Casa Encinares: R&R en el B&BFeature Story Thursday, September 6th, 2012
Just an hour and a half drive south of San Diego there is a quiet revolution taking place in Mexico. Casa Encinares waits quietly for the revolution to move forward. The revolution is live; the revolution is the Mexican wine country exploding in the area. The location itself is around 25 minutes east of Ensenada and sports 58 wineries! With acreage larger than the Napa Valley, the wine community is paying close attention to this locale. A recent push from the Mexican Tourism Board has provided money and energy for expansion down “la Ruta del Vino.” With ninety percent of Mexican wines produced in this area, it is no wonder our ears are perked.
Literally meaning “house among the oaks,” Casa Encinares is the perfect example of a natural rustic rest and relaxation retreat. Located in the heart of Mexican wine country and featuring five single, three double casita-style rooms and two three-room villas on the hilltop for larger parties, it is a place to relax and unplug from the rest of the world. Initially the casitas were small homes for the many members of the extended family. The bed and breakfast got its start about 30 years ago as a country home owned by the family of brothers Arturo and Victor Horta. A nice size pool, outdoor dining patios and a cute little tree house are a few of the amenities. The peaceful and organic vibe that is offered here is something a traveler will not find easily without leaving the hustle and bustle of Southern California altogether. With views of the surrounding hilly/mountainous terrain with marine-layer clouds rolling down them, the vineyard area of the property is supported by the works of Victor Horta himself. All electricity is gathered via solar, wind, or other alternative means such as a generator, which is seldom used. One factoid I particularly enjoyed was learning that the water pumping device transports water from a well deep underground to the tops of the hills for use in the vineyard and hilltop casitas. The water itself is mineral rich and often appears milky in color due to the depth of the underground source.
The drive down U.S. Highway 1 doesn’t have to end at the border between the U.S. and Mexico anymore. Over the past several years, Mexico has invested millions into Highway 1 Baja. A beautiful scenic highway that winds down the coast, after passing through Tijuana. There are only two tolls that must be paid along the way. Pesos and dollars are both accepted. And if driving a rental or personal car, Mexican insurance is usually needed. From San Diego, one would exit Highway 1 via La Mision and travel eastward through the Mexican hills toward Valle de Guadalupe. There are a few border patrol stops patrolled by the Mexican government along the way. Expanded driving details can be provided by contacting Casa Encinares.
When I traveled to Casa Encinares, I opted for the car service. Steve Artura, partner of Arturo, and originally an Italian New Yorker, picked me up. Brett Bensmiller from New York also made the trip down the coast with us. Travel is provided from San Diego when staying at the B&B. Single reservations or groups can be accommodated. Two notable sites along the way, other than the ocean and mountain vistas, are Sony Baja Studios and a gigantic kitsch Jesus with arms wide open. Either way, there’s a little history. The studios have provided the location for movies such as Titanic due to the large amounts of water and space needed for the ship and special effects. And Jesus, well, he’s pretty cool and just watches over all of mostly Catholic Baja. The final feather in the hat: artesian vineyards along the way. These wild vines are often referred to as temporal. The unorganized and untrimmed vines are au natural and remind me of a hippie subculture when viewed next to the meticulous neighboring vines.
While serving wine and breakfast, Steve and Arturo took time to explain the many amenities of la Ruta del Vino to us. The three main towns of the wine country were explained to us. San Antonio de las Minas, Valle de Guadalupe and El Porvenir are their names. All school-aged children must take mandatory wine-making classes if living in this region. We also learned that three of the largest vineyards and tasting rooms are La Cetto for mass wine production, Santos for the best tasting room and Vina de Garza for the most beautiful views. Each property has special “personalities” that are well-known throughout the area. One such person is Gilberto at La Cetto. Just by mentioning that you are staying at Casa Encinares, the tasting can double in amount and length. Arturo and Victor are so well-known in the area that you are likely to come back to the casa with more wine than you thought you purchased, and of course the guys welcome tastings back on the property and love hearing which wine is a personal favorite – so bring back your stories too! However, we decided to enjoy two of the wines from the Casa Encinares barrels.
Brett was able to explain his love for the wines the best. His personal favorite was MMG11 chardonnay. With a great aroma, lingering melon and a caramel finish; no wonder he was in heaven. Also, the wine was named after Arturo and Victor’s mother, using her initials, M.M.G. It is a 2011 wine and is best enjoyed soon as it’s not meant to age. The Vidart 2010 cabernet is a personal favorite of Steve’s. Literally meaning the “art of wine” it is aged for 18 months in French oak and ages well. The cabernet sauvignon is meant to sit for a few years before being poured. Personally, I am excited to come back to the property to see the wine cave that will be added in the next phase of development.
Overall, Casa Encinares was the perfect weekend retreat. The peacefulness and rustic beauty of the property allowed me to sleep 12 hours one night, completely uninterrupted, which I haven’t experienced in months and provided me a much-needed break. My recommendation as a frequent traveler: pack a book, a swimsuit and turn off the electronics. You will not want to miss one minute of the history lesson, food prepared by chef and proprietor Arturo, nor the hospitality of Victor and Steve. The mountain views, oak trees and sun passing through the Baja marine layer only add to the allure of this sweet little B&B. This place is a well-kept secret in Mexico, so I guess I’m kinda spilling the frijoles. It’s worth it, though. Enjoy.
Mexican Gay Retreat Weekend
Gay retreat weekend is Sept. 23-26. Leaving San Diego Friday evening the weekend festivities include a welcome dinner and cocktail toast. Saturday morning guests can enjoy fresh fruit, pan dulce, French press coffee and juices while a full brunch is served after a leisurely wake up. Next, guests travel to local vineyards for 16 tastings before heading back to Casa Encinares for prime rib or New York steak, hand-butchered at the Casa. Also on the menu, chorizo Español, chistorra, beans and guacamole, a variety of salsas, house made flour tortillas and tinto de verano (summer red wine), a wine-based cold drink similar to sangria. To cap off the weekend, there is a champagne send-off Sunday morning before traveling back to San Diego.
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