I have to admit, I am always searching out the hidden wineries off the main road.There is a sense of wanderlust created on “a road less traveled.” I have never been disappointed. At Km 89, off Highway 3, turning left onto a wide well-maintained dirt road is the beginning of meandering through the Guadalupe Valley landscape. Small ranchos interspersed with lush spring growth and masses of wild yellow daisies. The signage is very good and points to another left. This is a little more adventurous as it narrows with dry creek beds that fill with water during the rainy season. The Corona Del Valle has an unpretentious façade as you first pull in, suggesting the wine production is more important than tourism. Yet, the first hint of something special to come is the mass of Lavender plants in full bloom. From here, step inside and receive the welcome.
From the rustic wood entrance to the greeting from the staff is warm and authentic. Corona Del Valle is the family of the popular Corona Hotel & Spa in Ensenada and began with Hector’s decision to make their own wine. It started very small, in order to have each important detail well established, for a good foundation from which to grow. Immediately feeling welcomed, I was escorted onto the patio with tiers of wooden planking, lush bougainvillea in bloom, creating interesting nooks under festive shade cloth. A monarch butterfly floats through on the gentle breeze. The menu is encased in wood covers and written inside is, “We hope that you enjoy this particular place we have created for you.” And from here it just gets better and better. For families with children it is a unique winery as children are welcomed with a playground for soccer, a Jungle Jim for tots and even bicycles. The menu offers children’s plates. The wait-staff gets thumbs up for attentiveness and the variety of culinary delights perfectly balanced with gourmet selections. Trying food less accustomed also fits with the adventure. Lengua with Salsa Verde served to fashion your own tacos was tender and delicious; one would never guess its origins. This accompanied with the Corona’s sauvignon blanc was a winning combination and segued nicely into the wine tasting presented by Saul Colleens.
Saul Colleens, like many upwardly mobile youth of Mexico, knows exactly what his future holds. His passion includes all phases of wine making and his talent is communicating the heart of it, starting with the soil and the sun. His desire is to inform the Mexican people about Baja California wines. His knowledge is extensive. Beyond his studies, he has firsthand experience choosing to include himself in the harvesting. He is well versed in the European tradition of wine making, which allows him to speak about how free Baja California is in making their wines. “It is tradition versus creativity. Vintners are free to express and are not governed by the old world. “
“It’s like a renaissance,” claims Saul. “It is a very exciting time here. Our wines are colorful like the Mexican culture.” Saul goes on to praise Jac Cole, master winemaker and traveler who perfected his art in France, United States and many years in Napa Valley.
It starts with sun and soil, which the Guadalupe Valley has in abundance, but also the kiss of the cool ocean breezes at night which is considered a Mediterranean climate. You can’t single out just one of the most important elements of creating good wine. But water has to be of top importance. At Corona, the family has implemented a patented technique for watering the 40,000 vines. Each vine has a bottle hooked to the overhead watering system. The water is directed into the bottle and directly into the soil at the roots of each vine. Deep watering with no water wasted. They conserve at least 40% of what was once used each year. Corona’s policy is to first research the water availability, then plant accordingly, rather than planet and worry about water later. Saul smiles and says, “Our water comes straight from the sky and after the last rain our reserves are full. We can water from this alone for two years.”
Of course, you can’t have good wine without good grapes. The original seedlings were selected from California and France. Corona’s rule is only the best grape goes into the barrel. When the harvest comes in, it goes through a sorting process far above the standard that is required. Not one over-ripe or green grape is allowed to pass through on the conveyor belt. Not one stem or leaf will make it through the rigid sorting into the pressing. The pure grape juice is then transferred into the gigantic stainless steel fermenting tanks. It is a bit overwhelming to see the behemoth tanks that look like silver creatures from another planet. The cava holds the wine in French oak barrels for 12 months for the red and 6 months for the whites. From the very first sip, one will taste the commitment to perfection.
Saul presents the chardonnay and laughs, “Some people are ABC people, ‘Anything But Chardonnay’, but ours has turned many people as they appreciate a truly perfect chardonnay. It was a surprise for this ABC, with it smooth, soft and creamy balance. “Corona’s chardonnay was accepted on the menu of Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry restaurant in Napa Valley. We are really proud of that.” Saul presents the red wines: Merlot, Malbec, Tempranillo. The Corona family wants people to understand the pure flavor of each varietal. “These are to be enjoyed with the pallet and all our senses.” The wonderfully fruity 2015 Merlot with “friendly tannins” and deep garnet clarity to the luscious complexity or Malbec’s rich round berry. The one blend of 50% Tempranillo, 50% Nebbiolo is what Saul calls the “Signature of Mexico.” It represents the two grapes that are the most favored here. “In this blend is our history, our land and the hands of the people.” The deep ruby clarity glistens in the sunlight, the bouquet is rich berry with a “hint of black pepper, spices and a note of ripe plum.” And oh, the finish, full and filling the mouth, lingers beyond what thought possible. Saul proudly states, “A long finish is the sign of a very good wine.” A visit here is to be submerged in the culture of Mexico, to understand the passion of winemaking and to taste some of the very best wines being made in Mexico.