I turned onto the dirt road from the paved highway, having seen the small ‘ebike’ sign with an arrow pointing left. Billed as something akin to a cross between a pop-up restaurant and an outdoor adventure, I was intrigued and anticipating the day’s journey – while also a bit concerned about the combination of wine tasting and bike riding. I decided a helmet would be a good option, just in case.
That thought was confirmed as I took my first test drive of the ebike, electric bike, and felt the acceleration far beyond my capacity as I began to peddle. This is going to be a blast, I thought to myself, a smile like a child’s plastered across my face, making the u-turn along that dirt road and accelerating my way back to the rest of the group. Seven of us, newbies to the ebike scene, had signed up for this maiden voyage of ebike wine touring, the brainchild of Allen Jones and Agnes Cameleyre.
Part of what drew me to the adventure was the extensive knowledge of the wine valley I knew Agnes to hold – and her generosity in sharing those stories, histories, and fun facts of an area of the world that is rapidly becoming known as a destination not just for wine aficionados, but foodies and students of ‘local and sustainable’ as well.
This anticipation was not disappointed as we made our way, a bit wobbly at first as our very eclectic group acclimated to the ebike and dirt road combination, across the valley floor to its north side and up a gentle incline to one of the valley’s newer wineries, Las Nubes. “This is an example of what a new generation is doing in wine-making,” explained Agnes, as we sat down at the long rectangular table in a tasting room whose floor to ceiling windows offer expansive views of the valley below. Las Nubes, from winemaker Victor Segura of Mexico City, is a large scale operation – an example, Agnes suggested, of what the ‘big business’ of wine making looks like as it comes into its own in the Guadalupe Valley.
Thankfully as the dusty and somewhat sweaty group of us sat down for our tasting the first pour was water – to quench a thirst we had already worked up in our short 20 minute ride, and final ascent into ‘the clouds’ in the 80 degree heat of midday. We opted for the 5 wine pour – as opposed to the 7 – knowing that we had another bike ride, wine tasting, and still more riding before we’d encounter anything resembling a meal. The pouring began – with a somewhat rare to the valley savignon blanc chardonnay blend. Up until the past few years, and the blossoming of so many new wineries in the region, it was said that the best white wine in the valley was red.
From Las Nubes we headed down the hill – electric bike power turned off, so as not to unintentionally accelerate while speeding down the curved dirt road – and across the valley floor, first on a bit of the narrow (and shoulder-less) paved road until we came upon another dirt road and our turn into JC Bravo winery – the opposite, in many ways, of Las Nubes.
JC Bravo is small, hidden almost. Rather than nestled on a hillside in the clouds, it is smack dab in the middle of the small pueblo of El Porvenir, just across the street from a taco stand, and down the road from Casa de Paz, an orphanage trying to be sustainable by growing some of its own food. At JC Bravo it was a two wine pour – a white, Palomino, and a red, Carignan, both local valley blends, grapes grown by the owner and winemaker, Juan Carlos (JC) Bravo.
Agnes again shared a bit of the history with us. JC (pronounced in Spanish as ‘hoe-ta say’) is one of the valley’s few wine makers who is, himself, local to the valley. His family had been growing grapes for more than four decades – selling those grapes to other wineries. The family’s grapes were among the finest the valley had to offer, but they had never taken advantage of their own production to make wine. That changed a decade ago, and now JC Bravo, though small, produces not only wine, but also a cold pressed (by hand) olive oil that is rich and with such depth that you practically want to drink it as well. Small cubes of bread provided the ideal vehicle for soaking up as much as possible of the earthy yet sweet aceite – alive with its freshness.
As often happens in Baja, our day began to run a bit behind schedule, which meant that we could not linger long at JC Bravo but got back on the bikes and headed still further south to our final destination, one of the valley’s hidden gems, 3 Mujeres winery.
The thirty minute ride (though for most of us it was less of a ‘ride’ and more of an ‘acceleration’ as we gained confidence with the power of the electric bike, and the ease of simply twisting the throttle, versus exerting oneself unnecessarily by actually pedaling) wound its way down that dirt road, past ranches, olive groves, and grape vines. I found myself longing for a helmet mounted camera, so that I could take it all in photographically as well as experientially. A few times I tried to take video with my iPhone, but realized that, on bumpy dirt roads, riding one handed after two wine tastings might not be the best of ideas.
When we arrived through the gate onto the property of 3 Mujeres we were greeted by two small round tables set up under the trees. Their table cloths rustled in the breeze that brought some refreshment to the day’s heat. A simple centerpiece added an elegant beauty. The flower arrangement came from a vine growing on the adobe home of Ivette Vaillard, one of the three women, who lives there on the property This was a pop-up restaurant just for us – the menu put together by Ensenada Chef Ismene Venegas. To call the spontaneous eatery an oasis would not do it justice.
3 Mujeres, meaning 3 Women in Spanish, is one of the valley’s only wineries run entirely by women. Ivette Vaillard, Eva Cotero, and Laura McGregor joined together more than a decade ago to nurture their common passion for wine making. The three had all been students at the local ‘escolita’ (wine school) run by Hugo D’acosta. They began to realize that though none of them could take on the task of wine making on their own, together they could. In the words of our ever knowledgeable guide and storyteller Agnes, destiny put them together – destiny, and the adventure of making wine.
The first of three pours began – each of the 3 mujeres makes her own unique wine – as a tartar of curiel (yellow tail), avocado and cucumber arrived on our plates. The second pour led us into the main course of the meal – three different salads of nopales, couscous, and local greens, followed by a garlic potato puree to die for, and the tri tip that had been on the outdoor grill as we arrived. Bread, flat bread and chimichurri sauce rounded out the meal as we enjoyed the third and final pour.
Already past the time that we supposed we would return to our cars in the field, the conversation was as delightful as the ambiance, and no one seemed to mind. It was then that a new spoon was placed in front of each of us, and we realized that the adventure was not yet over. Valley fresh strawberries in a rosemary-infused heavy cream was to be the final taste on the pallet. It did not disappoint.
As we said our goodbyes to our chef and our gracious hosts the sun had begun to lower in the sky, casting that magical golden light on the vineyards as we wound our way back toward the north side of the valley and our awaiting vehicles. The magic hour, is what that time of day is called – that time of perfect light. More than that, it had been a magical day.
To set up a a winery ebike tour, contact Allen and Agnes at email@example.com
all photos © erin dunigan 2013