The valley is loaded with great wineries, too many to get to even in a week. Therefore, it's necessary to scope out a reasonable itinerary that will let you taste a broad range of wines and still have time for lunch.
Here's one workable route. It takes in three wineries, ranging from a popular mass market winery that offers excellent tours and reasonable prices to a mid-level winery with a spectacular setting to a boutique winery with a high-priced Nebbiolo ($94) that I'm still dreaming about.
If you're not a serious wine buff, Cetto is a good place to start, because it offers excellent tours that cover the winemaking process, from de-stemming and crushing to barrel-aging (above). You roam the grounds during the tour, all the way to a vineyard out back (in the photo at the top).
When the tour is over, you line up at the tasting room bar where you can learn, or review, the steps in tasting wine. There's lots to buy, as you can see from the photo above--not only wine but chocolates filled with wine and L.A. Cetto olive oil, a steal at $6 a bottle.
Prices are so reasonable that it's a shame Californians can take only one bottle over the border. I bought Don Luis Concordia 2009, which blends 60% Cabernet Sauvignon with 40% Shiraz and was aged in both French and American oak. The price: $13.
Nebbiolo. Cetto was the second winery to plant this grape in the Guadalupe Valley (the first is long gone). The 2009 Nebbiolo Reserva Privada spent more than a year in French Oak. You can have it for $15.
Cetto also has an inexpensive bubbly, Champbrulé, that you can chill in your hotel room if you're staying overnight and drink there. The still varietals would travel better, if you're taking wine home.
A newcomer, Las Nubes released its first wines in 2010. Most have cloudy names, such as Kuiiy, which means cloud in the indigenous Kiliwa language. It's a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, designed to go with local seafood.
Others are Cumulus and Nimbus, both reds. The 2010 Cumulus comes from 40-year-old Grenache and Carignane vines and 65-year old Tempranillo vines.
The 2010 Nimbus is a more traditional, elegant wine. "It's like walking in the clouds," said winemaker Victor Segura (above). The base is Merlot, blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and a small amount of Tempranillo.
The first rosé is the 2012 Jaak (at right). Jaak, which means wind in Kiliwa, blends Grenache, Carignane and Zinfandel. It's a sort of Provençal wine, Segura said, noting that the climate in the Guadalupe Valley resembles that of southern France. You can really see the clouds on its label.
Other wines include the 2010 Nebbiolo and 2011 Selección de Barricas, which is a lighter red based on Carignane. The 2011 Colección de Parceles, full of dark fruit, is based on Tempranillo, blended with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Nebbiolo.
Touring the plant, you come across large, shiny metal tanks that you don't see at other wineries. These are vessels for cooking lobsters, used here for punching down grapes.
The seafood touch isn't surprising. Segura's main business is shipping seafood within Mexico and overseas. He's one of 10 partners in Las Nubes.
Production is small, just 6,300 cases in 2012. There are now seven wines, and an eighth will be released this year. At this stage in its development, Las Nubes buys most of its grapes.
"What I'm trying to do is offer what I like," Segura said. That means dry wine. "I don't drink sweet unless it is late harvest."
Shown here in the rock-lined barrel room, Segura is from Ciudad Obregón in the state of Sonora. A food engineer with a specialty in enology, he's a hands-off winemaker. "My role is not to mess around," he said. If he has any winemaking "secret," it's the quality of the grapes that he buys.
Winery 3. Vinícola Torres Alegre y Familia. From a distance, this winery looks like a flimsy shed (above). But don't be fooled. It's the source of stunning wines. And it's larger than it looks.
People tell you proudly that Victor Torres Alegre is Mexico's only enologist with a Ph.D. He got that degree at the University of Bordeaux. In the Guadalupe Valley, he has consulted for Château Camou and Baron Balche. Now he has his own winery on 7 hectares of land. It was finished three years ago.
The wines are known as "hangover free," because they are made gently, not over extracted. "We don't correct our wines," he said. Acidity and tannins are natural.
The top wines sell for $64 to $94. If you have an extra $500, there's a blockbuster that goes on sale this year in honor of Victor Torres Alegre's 30th anniversary of winemaking.
It's a 19-year-old Sauvignon Blanc, aged 11 years in oak and the rest of the time in the bottle. Production was small, only 200 bottles.
Wines from the Del Viko line sell for $20 to $24. The winery's first rosé, released in June, is the 2011 Del Viko Vino Rosa, made from Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon (at right). A bright pink label makes clear what it is.
The white Del Viko blends French Colombard with Chenin Blanc, and a Vino Tinto (red wine) combines eight varietals, a little of everything in a bottle. Each of the red varietals went through two different fermentations, a lot of care for a medium-priced wine.
Coming out this year are a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and a 100% Syrah.
What makes the premium reds so intense and pricey is they are made with twice the amount of grapes that would be used in a normal red wine, Leonardo said. Add to that gentle processing, long fermentation and small production. Torres Alegre releases just 3,000 cases a year.
The white wines receive no less care. "It's harder to make great white wines than great red wines," Leonardo said. "We give the same amount of respect to both of them.