From Potholes to Paradise: An Extraoridnary Baja Experience

I have a terrible memory of most things.  I can’t remember what I wore two days ago to work or what any of my friends’ birthdays are without the help of Facebook. I certainly cannot remember the names of actors in films, and I can rarely recall things I read, even when they interest me.

But I can remember my top five cultural, dining and travel experiences in exact detail.  They say that smell is the number one recall sense for experiential memory.  I believe that’s true.  Sometimes by surprise I will catch a scent that takes me back 13 years ago to walking home from school in Dunedin, New Zealand or a trace that takes me back to a crush I had even 20 years ago.  In those aromatic moments I am grateful for all of those memories that wash over me unexpectedly and generally do not care that I cannot remember day-to-day lackluster drama.

TrasLomita plates.  Credit: Edgar Lima Fotografia

TrasLomita plates.  Credit: Edgar Lima Fotografia

I have a new world-class experience that just leapt into my top five territory and encompasses cultural, dining and travel, and I want to share it with the whole planet because EVERYONE should put this on their 100 Percent experience bucket lists. 

Lomita winery vibes.  Credit: Edgar Lima Fotografia

Lomita winery vibes.  Credit: Edgar Lima Fotografia

In November, I hosted a group at the San Diego Wine and Food Festival where we embarked on the Baja Expedition; a full-day, cross-border, first-class wine and food experience in Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico.  While the Baja Expedition was an event in conjunction with the wine and food festival, it is important to know the Baja Expedition is actually put on by Baja Wine + Food under the creative direction and ownership of Fernando Gaxiola.  Fernando and his team put on prestigious custom and group tours year-round so this unforgettable experience can be booked at any time, not just once a year.

Fernando Gaxiola, Baja Wine + Food.  Credit: Edgar Lima Fotografia

Fernando Gaxiola, Baja Wine + Food.  Credit: Edgar Lima Fotografia

Born in Sinaloa, México and raised along the USA-Mexico border, Fernando Gaxiola earned an engineering degree from the prestigious Tecnológico de Monterrey and a Global MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Phoenix, Arizona. A natural born entrepreneur, Fernando launched his first business management consulting firm in 2003 at the age of 26. Soon after, he became a leading business management consultant for the Oil & Gas industry in which he focused on strategic planning. He later returned to his roots to apply his knowledge toward promoting the Northern Baja-San Diego mega region. His passion for food, wine and art led him to found Baja Wine + Food, the leading travel, event, and lifestyle management agency in the region. His company specializes in providing extraordinary cross-border experiences to corporate and private clients worldwide. Additionally, he has partnered with Truly Fine Wine to import and distribute a premier portfolio of Baja wines from the most prestigious wineries in Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, México. 

Credit: Edgar Lima Fotografia

Credit: Edgar Lima Fotografia

This particular tour, hosted by Fernando himself, included five phenomenal, perfectly planned-out stops which I will highlight below with minimal text and spectacular photos. Also on the tour, Edgar Lima, a renowned professional photographer, graced us with his skillful presence.  I have included some of his Jedi-mastery photography in this post and have given credit for each occurrence.   

Edgar Lima in action.

Edgar Lima in action.

My last note, before we jump into it, is this: the flavors, scenery and hospitality of this tour cannot be justified in this post.  I massively urge everyone to put this on your list to experience in person.  It is a true world-class experience that should not be missed.

TrasLomita dish preperation.  Credit:  Edgar Lima Fotografia

TrasLomita dish preperation.  Credit:  Edgar Lima Fotografia

Cross-Border Trip Snapshot:

Depart and Return to San Diego

Trip Duration – 12 hours

Stops – Five award-winning wineries/culinary locations

Meals – Full family-style lunch and dinner with 7-10 courses

Potholes to Paradise.  Credit:  Edgar Lima Fotografia

Potholes to Paradise.  Credit:  Edgar Lima Fotografia

Stop 1: Lomita Winery Tour and Tasting

Address: Comunidad de San Marcos, Fraccionamiento 13, San Antonio de las Minas

Fernando Perez Castro, owner and winemaker.  Credit:  Edgar Lima Fotografia

Fernando Perez Castro, owner and winemaker.  Credit:  Edgar Lima Fotografia

Owner and winemaker Fernando Perez Castro provided an in-depth history of Lomita and tasting notes followed by a tour of his family facility.  This operation has very humble beginnings, and listening to Fernando’s story was as inspiring as the wines he introduced.  Founded in 2009, they have been practicing organic viticulture and have eight separate distinct labels producing wine from only their own grapes and vineyards on property.

Stop 2:  TrasLomita Baja-Inspired Family-Style Lunch

Address: Comunidad de San Marcos, Fraccionamiento 13, San Antonio de las Minas

TrasLomita through a glass.  

TrasLomita through a glass.  

After spending ample time reviewing and sipping the perfectly crafted Lomita wines, Fernando led us down to the serene al fresco dining area of TrasLomita.  An outdoor dining experience is always the ace of spades, always trumps, always.  The outdoor dining experience at TrasLomita was spectacular, with gorgeous bougainvillea, breathtaking vineyard views, an eloquently decorated farm table and we hadn’t even started tasting.

‘Enters’….Chef Sheyla Alvarado, the dynamic female force behind the progressive distinct dishes that came out in flawless succession and had us waiting the edge of our wooden chairs for the next unveiling.  The Baja inspired meal had a harmonious blend of spices, textures and of course, avocado.  @sheyla.alvarado you are absolutely killing it, and I cannot wait to see a plate of your eats in front of my face again in the near future.

Chef Sheyla Alvarado.  Credit: Edgar Lima Fotografia

Chef Sheyla Alvarado.  Credit: Edgar Lima Fotografia

Credit: Edgar Lima Fotografia

Credit: Edgar Lima Fotografia

Credit: Edgar Lima Fotografia

Credit: Edgar Lima Fotografia

Stop 3:  Monte Xanic Winery Tour and Tasting

Address: Francisco Zarco s/n Valle de Guadalupe, Ensenada Baja California, Mexico

Monte Xanic tastings.  Credit: Edgar Lima Fotografia

Monte Xanic tastings.  Credit: Edgar Lima Fotografia

Monte Xanic CEO and winemaker Hans Backhoff was not available for our tour, but Ana María Ceseña – Trade Development USA gladly stepped in, providing an in-depth tour of the fermentation room, wine cellar and then a unique tasting flight in their private tasting room with an open-air terrace overlooking the Guadalupe Valley.  I particularly enjoyed seeing the wine cellar, which is underground, surrounded by natural rock walls. 

Monte Xanic private tasting room.  Credit:  Edgar Lima Fotografia

Monte Xanic private tasting room.  Credit:  Edgar Lima Fotografia

Stop 4:    Vena Cava Winery Sparkling Rosé Sunset Reception

Address: Rancho San Marcos S/N, 22750 Valle de Guadalupe

Vena Cava Rose staging area.  Credit: Edgar Lima Fotografia

Vena Cava Rose staging area.  Credit: Edgar Lima Fotografia

I often thought sunsets were only magnificent if I was facing west on a body of water.  False.  As the golden pink colors descended upon us in the middle of the valley, we sipped rosé and competed for the best sunset photographs.  This was yet another oasis gem location found at the end of a winding unpaved road full of potholes.  The architecture at Vena Cava is also notable with reclaimed boats as roofs of the wine cellar.

Edgar's award winning sunset shot.  Credit: Edgar Lima Fotografia

Edgar’s award winning sunset shot.  Credit: Edgar Lima Fotografia

A Baja sunset lover.  Credit: Edgar Lima Fotografia

A Baja sunset lover.  Credit: Edgar Lima Fotografia

Vena Cava tasting room.  Credit: Edgar Lima Fotografia

Vena Cava tasting room.  Credit: Edgar Lima Fotografia

Stop 5:    The main event, Dinner at Corazón de Tierra

Address: Rancho San Marcos S/N, 22750 Valle de Guadalupe

Corazon de Tierra interior.  Credit: Edgar Lima Fotografia

Corazon de Tierra interior.  Credit: Edgar Lima Fotografia

As the Corazón de Tierra website states, the ‘Heart of Earth’ menu changes depending on what is in harvest in their local garden.  Let’s read that again…their ‘Heart of Earth’ menu is dictated by their local on-property harvest.  This is the essence of the slow food movement and holistically demonstrates the link between community, sustainability, nourishment and table pleasures. 

Credit: Edgar Lima Fotografia

Credit: Edgar Lima Fotografia

Credit: Edgar Lima Fotografia

Credit: Edgar Lima Fotografia

Credit: Edgar Lima Fotografia

Credit: Edgar Lima Fotografia

This farm-to-table restaurant is consciously led by Chef Diego Hernández and serves multiple courses with complex flavors and a freshness that emulates their mission statement.  Many compare Corazón de Tierra to ‘The French Laundry’ of Napa Valley.  I have not visited The French Laundry in Napa Valley so will not make that direct association.

Chef Diego Hernandez.  Credit: Edgar Lima Fotografia

Chef Diego Hernandez.  Credit: Edgar Lima Fotografia

I can, however, speak as an established food-aware individual and confirm this feasting event has moved into my top three dining experiences in my lifetime in the world.

Kitchen of Corazon de Tierra

Kitchen of Corazon de Tierra

Throughout dinner, award-winning wines were served from Vena Cava, Torres Alegre, Adobe Guadalupe, Villa Montefiori and Finca La Carrodilla.

Credit: Edgar Lima Fotografia

Credit: Edgar Lima Fotografia

After a four hour dinner experience we were driven back to San Diego with happy stomachs, full hearts and buzzed brains.  A special thank you to Fernando Gaxiola and Edgar Lima for exceptional hospitality and for helping make this post so incredibly gorgeous.

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