You can skip Tijuana’s long lines and treat yourself to some beautiful scenery by entering Mexico via Tecate. The border crossing (open 6am to 10pm) is far less congested, and south of Tecate lies the Ruta del Vino in the intoxicatingly beautiful Valle de Guadalupe (Hwy 3). Maps of the wine route (available at local hotels, tourist offices and wineries) will help you locate the vineyards.
Dedicated drinkers should designate a driver first, as 90-plus wineries and one brewery await. If you don’t fancy driving, Baja Wine Tours is just one of several reputable tour companies that organize day long wine tours (including lunch) originating from Ensenada or Tijuana. Start at the landmark Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma Heineken Mexico Brewery, which produces Tecate, Dos Equis, Carta Blanca, Bohemia and Sol, among others, and is now under Heineken’s umbrella. Tours are run by appointment only at noon and 3pm Monday to Friday, and 11am and 2pm Saturday. Alternatively just order a brew from the bar. The best place to stay in Tecate is the Estancia Inn Hotel, which has attractive, carpeted rooms with large walk-in showers, and a good restaurant.
From Tecate, head southward, stopping for tours, tastings, lunch and a tipple or two along the way. The vines, planted decades ago, are finally coming into their own, and this gorgeous valley is well on its way to being ‘Napa Sur.’
From Tecate, the first winery you come to (albeit after around 70km) is Mexico's largest producer, L.A. Cetto. It runs tours every half hour, which include the tasting of four wines, one being their highlight cabernet sauvignon. They also offer olive oil, bread and local aged cheese. Further south is one of the most prestigious new wineries in the valley, El Cielo. It opened in 2013 and is a gorgeous property encompassing a winery with tasting room, a sophisticated restaurant and a boutique hotel and spa (the latter was under construction at time of research). Tastings of two to six wines are available. Don't miss the Merlot, one of their premium varietals.
Near here is Bibayoff, a boutique winery set off the beaten path. Its small museum recounts the fascinating history of the Russians who immigrated here in the early 1900s (the current owner is a descendent). Be sure to ask for a taste of the fruity moscatel.
Right on the highway, Liceaga is a well-established winery with a range of wines and the valley’s only true grappa (a strong spirit distilled from grape skins or stems). The tasting fee includes a plate of bread and cheese.
Continuing south, make a stop at the tour center for Santo Tomás. A 50ft wall of wines backs the sparkling tasting room, where the bar is creatively made from an unused wine press. On the tour note the fermenting tanks that double as chalkboards (listing types of grape, their leaf patterns, wine processes, etc). There's also a video presentation and wine-specific laser show.
For those ready to turn in for the night but not ready to leave the valley, La Villa del Valle is a delightful boutique B&B that has a pool, sauna and yoga studio, all with spectacular views of the valley…and they own the Corazón de Tierra, perhaps the finest dining in the Ensenada area. The restaurant looks out over picturesque rolling vineyards and hillsides, and the juxtaposition of rough-hewn timbers and starched tablecloths fits the rustic vineyard motif to a T.