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Sample the wine and the wow of Mexico's Guadalupe Valley, before the hordes descend

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.

The tab for two nights in June at Hacienda Guadalupe was about $475, including taxes. Dinner at Laja ran $126.50. And lunch at the Adobe Guadalupe food truck was a little more than $20.

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The bed

Hacienda Guadalupe (Kilómetro 81.5, Carretera Tecate-Ensenada, Valle de Guadalupe; 011-52-646 155-2859) is the brainchild of Daniel and Gabriela Sanchez.  The Sanchez family, originally from Ensenada, Mexico, 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 12 tastefully decorated rooms with four more on the way, an excellent restaurant and a new winery called Melchum, Gabriela Sanchez's maiden name. The hotel is a family enterprise; daughter Paulina, whose English was honed in the O.C., greets guests at the reception desk and sees to their every need.

The meal

For a sophisticated dinner, look no farther than Laja (Kilómetro 83, Carretera Tecate-Ensenada,Valle de Guadalupe; 011-52-646-155 2556), 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 a baked beetroot salad, pumpkin ravioli with thyme butter, pan-roasted sea bass with daikon radish purée and burdock root sorbet in a purple radish and fig leaf cold soup — as delicious as it was esoteric.

Beet salad at Laja
Beet salad at Laja (Marc Stirdivant)

No visit to the valley would be complete without a stop at the Adobe Guadalupe food truck, permanently parked at the spectacular Adobe Guadalupe Vineyards & Inn (Parcela A-1, Colonia Rusa de Guadalupe, Valle de Guadalupe; 011-52-646-155-2094). Owners Leda Gamboa and Lupita Gomez will help you select a variety of delicious tapas from an extensive menu. Put yourself in their hands; you won't be sorry.

The find

Wines from the Guadalupe Valley are known throughout Mexico but rarely make their way north of the border. Two small wineries worth visiting are Casa de Piedra and Clos de Tres Cantos. Casa de Piedra (Kilómetro 93.5, Carretera Tecate-Ensenada, San Antonio de las Minas, Valle de Guadalupe; 011-52-646-156-5267) is the home of Hugo d'Acosta, one of Mexico's premier winemakers. His Piedra del Sol Chardonnay is a gem at just more than $18. And at Clos de Tres Cantos (Kilómetro 89.5, Carretera Ensenada-Tecate, San Antonio de las Minas, Valle de Guadalupe; 011-52-646-206-1333), its blend of Tempranillo and Petite Sirah called Nada (the label is blank) is a steal at $20.