06.26.13 – Day 3 - This morning I woke up extra early at the Hotel Coral so that I could check out their gym and spa. If you’re like me and you need to get a work-out in, even while on vacation, then rest assured that this hotel has a great gym to accommodate all physical activity needs! The gym has an all-glass wall that overlooks the heated indoor pool, tennis courts, and the hotel’s back terrace so I had a great view during my work out. The best part is that there were plenty of treadmills and other equipment so I never had to ‘wait my turn’ and it was never crowded. Even better news: the hotel plans on improving and enlarging its gym and spa over the course of the next months.
In addition to the Hotel Coral accommodating guests with a wonderful gym and spa the hotel, they provide several outdoor terraces that serve as event venues. Right now the Hotel Coral is working on building even more of these gorgeous garden areas, including an ‘island’ one in the marina, which will have a 180-degree view of the ocean and valet service to transport guests to the off-land site! Another terrace is currently in the works and is going to be large enough to accommodate 2000 people, which makes for an exceptional wedding venue. For anyone looking to host an unforgettable event right in the heart of ‘wine country’ at a phenomenal ocean-side location, this is your go-to spot.
Right now, on top of having several indoor meeting and conference rooms the Hotel Coral utilizes its various outdoor venues to regularly host concerts, seating up to 3500 people per show. They often bring famous Mexican singers and international artists but are still able to maintain exceptional service; the Hotel Coral takes pride in hosting concerts and events that are unlike regular public shows because they are a hotel first, which means their priority is always the comfort of their guests. That being said concerts are never hectic and overcrowded, parking is always trouble-free and the hotel always caters to event guests with ample hospitality.
After touring all of these amenities of the extensive hotel, we make our first stop of the morning: Las Nubes Winery. I cannot think of a better way to start any day in Mexico than with a glass of wine, straight from the winery itself- perfect. After a short drive, we arrive at the winery, which is located in a gorgeous ‘tucked-away’ valley. I feel like I am in an entirely different world: I am surrounded by seemingly endless rolling hills of lavender, olive trees, and of course grapes, on all sides and it feels like I could touch the clouds with how close to the ground they are. Golden sunshine pours through the fields in all directions and I cannot see roads, cars, or any other buildings for miles. This place is so peaceful. I have escaped into some sort of wine heaven- I am absolutely certain of this.
We take a tour of the winery and I feel like I’m dreaming that I’m walking in the clouds; the hills are completely surrounding us and it makes me feel isolated in a good way- I feel safe from the rest of the world. The beauty of this winery is simply indescribable.
We sit down with Víctor Segura who is a partner and wine-maker at Las Nubes. We are lucky enough to get to try several of the wines here and the first thing we learn is that most of them are “dry” blends and that they are best paired with seafood. The first wine we try is called Kuiiy and is definitely my favorite- a slightly sweet blend of sauvignon blanc with a little bit of chardonnay.
***SideNote: ‘Las Nubes’ is Spanish for ‘clouds’ and most of the wines at this winery are named after clouds because the winery is notorious for its “walking through the clouds” feel.
As we try the rather crisp and dry rosé called “Jaak”, Víctor Segura tells us that at Las Nubes they make all dry and no sweet wines because it reflects his own preferences with wine. If you’re like me and don’t have a sweet tooth with wine, this winery is your heaven- literally.
We proceed in the wine tasting with a few delicious reds such as the Selección de Barricas, the Colección de Parcelas and the Cumulus (yes, like the cloud!), which was especially intense and flavorful. Additionally, we were able to try the Nimbus and Nebbiolo (again with the cloud-names), which is said to be great with chocolate. I already want to take all of these wines home with me.
***SideNote: According to California-state law, each U.S. citizen can only bring back one bottle of wine from Mexico; the laws regarding the amounts of wine permitted into the U.S. vary state-by-state so this doesn’t necessarily apply to someone entering the U.S. through Texas, for example.
***SideNote: In Mexico, if a wine-maker declares over 14% alcohol in his or her wine, the state taxes skyrocket, so it is very rare that you will find any Mexican wines with higher alcohol content. This leads me to wonder how many of these wine labels are accurate…
Segura tells us that his ideology with wine-making relies on the belief that the grape should be the “star” of the flavor; that being said, he rarely makes his wines with ‘wood’ flavors. Segura says “I try not to have the wood overpower the grapes- I like the grapes to be the most important part” and explains that he likes to keep his wines simple: he believes that he has very good grapes and that is what will really “make” the wine.
While Las Nubes is a relatively small winery, it is open to the public every single day, while most others only open on weekends. The winery may not produce as much wine as others in the area but Segura explains that size does not, in fact, matter: “instead of volume, we have quality”.
After leaving the heavenly winery in the clouds, we head over to another wine tasting at the Vinícola Torres Alegre and Family winery. This winery was founded by Victor Torres Allegretes, who is the only winemaker in Mexico with a Ph. D. in winemaking! His son, Leonardois, told us all about the family business and how the winery itself is only three years old.
The Vinícola Torres Alegre and Family winery truly is the epitome of a ‘family’ business: Leonardois (who studied art) is the artist behind many of the wine bottles’ unique labels and his sister (who studied literature) is the writer behind the stories and quotes that are placed on the backs of the wine bottles. These stories replace the typical wine descriptions that are found on the backs of the bottles because Allegretes and his family believe that people should not read about how the wine tastes, rather, they want “people to find out for themselves”.
Leonardois explains to us that their focus at the winery is “developing high quality wines” and that they do this using a relatively long process: “We have one of the longest fermentation processes- two months per bottle of wine!” He tells us that at the Vinícola Torres Alegre and Family winery they use a berry-by-berry hand selection process for choosing grapes so that each individual grape that goes into making the wine is approved first!
We begin the wine-tasting with Del Viko Blanco, which is a French Colombard that I found especially clean and crisp. This buttery white wine has minimal tartness and essentially no after taste- perhaps due to the fact that it was was only ever fermented in stainless steal. Next, we tried the La Lllave Blanca, which was a rich golden sauvignon blanc with honey flavors that would go great with any dessert. Of course we had the winery’s Del Viko Rosé, which spent an astounding twelve months in oak barrels. Leonardois explained, “we don’t like to do things the traditional way”, which most certainly is working in their favor. Next was the Del Viko Tinto, which is a blend of sixteen different wines, and we finally finished with the slightly smoky Temperillo Petit Verdot. Excellent.
We leave the family-owned and run winery for dinner at the Corazón de Tierra restaurant, hotel, and winery. This restaurant is a tiny building in the middle of a seemingly isolated valley- everywhere you look is rolling hills and mountains and nothing else. I feel like I’m so far gone from the rest of the world that no one could ever find me in this intimate and peaceful retreat. Even when inside the actual restaurant I don’t have to end my affair with the beautiful nature because two of the restaurant’s four walls are giant windows, which can be completely opened. As we sit down the curtains are drawn back to reveal ponds and gardens directly outside of the restaurant. Sunshine pours in and cool breezes flow through the dining area- for all intents and purposes we are basically outside. The whole mood is so surreal- I feel like I’m having dinner in the middle of some secret garden that no one else knows about.
We sit down with Corazón de Tierra’s owner, Phil Gregory who tells us the story of how the restaurant got started: “My wife told me to. We had dreams of coming to Mexico…mine involved beer and a hammock…hers was more like this…so we compromised and did what she wanted.” Hilarious. Gregory is quite the character and his restaurant’s food is equally remarkable: the meal begins with a ‘starter’ of smoked yellowtail on tostada with avocado. Outstanding. This is just the opening act but I could eat this as a whole meal.
Next is a very rich and salty oyster with ramonetti cheese, which is served with an amber beer. Our third course is a spring salad with sunflower petals, followed by a well-delivered duck and clam chili dish. The fifth course was a three-cucumber salad, which was followed by sea bass coated in flying fish eggs with a turnip leaf sauce. This mastermind behind this food is a creative genius; I’m wondering how one could even come up with such ideas. The seventh course is my favorite of the whole extravagant meal: halibut with a beef reduction in shitake mushroom puree. Unbelievable. Finally, we are given a “pre-dessert” of ‘pixtle’, which is the bone of a Mexican fruit and acts as a palate cleanser; the meal reaches its closure with star anise ice cream topped with an epazote sauce, black radish cream, caramelized French radish, and ginger cake. This whole three-hour-long adventure-of-a-meal was experienced all while watching the Sunset into the valley, right from our table. It is so relaxing and comfortable that I could fall asleep right at the table- but I wouldn’t dare do so because my dreams couldn’t even compete with my reality.
After dinner we are given a tour of Corazón de Tierra’s hotel, which is just as intimate as the restaurant. The cozy hotel has a very homey and comfortable feel to it; in fact, it is more of a house than it is a hotel! The living room acts as a common room for guests and shelves of books line the hallways, serving as a sort-of library. The hotel overlooks the rolling hills of the valley and has a beautiful stone porch where guests can enjoy the view. The hotel also has a swimming pool, massage services, and stays include a huge freshly made breakfast!
The Corazón de Tierra property also has its own vegetable gardens and winery; both provide for products that are used in the restaurant’s food! The winery is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before because it is made from a boat, flipped upside-down. The entire winery is made from recycled materials (including the boat!) and perfectly complements the uniqueness and the natural-feel of the property.
After leaving the heavenly Corazón de Tierra we head over to our final stop of the night: Casa Natalie. This house-turned-hotel is a hidden treasure tucked away right on the Pacific Coast- this is no exaggeration: the hotel is literally right on the water. Casa Natalie is the beach version of the Corazón de Tierra in the sense that it is so intimate and has such a private feel to it; the hotel has only eight rooms available for guests, making for a very exclusive ambiance. The hotel also hosts events such as weddings and conferences, and of course, it has its own restaraunt and spa. This place is perfect for anyone looking to completely escape on a low-key vacation or romantic getaway. The Casa Natalie’s most outstanding feature is the infinity pool that ‘falls off’ right into the ocean-filled horizon. One could relax in the heated pool while watching the Sunset into the Pacific; the design and beauty of this place is just phenomenal.
Right next to the pool the hotel has an outdoor terrace with a modish bar, completing the divine and chic ambiance. On this terrace I have the most exceptional balcony-esque view of the ocean: I look down and the tide is crashing right into the land below me, I can literally feel the waves hitting the ground. I feel like I am swimming in the sea, without actually swimming in the sea; this is the most interactive view of the ocean I have ever experienced because I’m not just looking at the water- I can feel it.
The Casa Natalie is the ultimate getaway for people who want to escape life as they know it in exchange for the most authentic beach resort. This is the unbeaten path of Ensenada, Mexico; nothing about this place is generic, cliché, or touristy. I feel like I dreamt up a secret beach that no one else has ever seen and now that dream is my reality. It doesn’t come as a surprise to me when I learn that many celebrities have retreated to this hotel, including Sandra Bullock and Jesse James.
After a long day full of breathtaking Baja experiences, we return to the comfort and glamour of the Hotel Coral for the night. It’s late but the restaurant and bar are still open for me to enjoy a chocolate cake dessert and glass of wine. I end my evening by taking a midnight stroll through the lit-up outdoor terraces, right on the ocean, of course. Magical. Everything about Baja is just magical.
Here are links to ALL FIVE DAYS of my wonderful trip to Baja California:
Photographs by Lawrence Davis