road driveway vs. mine is completely different. But you cannot mistake the rustic signs and the gate that keeps the dogs inside at Valle Girl Vino. Although at first you are not sure if this is someone’s house or place of business. The answer is simple, it’s both! And thank goodness for that as Sitara's future daughter-in-law brings fresh bread out to the table from the kitchen. I usually arrive at Sitars place during off hours so the gates are closed and the dogs are out in the yard. I love this because it’s real life and that’s what we crave the most in humanity. Everyone scrambles to grab the dogs while yelling out to not let them out of the gate. I guess they like cats and know where they are all living locally. Apparently this is a problem since on my last visit my partner let the dogs out on accident and some quick calls were made by Sitaras son to the neighbors to keep the cats inside. “Hmmm..” I think to myself as I envision what this might have looked like if the calls were not made. Not good. Back to the property and Sitara. What most people don’t know is that Sitara will be your next best friend and the reason why you will drive to Baja in the future. She is one of the coolest people on the planet that has a dream and a winery to prove it. She is happy to tell you her story and how she got there. She will also open her patio up to you to taste some very unique blends of wine that she is extremely proud of. Look around and you will see some of the awards she has won and the story behind the labels on her bottles. This is about the time that fresh bread arrives paired with some locally produced olive oil. It’s all rather surreal and enjoyable at the same time. You completely forget about the dogs that got out because by now they are back and lying at your feet. This is the Mexico that I love and try to explain to all my friends back home. Some things you have to experience for yourself. In the meantime you can enjoy any one of her varietals sold online at www.bajaunitedwines.com
Jim Riley – CEO of Adventure
One thing that I really love about traveling through the Valle De Guadalupe is that it’s not too big, which means you can see from one side to the other at the right vantage points. Part of the adventure is to spot something in the distance and just point your car in that direction. It’s not exactly how I discovered Las Nubes but as a first-time visitor, the property can easily be seen from just about anywhere in the Valle. I love that about this location because it proves my point every time – this place has some incredible infrastructure. I like to think of Las Nubes as an Italian Estate on the hillside with its massive rock walls, the color of the roofline, and the bougainvillea flowers that line the winery. The property is also surrounded by Olive trees which help to cut the wind down and protect the grapes. On my first visit I met one of the very unassuming owners, Victor Segura, and he told me all about his vision and why the winery sits where it does now. He lead everyone to the massive rock staircase leading down to the aging room and asked us to take a seat and look out towards the Valle. This is when your thankful for your iPhone camera and the great pictures they take. The view is EPIC. It gets even better when Victor explains how he walked up that hill before anything existed their and looked out on the same Valle and decided, because of this view, he would build his winery on that exact spot. He points out the clouds in the distance and their meaning to him and why most of his wines are named after the types of clouds in the sky. This is the other thing I really enjoy about the Valle De Guadalupe – most owners or partners are very involved in the daily operations and the chances of meeting one of them is very likely. Victor finishes his tour in the aging room while he talks about the climate control, his state of the art building, and where his project is going in the future. By this time, the upstairs patio is filled with locals because they all know this is the best view in the Valle. They also know they can enjoy his perfectly paired wines with the appetizers on his menu that are accented with the Lavender that is grown throughout the property. What I love the most about the wines at Las Nubes, is they are equally as good at home even – without the view. Visit the www.bajaunitedwines.com website and find your varietal.
Jim Riley – CEO of Adventure
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