My weekend adventure at the Guadalupe Valley Festival

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“There’s an event in Valle de Guadalupe, do you want to go?”

So often lately, especially with Omar (aka Oaxacking), my grand adventures start with a simple offer. While it’s easy to make excuses and not jump at opportunities, I have learned that if I do, most often, I am rewarded with an experience outside the realm of anything I’d plan for myself.

To be honest, after seeing that Rodolfo Castellanos and Bricia Lopez from Guelaguetza in Los Angeles were two of the chefs presenting at the Guadalupe Valley Festival, I’d already been following this event for a few months. The Mexican wine country of Valle de Guadalupe seemed too close for me never to have visited it, and the festival looked like a good excuse to check it out. So when this opportunity presented itself, of course, I jumped.

Tickets were booked, accommodations confirmed and without much other thought, I suddenly found myself in Tijuana with Omar trying to figure out how we would get down to the Valle and around for the weekend. But a quick booking of a rental car was easy and by early Friday afternoon, we found ourselves on Highway 1D heading south towards the Valle de Guadalupe.

Friday early afternoon: The drive down the coast was easy and the views of the ocean were breathtaking. “Like California highways” according to Omar and he was right. As we veered off the highway and headed east, my excitement started to grow. While I’d only have time to experience a snippet of what the area had to offer over the weekend I was there, in the brief hour drive I already knew that I was going to make it a priority to return to again.

We continued down the single lane highway deeper inland with only hills on either side of us, but then all of the sudden we spotted a fruit stand at the side of the road. Of course, we had to stop.

Oaxacking fruit stand
Omar was quick to decide on coconut.
Susy Bando Fruit stand Mexico
Decisions, decisions, especially since all I wanted was to munch on the yummy coconut that Omar had picked. But he convinced me to get a mango on a stick, and I’m glad because the glorious juicy bright orange flesh was the perfect mirror to my sunshine-y feelings.

We delved further inland, and the rocky hills turned into rolling fields just as the paved smooth roads turned into bumpy dirt ones, all of which added to the feeling that I was on a grand adventure.

Friday late afternoon: We headed straight to our accommodations for the weekend and were greeted warmly by the owners of the quaint Quinta Sofia with a cold glass of beer and a lovely chat. It was late afternoon and with a bit of time to spare, I made my way across the road to a little ATP winery for a tasting.

The winery is run by a lovely couple who were happy to walk me through their vineyard and share stories about their wine. ATP is truly a mom&pop winery, but that’s not to discount their wines, which showed an elegance beyond their simple operation.

ATP Guadalupe Valley grapes
Nebiollo grapes are common in the region, which I was excited to learn as they’re one of my favourites!
ATP wine Valle de Guadalupe
A tasting at ATP is paired with homemade bread cheese and a trio of dipping oils.

Friday evening: Other than going to the festival on Saturday, Omar and I didn’t have any other concrete plans for the weekend so I felt lucky to be included at the dinner with Bricia Lopez, her sister Liz and their friends at Animalón. I’ve heard wonderful things about Bricia and her family from Omar over the years and was excited to get to get to meet her.

As Omar and I drove in darkness down bumpy dirt roads on our way to Animalón I kept thinking we were lost (because half the time we were), but out of the pitch black, I saw slivers of light in the distance which turned out to be our destination.

Dinner at Animalón was a magical experience. We dined on delicious food and wine under a 100-year-old oak tree lit with lanterns. It was an evening of comfortable conversation and much laughter that made me thankful once again that I decided to come on this adventure.

Animalon Guadalupe
Animalón is a summer pop-up that sits adjecent to chef Javier Plascencia’s Finca Altozano property. Chef Plascencia defines this spot as “the definition of his cuisine that uses only Baja ingredients and pays homage to local producers”.
Trying so hard to get good photos in the intimate lighting proved difficult.
Animalon fish
While we ordered reasonably for our group, Executive Chef Oscar Torres sent out a few extra dishes to our table to sample. The photo is horrible, but this dish was too spectacular not to mention. Baja catch of the day was crispy fried with amazing Asian flavours.
S’mores on fire with the help of a little mezcal.

Friday late-evening: We were all tired from a day of travel but thought we’d head to the Friday event of the Festival for a peek. Hosted at the stylish Agua de Vid hotel, the Mayan Warriors, fresh off their stint at Burning Man were throwing out a music and light spectacle.

Guadalupe Valley Fest Friday dj

Guadalup Valley Fest Friday music

Saturday morning: Of all the recommendations I’d had for the area, the one that kept coming up wasDoña Esthela for breakfast. Named by FoodieHub as “the Best Breakfast in the World”, everyone I talked to raved about La Cocina de Doña Esthela.

Omar and I made our way to Doña Esthela for breakfast and it was already packed when we arrived at 9:30am. It didn’t take that long to get seated, but we had the misfortune of poor service. After waiting more than 45 minutes for our food to be delivered, Omar gave up and we left before our meals came out.

Dona Esthela Guadalupe breakfast
Fresh cheese made from Esthela’s cows, fresh squeezed orange juice and coffee was as far as I made it into the meal before we left.

Saturday afternoon/evening/late evening: The Guadalupe Valley Festival is a culinary and music festival celebrated on the weekend of Mexican Independence Day and the main reason why I booked my trip to the Valle for the weekend. 12 wineries from the area along with a few Baja breweries presented alongside Chefs from Mexico and California for the full day event. In the background (as food/drink is always my focus), there were several stages where musicians performed throughout the day. Not that I knew any of the bands before heading down there, I was curious to check out the headliner Bob Moses, from my hometown Vancouver.


Oaxacking Susy Bando

Guadalupe Valley Fest beer
Heriberto (@thepuertoexperience) and his wife Donna (who came down from San Diego for the day) checking out Tijuana’s Border Psycho‘s beer selection.

Chefs presented their food in 2-hour increments, so there were different dishes to taste throughout the day. On the drinking side, it was a bit confusing as there was a (free) tasting area and a pay-by-the-glass area for beer and wine as well. It didn’t take long to realize that our time was best spent in the tasting area where we were able to get acquainted (through generous samples) with so many of the wineries from the Valle.

Because we’d arrived at the start of the event, the winery staff had lots of time to answer questions during the tastings and my first time through the area proved very informative. The region’s warm Mediterranean-esque climate gives way to luscious reds in some of my favorite varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Shiraz, Grenache and Nebbiolos.  There are very few whites produced in the area as the climate has been too harsh past few years. It seemed too hot in the day to be sipping reds, but luckily, most of the producers were sampling crisp dry berry-filled rosés.

Guadalupe Valley Fest

At the pace I was tasting wines, I knew I needed to get food in me. First up for the day was one of the most generous meat and cheese tables I’ve ever seen presented by Boulenc and Succulenta from Oaxaca.

Boulenc Oaxaca Guadalupe Valle Fest
Fermented vegetables and preserves made with local and Oaxacan ingredients were on a table overflowing with cheeses and meats which were all a wonderful accompaniment to the soft focaccia bread.

Boulenc Guadalupe Valley Fest

The Vinos Piojan Convertible Rosa was the crowd favorite amongst those I was with and the one we kept going back to.
The tastings (and the whole event) were made better by these lovely women!
Chef Dante Fererro’s whole cow cooked over embers for 24+ hours.
La lomita Pagano grenache guadalupe valley fest
Lomita’s Pagano grenache wine was a mouthful of berries, vanilla and cocoa and exactly the kind of wine I’d enjoy more of if it wasn’t such a warm day. Something I’ll definitely keep my eye out for.

After the next round through the tasting area, it was time for food again and our timing was perfect as it was Chef Rodolfo & Bricia’s time to serve.

Rodolfo Castellanos tlayuda Guadalupe Fest
Tlayuda with hiramasa, watermelon radish, mustard greens, flowering cilantro and an extra helping of sea urchin.
Bricia Lopez GUadalupe Valley Fest
On the other side was Bricia’s dish being carefully plated, with Louis Tikramfrom LA’s EP/LP looking from the wings behind.
I wanted to get off the too easily sippable rosé’s I’d been drinking all day into a slow sipper and this Nebbiolo from Madera 5 was the perfect choice.

Rodolfo Castellanos Bricia Lopez Oaxaca

Oaxacking Susy Bando Bricia Lopez

Susy Bando Guadalupe Valley

There was more eating and drinking into the wee hours of the night, but the photos and my memory are a bit fuzzy so they won’t be included here…

We were all excited at 11:30pm when this band took the stage thinking it was Bob Moses (who was supposed to start at 10pm). But alas no, and thankfully we didn’t wait as we’d heard the next day Bob Moses didn’t get on stage until 2am!

Sunday morning:  Bricia and her group were heading back to LA but not without stopping at La Cocina de Doña Esthela first and I was lucky to get an invitation to join them. I was happy again for the invite and not wanting to let the experience from the day before taint what I knew was going to be an amazing meal.

La Cocina Dona Esthela Guadalupe
Machaca con huevos (dried beef with eggs which is 100% more delicious than it sounds), hotcakes de elotes (corn pancakes which are fluffy and sweet), borrego tatemado (shredded wood-roasted lamb) and borrego en su caldo (lamb in soup).

Let’s add it up: Beautiful weather + the feeling that it’s still unfound + my favourite wine varietals + delicious food + my love for everything Mexican right now = My finger on the BOOK button to return to Valle de Guadalupe in the very near future.

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