El Cielo has a wonderfully easy access right off the main road, making it one of the more popular weekend destinations in the Guadalupe Valley. Gustavo Ortega and Daly Negron were influenced by their parents who told them to “dream well and dream big.” There is no doubt this is exactly what the couple did and they brought this dream of heaven to the Guadalupe Valley. Every detail of success was well thought out, including fine dining and a boutique hotel with lake front views. The parking is plentiful with ample handicap access and watchful attendants. The wind blows warm today and we are captivated by the lush green abundance in June. The day has many surprises waiting and the first is the expansive green lawn where the children can play soccer and frisbee. It is also the area for gala evening events. Festive tables with umbrellas are everywhere and stunning blue peacocks strut gracefully by for an unexpected photo opportunity.
The hacienda style complex was built of natural rock. The massive construction required digging deep into the earth to create the gravity fed production area and barrel rooms. This created mountains of natural stone for the building material. Entering of the cool air into the boutique is welcomed. The recessed lighting set a mood and focuses on glass cases filled with lovely silks, jewelry and wine gifts. Thinking of everything one might need, for the kids, there are even soccer balls, caps and frisbees for sale. If you wish to have a wine tasting, the very helpful staff will go over the different packages to suit your tastes. You will pay and receive your tour time. One of the many features is a package for true wine lovers, which includes two tastings with a Sommelier who pours right from the barrels.
Music is playing everywhere and birds sing along from the trees and rafters. While waiting for your tour and tasting, there are two choices for places to eat. Latitude 32, Steakhouse and Baja-Yucatan Fusion, has a touch of elegance with fine service and a gourmet menu. The full menu is included on their comprehensive webpage and includes wines from all over the valley. There is a wonderful view from the patio of the vineyards and mountains. The other choice is a more casual setting at the little Bistro, featuring expresso, cappuccino Frappé and Paninis as well as cold meats and cheese plates. Today, there is an excitement in the air as visitation is brisk. It is time for the tour and more surprises to come.
Our guide, a beautiful young woman named Barbara, takes us down two flights of stairs into the underground production area. One glassed-in room is filled with stainless steel fermentation tanks and across from this is the huge barrel room. Today there are workers topping off the barrels, while others are tasting the wine’s progress. Continuing on, Barbara take us into the underground tasting room. It feels very much like a tavern. With subdued lighting, there are a number of stations for individual groups. On weekends, the room can be filled with visitors, something to consider if you prefer a more intimate setting while tasting. Barbara brings the first of the tastings to the table.
The labeling is unique and includes in the heavenly skies names of constellations, stars and astronomers. Barbara says, “El Cielo produces several levels of wine. The first is made for “quick consumption.” The Constellations group is more evolved and can stay in the bottle from four to ten years. The Estrellas are the premium and designed to be preserved in a maturing curve from ten to twenty years.” We start with 2017 Cassiopeia, 100% Sauvignon Blanc. It gives a lively citrus introduction and fills the mouth with pear, guava and peach. Very refreshing. Barbara tells us, “El Cielo has been awarded the honor of being the first “eco-responsible” company in the Guadalupe Valley.” As Barbara pours the next tasting of 2014 Copernicus, she goes on to say, “The reason for this award includes many things. The facility is based on a gravity-flow system and does not use machinery in moving the grape through production into the barrels.” This Copernicus is very enjoyable with 2 years in French oak. It has lovely dark fruit and a hint of chocolate in the long dry finish. Barbara adds, “We are also known for our organic gardens, taking advantage of our own fields to produce vegetables and fruits for Latitude 32.” Barbara leaves to retrieve the 2014 Kepler. Rinsing our glasses before pouring, she says, “One of the most outstanding features of the building it the solar panel array on the roof. The sun furnishes all the energy we need.” We learn that this Kepler wine honors the 17th century astronomer, Johannes Kepler, most famous for his discovery of the planets moved around the Sun in orbits shaped like ellipses. The Kepler is a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon having 2 years in French oak. It is intense, with berry and a long happy finish.
Continuing on out into the universe we are served Perseus, the constellation that lies in the northern sky, next to Andromeda. It was named after the hero Perseus in Greek mythology. This 2015 Nebbiolo and Sangiovese blend has 2 years in first use French oak. Barbara explains, “We only use the barrels three times. Then we recycle them and they are used by others for beer or tequila production.” Perseus is a very serious and elegant wine. Leaving us with lingering chocolate, plum and a hint of tobacco. And everyone’s favorite is the Orion. On the label is the constellation with the well-known “belt” of three stars. Orion is a 2014 blend of Tempranillo, Grenache and Merlot. It has one year in French oak and is like entering a dark forest. First, there is a sweetness of caramel in the bouquet, but in the mouth it is dry, smoky with a hint of wood. We want to linger with Orion and realize that wine tasting is like love, if you don’t pay attention, you are sure to miss something. Barbara completes the tour and tasting by gifting the monogramed wine glass.
Making our way out into the sunshine we hear the distinctive call of the peacock. An idea might arise of not wanting to leave and possibly take advantage of the beautiful hotel accommodations, as elegant as their wines. But be aware that weekends are very busy and booked well in advance and the month of August is the celebration of the harvest. Generally Vendimia reservation are needed a year in advance. The Guadalupe Valley is now a destination for many travelers, as well as wine lovers on weekends, so for an optimum experience, mid-week is the best time to visit. We leave feeling as if we have been transported to another world, one filled with a dream realized, just for our pleasure.