In Valle de Guadalupe, the Desert’s Lack of Water Becomes World-Class Wine
Find this unforgettable wine and food region just south of San Diego
By Naomi Tomky
May 3, 2020
Editor’s note: Due to the COVID 19 health crisis, we recommend you save this trip for a time when it’s safe to leave your house. Many of these businesses are not fully operational, and some of the more rural areas we write about in our travel coverage don’t need an influx of Seattleites right now. But it’s fun to dream, isn’t it?
A short flight and a quick drive bring travelers from Seattle to the stunning landscape of a wine country that also has a world-class culinary scene. With affordable bottles, superlative seafood and better tacos than anyplace else on earth that grows grapes, the Valle de Guadalupe proudly shows how Mexico has made the desert’s lack of water into wine.
Heading south from San Diego’s small airport, pop into Tuétano Taqueria just on the U.S. side of the border, for a quick lunch of one of the best tacos in either country—filled with its namesake bone marrow birria. Know that it’s the last place that your GPS will be able to find easily before you climb inland on rutted dirt roads, where arid hills and distinctive cacti replace addresses as means of location.
The border crossing is quick going south, but you’ll want to have either a Global Entry or Nexus card when you return north—otherwise, waits can be long. Once you’re through, it’s a direct hour-and-a-half drive through the hills straight to Bruma. The rust-colored hotel and winery, built from sustainable materials like soil cement and pine, seems to blend right into the brown landscape, but inside each suite, works by local artists give it a luxe feel. A clear blue pool and hot tub, splashes of color against the dusty background, overlook the vineyard, which is run by Lulú Martínez Ojeda. Martínez brings her decade of experience in Bordeaux to Bruma’s wines, which has helped them find their way onto wine lists at top restaurants around the world, such as The French Laundry in Napa.
Along with the wines, the most compelling reason to base yourself at Bruma is the food. Chef David Castro Hussong, born into a family in the restaurant business, grew up nearby before cooking at international culinary destinations Eleven Madison Park and Noma. Now at Bruma’s restaurant, Fauna, Hussong has been given free rein to dream up a menu that brings the best of Mexico—feisty local desert-grown vegetables, fresh fish from the nearby coast and heirloom corn from Oaxaca—to an enchanted setting.
Since breakfast is included at Bruma, cooked to order in a home-kitchen-like setting, you’ll miss the best meal of the day at La Cocina de Doña Esthela. Luckily, the tiny family restaurant serves an equally good, though less famous lunch of home-style Mexican classics, like borrego tatemado (pit-cooked lamb) and birria de res (beef stew).
Afterward, you can pop next door to Lomita Winery for a quick tasting of its estate Cabernets, or wait and do that just before dinner at TrasLomita, the adjacent outdoor restaurant where chef Sheyla Alvarado works the wood fire to present dishes like kale salad with grapefruit, grilled octopus and serrano pepper mayonnaise and charred chunks of root vegetables in mole and almond butter.
Leaving the desert behind and heading for home feels tragic, so treat yourself when you depart: Take the scenic route, winding down from Bruma’s inland perch to the waterfront town of Ensenada. Grab a seafood lunch—tostadas topped with sea urchin and avocado, spicy aguachiles of marinated raw fish, and chocolate clams (named for their color, not their flavor) shucked to order by someone wielding a large knife—from the La Guerrerense cart or its casual sibling restaurant, Sabina. Then, set off along the coastal route back toward San Diego, leaving plenty of time to pull off to the side of the road and take photos of breathtaking ocean views.