by Dick Avery
The Ruta del Vino (wine route) is a 15 mile stretch of two lane blacktop running northeast out of the little town of El Sauzal, a handful of miles north of Ensenada on the west coast of the northern Baja.
Any resemblance to urban living disappears fast. A herd of goats may amble across your path, or maybe a farmer with a cart filled with firewood may slow you down. Cows amble along on the side of the road looking for lunch. But slowing down will work to your benefit, because shortly after leaving El Sauzal behind you are in the Valle de Guadalupe, where 90% of the wine made in Mexico is produced.
Fifteen years ago, there were only about 15 wineries operating in the Valle; now the number is close to 40. They range from the big gun, L.A.Cetto, clocking in at just under a million cases annually of maybe 15 different varietals, to the small, artesanal operation producing a handful of cases of maybe only one varietal, most of which is consumed locally.
In this issue of focusing on the world of Vino Mexicano, we’ll zero in on a medium-sized operation, Adobe Guadalupe, and the big boy on the block, Cetto. One produces primarily vino tinto, the other a wide variety of offerings. We’ll examine others in future articles, so stay tuned!
Now, pause, take a deep breath . . . think high end juice. Think in the realm of Stag’s Leap, Opus One, Caymus, and others who make powerhouse reds.
Don Miller, a very successful Orange County, California banker, and his Dutch linguist wife, Tru, fulfilled a dream originating from a tragedy. Tru’s son, Arlo, had been fascinated all his life with all aspects of Mexican culture. Unfortunately, Arlo died in an auto accident. Shortly after the accident, Tru, felt she had received a spiritual sign while on a trip to Paris visiting Notre Dame. Just inside the door, she saw a Mexican chair with a serape draped over it. It seemed so out of place, the image stayed with her. On a subsequent visit to Paris to lay Arlo’s ashes, she returned to Notre Dame and found that not only the chair and serape were still there, but a whole altar display dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe. These “proofs of Grace” came together when she and Don were looking up the origins of Mexican wines from the Valle. They ventured into the Valle and the site that would eventually become their winery. The dedication date on the deed of the property was the same date as Arlo’s death.
That was 10 years ago. Today it’s easy to feel the sense of spirituality and serenity at Adobe Guadalupe Winery and bed and breakfast. Low lying adobe buildings blend into the landscape. The theme of the winery is, appropriately, angels. Angels are everywhere. All the rooms in the B and B are named after angels. An old water tank that came with the property has sprouted wings and presides over 50 acres of vineyards planted to some ten different red varietals, from which Don produces 6,000 cases annually of four blends of Rhone style reds. All, appropriately, are named for archangels. Don and Tru preside over this special place with warmth and enthusiasm. Don gave us a private tasting of all four of his “angels” (followed by the ever-present gaggle of weimaraners). All of the wines were teeth staining, high-extract, silky-smooth, intense, Rhone style lip-smackers!
Don Angelo Cetto had no idea what lay ahead for him when, in the early 1920s, he left his native Italy and stepped off the boat in Veracruz. Drifting north, taking laboring jobs where he could find them, he settled in Tijuana. Somehow, he obtained a wine dealership, setting up what was to become the largest winemaking operation in the country.
His store, “Santa Fe”, sold all sorts of wines and liquors, plus a special item. In his back room, Angelo produced his own blend of wines from grapes from local vintners. Sales of “the back room” blend were good, so good, in fact that he began to bottle his own juice under the “Cetto” label.
Angelo’s second son, Luis Agustin, inherited his father’s passion for the tradition of winemaking and began aggressively expanding distribution of Cetto wines, which now had grown into several styles and blends. More vineyard lands were brought into the fold, and by the early 90s, in the Valle de Guadalupe alone, over 2,400 acres of vineyards were producing quality wines.
Luis brought the famed oenologist Camillo Magoni on board in the mid 60s. Camillo immediately installed state-of-the-art technology and stainless steel fermentation equipment, a revolutionary improvement at that time. Camillo and Luis insisted that all managers and workers learn and employ the latest technologies in the production process. By the mid 70s, the revitalized winery was named L. A. Cetto.
Today, a third generation in the form of Luis’s son, Luis Alberto, continues the tradition. Twenty years after joining the firm, Luis Alberto has one goal: to grow as fast as possible and to occupy every market in the world. Currently, Cetto is in over 25 countries, and has won over 95 international prizes and medals.
The largest and probably the most powerful Mexican winery is set to face the future.
Dick Avery is a free lance writer and head sipper at VinoClubSMA, a wine club featuring boutique Mexican wines through free tastings. His website is www.vinoclubsma.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org