By Megan Krigbaum
August 22, 2019
Dylan + Jeni

Back in the summer of 2017, before the opening of Dama, a Latin-inspired restaurant in L.A., sommelier Taylor Grant drove down to Mexico’s Valle de Guadalupe on the Baja peninsula with a couple of sommelier friends, Chris Miller and Conner Mitchell. She wanted to suss out the wine scene and find some bottles to put on her wine list at Dama. But very quickly, the mission of that trip changed. “It really just spiraled into this wanting to be a part of the wine scene down there; seeing the potential and loving the people,” she says. 

By the time the three left, they’d agreed to collaborate with Camillo Magoni, a grower and winemaker from the region. Magoni has been experimenting with international grape varieties, particularly from Italy, for over 50 years. Grant, who’s spent most of her career working with Italian wines, was particularly enthused to discover that Magoni was growing Grignolino, a relatively obscure red grape that’s native to Italy’s Piedmont region. From this random patch of vines, Tresomm was born – with a Grignolino rosé as its inaugural wine. 

Over the past couple of years, Grant has visited the Valle at least ten times and has come to know many of the region’s most interesting producers. There’s a real spirit of experimentation when it comes to grape varieties in Baja, she says. While French grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Syrah are popular, a number of Italian varieties have also been planted, such as Nebbiolo and Sangiovese, and growers are experimenting with Spanish Tempranillo, too. “And the winemakers love blending!” says Grant. “Not traditional blends of Bordeaux varieties or Rhône varieties; they’ll blend Cabernet with Barbera, say, which is cool—though it makes it hard to figure out what’s classic here. They’re still trying to pin that down.”  

Here are the producers that Grant’s most excited by in Baja right now: 

Bichi 

While the Valle de Guadalupe is ground zero for most of the winemaking in Baja, brothers Noel and Jair Téllez are working with century-old vines in Tecate instead. Their Pet-Mex, a deep, natural, sparkling rosé, first turned Grant on to the burgeoning wine scene in Mexico. “It is so out there and different from all of the classic wines that I love,” says Grant. “Truly, that wine was the inspiration for getting down there and being involved in the scene.”

La Casa Vieja

“There’s a Mission wine from Casa Vieja that’s really fun, I just wish they had more of it planted,” says Grant. The vines that Humberto Toscano works with are even older than the wines at Bichi, possibly even 200 years old. “The vines have adapted to the land and their environment because they’ve been there so long. It’s a very special wine,” Grant says. She also recommends La Casa Vieja’s Palomino, a white wine. 

Casa de Piedra 

“This winery is a classic. It was started by Hugo D’Acosta, one of the founding fathers of Mexican winemaking,” says Grant. D’Acosta also runs a winemaking school, called La Escuelita, for local winemakers to learn about viticulture. Grant loves D’Acosta’s sparkling wines, particularly his Blanc de Blancs, a blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc made with the traditional Champagne method. She also recommends his Barbera rosé. 

Vena Cava

Phil Gregory and his wife Eileen, both Brits and former music industry vets, moved to Baja about 15 years ago (Phil trained under D’Acosta at La Escuelita). The majority of the fruit they work with is organic and dry-farmed, like many vineyards in the region. “They’re very experimental in their wines, with a more natural line that’s constantly improving,” says Grant. She’s a fan of their Ambar, an orange wine.  

Magoni

Along with Hugo D’Acosta, Camillo Magoni is another pioneer in the Valle. “He knows the land so well—he’s been farming it for over 50 years,” says Grant. “I love his whites, especially his Chardonnay/Vermentino blend,” she says. 

See the full list of the 2019 Sommeliers of the Year.

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