I’ve come to La Cooperativa, in a high valley on the Baja peninsula because I’ve heard that things are happening in Valle De Guadalupe. I arrive with a filthy car, dust settled on all flat surfaces, having been lead down unsealed roads through olive groves and vineyards by my GPS.
Valle de Guadalupe (Guadalupe Valley) is a flat plain circled by rocky mountains high above the coastal city of Ensenada, about an hour and a half from the border at San Diego. The drive into the mountains is rustic rather than breathtaking, a gentle steady climb along a curving highway flanked by an abundance of roadside market stalls selling the produce the area is fast becoming renowned for: honey, olive oil, cheese, and wine.
I brush at the dust on my car, but realize that marking the car with my fingers and palm only makes it look more filthy. I’m really only concerned with my car’s appearance because I’m standing in front of a building that is hip, more hip than I had expected, staffed by interesting looking college aged locals and I’m an interloping gringo, so of course I want to make a good impression.
La Cooperativa Valle de Guadalupe
La Cooperativa is a central repository and sales point for the region’s produce and perfectly exemplifies what I will learn is the aesthetic of the Valle de Guadalupe, this isn’t a wine region that aspires to any old world glory, this is new, futuristic even. A fitting tribute to pioneers of a new life for this long obscure destination.
Each of the buildings at La Cooperative, designed and constructed by famed architect Alejandro D’Acosta, are built from recycled materials, the black wooden slatted bar and kitchen building rises high contrasting vividly with a colorful mural and a utilitarian agricultural shed. But this isn’t only a place where the regions fine offerings are sold, two large sheds, both insulated from baking afternoon temperatures by thick rammed earth walls inserted with empty wine bottles, rusted sheet metal, and pieces of wine barrels, one providing a place for the region’s producers to store and age their product, the other, used as a school room, where local producers are trained in the latest viticulture. A parked RV is the cellar door, stepping through the narrow threshold the blast of AC is welcomed, and serves to keep the wine at appropriate temperatures.
I’m taken through the variety of wines offered by the chef of the small kitchen. Though my Spanish is improving and I’m fairly conversational with the aid of hand gestures and asking for clarification of unknown words, I’m pretty sure that my conversation with the chef, translated into English, would read something like this.
Chef says, “Blah, blah, blah, red wine, blah, blah, $10.”
I say, “I like red wine.”
Chef, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, unknown words.”
Me, “Si, si, $10 is a good price.”
But, of course, you need to taste the product before taking it home. We begin with a sample of local olive oil poured from a nameless glass bottle and warmed bread. Moving on, we sample one white wine, not a speciality of the region but drinkable, and two strong hearty reds. The red wine of the region is the real star: dark, strong, masculine. It is common to find blends made from a dizzying number of varieties, experimentation, it seems, is a trait that marks all creative processes of the valley.
The really brilliant thing about the Guadalupe experience is that it isn’t catering to foreign tourists, while menus are often offered in English many waiters will speak basic English at best, that’s because the valley isn’t dependant on foreign tourism. This is Mexico, and it feels like it. But it’s the professionalization that marks La Valley as something different to other wine regions, but especially those in California. This is a region screaming creativity, producers here are doing whatever works, whatever is appropriate, whatever looks good, tastes good, and is good. This ethos extends to the architecture, the restaurants, the people. The energy of the region is noticeable even on the streets, old folks sitting on corners behind stalls of local honey and bee pollen and the constant stream of SUVs filled to bursting with families, the industry is giving the area identity and vitality.
Other highlights of the area can be seen in a post here, it’s worth a click.