Category Archives: review

la finca altozano – a delight to the senses

TI0A6167One might think that, having grown up in a place that place would be known in all its intricacies, in all its nooks and crannies. One would be wrong. Though I grew up in Baja California, Mexico, as well as Southern California’s Orange County I am only just beginning to get to know this place that was planted in me at such an early age. And though I grew up traveling back and forth to my grandmother’s home in the small village of La Mision, now that her casa has become mi casa, I’ve decided its time to get to know this place whose accent is on my tongue, whose sights, smells, tastes and sounds instilled themselves within me at such a young age, but have lain dormant these decades since. It’s time to get to know this place I call home.


Not even an hour away from my spot at KM 62.5 along what is called the ‘free road’ or the ‘old road,’ depending on the age of the one you ask and whether or not they have been around long enough to remember the construction of the new (toll) road, is hidden gem that is beginning to gain widespread recognition – Baja’s Guadalupe Wine Valley. Some are comparing it to Napa or even Tuscany – and though it does not yet have the following of either of those two famous destinations, it most definitely has the creds, with over 50 wineries (up tenfold in just the past five years) and a number of boutique  B&B’s, organic farms, and gourmet restaurants where food is often served fresh from the garden surrounding it.


Yesterday’s adventure took me to the ‘pop-up restaurant’ (though it has since become a permanent, though seasonal fixture in the southeast corner of the valley not far from the newly opened Wine Museum and the well-known Laja Organic restaurant) known as Finca Altozano – one of the growing number of ‘campestre’ (literally means ‘country’ our ‘out in the country’) dining experiences making themselves known in the region.

There is only one way to describe this campestre experience – it was a delight to the senses.


Finca Altozano is about a mile off Mexico highway 3, down a dirt road, and with no signage off the main highway – a place for those who know what they are looking for, or who happen upon it as they meander down the valley’s many dusty back roads. It sits upon a small knoll (or hillock, as the word ‘altozano’ means), above the fields of grapes and of springtime weeds. As you enter under the archway of what looks like reclaimed urban decay and find a place in the grassy field that serves as parking lot, the expansive vista of the Guadalupe valley unfolds toward the east.

The dining area is open air, looking out on the valley, with a dozen or so sturdy wooden tables – some with long benches, others with chairs in the rustico style and still others – like ours which was clearly overflow for a larger than expected Sunday evening crowd – collapsible topped with a red and white checked tablecloth.

The kitchen is outdoor – thus the campestre – with an ‘asador’ (grill) alongside. Locally brewed beer (we tried the Guerra Coquetona – the flirty blond) is served in mason jars and wine (also, of course, local from the valley) comes by the bottle.

© erin dunigan 2013


The menu changes based on what is available and what is fresh. Chef Javier Plascencia who also owns Tijuana’s well-known Mission 19 made his way from the grill to the tables to greet guests and share in a bit of conversation.

Our group of 7 decided to order a number of items  and share – morrones asados en lena de olivo (grilled red peppers in olive oil with arugula and garlic), pulpo del pacifico a la brasa (octupus with soy, ginger, peanut and cilantro), tostados de ahi, chorizo y chistorra, and grilled Brussels sprouts that were to die for.


We shared a bottle of the local tempranillo Norte 32 made within miles of where we enjoyed its smokey notes – which may have been enhanced by the smoke of the asador as it grilled our entrees.

Though it is still early in the season – traditionally (meaning, the past year, as the campestre dining experience in the valley is not much older than that) visitors find their way to the valley in the warmer summer temperatures – the dining patio was at capacity even with the extra tables that had clearly been set up to accommodate these unexpected numbers.


As the music strolled through a variety of selections including Johnny Cash and more traditional mariachi music the light of the setting sun turned golden and then began to wane. The delicate wine glasses held only the remnants of that valley tempranillo. The subtle intensity of the fresh flavors lingered. The conversation between friends – newly made and long connected – rested gently. After a beautiful evening, it was time to wind back along the dirt road, nigh sky brilliant for lack of ambient light competing with the stars, and head back to La Mision.TI0A6208

all images  © erin dunigan 2013

love wins…shouldn’t that be a good thing?

Love wins. And apparently not everyone is happy about it.

I just finished listening to the new book, Love Wins, by Rob Bell, pastor of Mars Hill Church, and author of another of my favorite books, Velvet Elvis. I had heard rumblings about the book on Twitter and Facebook, that before they had read it and before it had been released, there were those who were condemning it as ‘heresy.’

The heresy accusation, the reality that I had loved Bell’s thoughtful reflections in  Velvet Elvis and the ability to download it for free from (and if you use that link you can get a 14 day free trial and I can get another free book) was enough to get my attention. So I downloaded it. And I listened to it. And I loved it.

Being a ‘designated tentmaking evangelist’ (my official ordination designation in the Presbyterian Church, USA) and having no official congregation or church building or program, I spend most of my time amongst those who want little or nothing to do with ‘organized religion’ or ‘church’ as they have known it. Does that mean that all of ‘organized religion’ or ‘church’ are bad? Of course not. There is so much that is good and right and healthy and life giving about both church and religion. But there is also so much that is decayed and lifeless and stagnant. Both are true. Both co-exist.

One thing I have found, in spending time, as a minister, with people who want nothing of church, is that, for the most part, what they are rejecting I am rejecting as well. They are typically not rejecting the sense of community, meaning, service, and love that can often be found amongst groups of Jesus followers.

But they are often rejecting the institutional ‘stuckness’ which is often found garnished with a healthy dose of  exclusive narrowness. The rejection is not necessarily of God, but more of the tribal God of our own particular group or understanding. Is God the God of the entire world, all of humanity and all of creation, or just our particular mascot, buddy, bully or bodyguard? If God is the God of all of creation, and that God, as we claim, is a God of love, then what is so crazy about the idea that maybe, just maybe, that love wins?

crossing borders…encountering god?

It just so happened that on the same day that the Arizona legislature passed what has now become hotly debated, protested and defended Senate Bill 1070 I was in Phoenix to cover an immigration conference for the Presbyterian News Service. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

The conference was called “Crossing Borders: Encountering God.” The close to 200 of us who gathered from across the United States and Mexico spent three days learning and listening to issues of immigration and trying to see the issues through a Biblical lens, as followers of Jesus, not just as American or Mexican citizens.

Here is a link to the article I wrote about the conference.

The conference also issued a statement about immigration, as a response to the Arizona SB 1070. My article about the statement, Crossing Borders Conference Issues Statement About Immigration Reform can be found on the PCUSA’s website.

Finally, prior to the conference I participated on a three day ‘border immersion’ trip, traveling south to Agua Prieta, Sonora Mexico and the border with Douglas, Arizona. From that trip I took many photos and also published a photo essay with the Presbyterian News Service.

live the questions…

I’ve been reading enough authors that quote Rainer Maria Rilke I figured it was time to actually read him for myself. Tonight I came across this:

You are so young, so before all beginning, and I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer. (From Letters to a Young Poet)

I love that quote, and if the book were not a library book, I’d be underlining it (I am still reading books the old fashioned way, on paper…I know, I know, I need a kindle) and putting stars next to it to come back to and read over and over. We live in a world that seems to rush to the answers, to shun any posture of questioning or ‘not yet’ in the midst of a journey. We analyze the questions, read self-help books to solve them, medicate them–but love them?

I wonder what we lose by our impatience with all that is unsolved in our hearts…?