By Jennifer Kramer

It comes as a surprise to many that Northern Baja California is home to one of the world’s trendiest wine regions, the Valle de Guadalupe. It comes as an even bigger surprise to many that the region is making some truly exceptional wines. Pair that with the exquisite open-air restaurants and the charming boutique hotels, and it’s no wonder that people are flocking from around the world to visit Baja’s newly famous wine region.

Located just 90 minutes south of the San Diego/Tijuana border, Valle de Guadalupe has been referred to as the Napa Valley of Mexico, but the comparison is not entirely accurate. While the abundance of wineries and world- class restaurants may be similar, Napa lacks the rustic charm, frontera grit, and Mexican hospitality that Valle de Guadalupe possesses. This is a true Baja wine region, down to the unmarked dirt roads and rugged landscapes. Those with expectations for polished glamour will be disappointed, but adventurous spirits will fall irrevocably under the quixotic spell of the valley.

While wine has been made in the region for centuries (the Spanish missionaries brought the first grapes to the area in 1791), it wasn’t until about a decade ago that the modern wine movement blossomed, giving rise to a majority of the 150 boutique wineries that now populate the valley. Wine drinkers will find familiar varieties of grapes such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. They’ll also be treated to new wines such as inventive red blends and Valle’s own versions of Italian Nebbiolo and Spanish Tempranillo, which are becoming signature varietals for the region.

While summer days can be hot, the valley generally has temperate weather throughout the year. Wineries and open-air campestre-style restaurants that take advantage of the beautiful views and pleasant outdoor setting are open year round, meaning it’s always a good time to visit Valle de Guadalupe.

Where to Drink

While Valle de Guadalupe is home to some of Mexico’s largest wineries, the charm of the region lies in the more intimate boutique wineries. It’s here at the smaller producers where you’ll get quality wines, personal attention, and may even meet the winemaker—all while enjoying the stunning vineyard views.

There’s no better introduction to Valle de Guadalupe than Las Nubes (646-156- 8037) winery. They offer tastings on their expansive deck, featuring wines that are easy to drink and stunning views of the valley.

Nearby is the family-run Bodegas F. Rubio www.bodegasfrubio.com winery, providing visitors with a range of tasting options from their selection of quality wines. Enjoy your wine with food from the on-site restaurant, Parcela 70, while enjoying the vineyard views from the large patio or the air-conditioned indoor dining room.

You’ll need an advance reservation to get into the intimate Lechuza vinoslechuza.com winery. Here you’ll find personal attention, a relaxing and enjoyable wine tasting experience, and some of the best wines in the region.

For a unique experience, head to Vena Cava www.venacavawine.com, where the tasting room and wine cave are nestled into the hillside under upside-down vintage fishing boats. This iconic micro winery is a must-visit for anyone who appreciates good wine and noteworthy architecture.

True wine connoisseurs won’t want to miss Torres Alegre y Familia (646-688- 1033). The family winery is headed up by one of Mexico’s most famous oenologists, Dr. Victor Torres. He and his family create delightfully complex wines that can be enjoyed from their new tasting room, which offers nearly 360- degree views.

Where to Eat

Valle de Guadalupe has become famous for its outdoor campestre-style restaurants. The cuisine is true Baja California-style, with the seafood coming straight from the Pacific Ocean, the meats and dairy all local, and much of the produce coming directly from the gardens on the properties. Modern updates of traditional Mexican recipes are created with hyper-local ingredients, producing a truly unique cuisine.

The most popular campestre restaurant in Valle, Finca Altozano fincaltozano.com, is well deserving of its reputation. Chef Javier Plascencia has created savory dishes that are cooked over wood fire and served in a beautifully rustic open-air setting. After your meal, grab a glass of wine and climb up to the top of one of the giant wine barrels scattered around the property to take advantage of the views and the photo opp.

Consistently on San Pellegrino’s list of the best 50 restaurants in Latin America is Corazón de Tierra corazondetierra.com. Chef Diego Hernandez creates an intricate and delicious six-course tasting menu that changes daily. The restaurant’s beautiful dining room has floor-to-ceiling windows that open up directly to the garden, where most of the produce comes from.

Chef Roberto Alcocer creates delectably sophisticated dishes at Malva malvarestaurant.com. Diners will enjoy the lush treehouse-like setting where they can enjoy a coursed tasting menu or order a la carte. Wines served come from Mina Penelope, the winery on the property where the restaurant is located.

For breakfast, foodies flock to La Cocina de Doña Esthela (646-156-8453). This casual local’s spot has exploded with popularity in the past few years after being discovered for the delicious home-style food and Doña Esthela’s warm hospitality. Don’t miss the machaca con huevos or the corn hot cakes.

Where to Stay

The tranquility of the region can only be truly appreciated by staying overnight in Valle de Guadalupe. With no large hotels or resorts, guests choose from a handful of unique boutique hotels and intimate B&Bs.

The Tuscan-style La Villa del Valle www.lavilladelvalle.com is one of the premier accommodations in the region. Breakfast, evening wine and canapés, and a complimentary wine tasting are included in your stay, in addition to amenities like morning yoga and the serene pool area. The hotel is conveniently located on the same property as Vena Cava winery and Corazón de Tierra restaurant.

The unique architecture at Bruma www.bruma.mx takes advantage of the valley’s massive granite boulders, incorporating them into the structure. The new on-site winery and Fauna restaurant opened this summer to high acclaim, quickly becoming this year’s new buzzed-about operations.

The four airy cabins at Casa Mayoral www.casamayoral.com are lushly appointed and are surrounded by over 20 acres of shaded property, perfect for hiking or riding the provided bicycles. Breakfast is included and this is one of the few properties in the valley where children and dogs are welcome. I