When I heard there was an off-the-beaten-path winemaking region in northern Baja California that travelers were comparing to early Napa Valley, I was skeptical. But the Valle de Guadalupe, or Guadalupe Valley, about 26 miles northeast of Ensenada, is for real. Better yet, it is easily accessible (about a three-hour drive from Los Angeles if you go inland through Tecate, Mexico), user-friendly, relatively inexpensive and a great weekend getaway.
Hacienda Guadalupe is the brainchild of Daniel and Gabriela Sanchez. The Sanchez family, originally from Ensenada, grew up in Santa Ana. But on their visits to the valley, they realized there were few good accommodations. In 2010, Hacienda Guadalupe was born. Today it has 16 tastefully decorated rooms, with four more on the way, an excellent restaurant and a winery called Melchum, Gabriela Sanchez's maiden name.
For a sophisticated dinner, look no farther than Laja, which owner-chef Jair Téllez established in 1991. Téllez will wow you with a four- or eight-course meal that includes wine pairings. My wife and I chose four courses, which included baked beetroot salad, pumpkin ravioli with thyme butter, pan-roasted sea bass with daikon radish puree and burdock root sorbet in a purple radish and fig leaf cold soup -- as delicious as it was esoteric.