One of the most notable things about VDG is the feeling you get when you’re on your way down the mountain on Mexico Route 3. As you wind your way down, you’ll notice the scenery open up to roadside restaurants and sweeping vineyard views. Some American Expatriates that have decided to work and make their home in the VDG describe a sense of calm and release on their way down the mountain into the valley. I too, have experienced this feeling and sensation on my first ever trip to the VDG. I remember being nervous driving through Mexico on my way from San Diego to Ensenada. I had never driven in Mexico up to this point and anytime you have to navigate in a foreign country, the task can be daunting. Nevertheless, after the hour drive from the border and once the scenery of the VDG revealed itself on my way down the mountain, I experienced what can only be explained as a slight euphoria. To this day, I still get a euphoric sensation and sense of excitement every time I take the trip. Michelin Star Chef Drew Deckman of Deckman’s in el Mogor, once described to me the feeling he got during this same scenario as “An overwhelming feeling that he had come home”. Chef Deckman has been living and running his restaurants in the VDG ever since.
There is truly something magical about the VDG. Whether it’s the food scene, the relaxing vineyard views surrounded by mountains or the terroir driven wines, you are sure to get a unique experience. The pace of things in the VDG is different than it’s cross-border counterpart Temecula. This is by no means an indictment on Temecula or it’s wine, however I’ve never had the same relaxing feeling in Temecula. Many times, Temecula wineries can be very crowded and the noise from the cackling chatter of people who surpassed the Athenian level of intoxication can create some level of anxiety or annoyance. Due to the consistent crowding of wineries in Temecula, the service and overall experience can be greatly affected. Given the issue of crowding, the service in Temecula is actually very good. The folks pouring you wine really work hard to deliver as pleasant of an experience as they can manage, but the one on one experience just isn’t there. When you have a situation where you have to squeeze through a crowd and fit your wine glass, which is attached to the end of your arm into a tight space to get the bar tender’s attention, the overall experience can wane. I have been guiding tours in the VDG for the past five years and going on frequent personal weekend getaways for the past six years.
I have never been in a situation like the Temecula example in the VDG. Many times, when tasting in the VDG the winemaker is giving you the tasting or is stopping by to say hello or answer questions while working in the cellar. Furthermore, regardless if you buy 5 cases of wine from a Temecula winery you will be charged for the tastings. The wineries in Temecula have come up with an agreement that no winery will comp tastings. Tasting experiences in Temecula range from $15 up to $100 per person depending on the tasting experience. In the VDG, the most expensive tasting I have personally encountered is $25 USD. A typical tasting in the VDG is around $12 USD. Another thing to consider is winemakers in the VDG are using grapes from Ensenada. Conversely, in Temecula, many of the quality wines are made from grapes sourced from areas other than Temecula or San Diego. To make the highest quality wines, Temecula wineries are sourcing from areas such as Santa Barbara, Paso Robles and Sonoma. Some of these wines are good wines, however the experience fails to be unique to the place. In VDG, the sense of place is evident from the first bite of food or sip of wine you take. The feeling you get when tasting at a winery in VDG is one of a personalized intimate experience rather than feeling like you are lost in the crowd and just another $25 plus tip.
I think what makes the VDG special is the laid-back pace, the personal experience, the passion of the people and the overwhelming sense of place. In the VDG, you are not just another pour. The winemakers and Chefs in the VDG love to share their passion with visitors and it is extremely evident. Temecula and the VDG are almost equidistant from the San Ysidro Port of Entry and you could make a fun weekend out of Temecula o Saturday and VDG on Sunday, so you can experience both for yourself. Both have great things to offer a San Diego wine enthusiast, but the sense of relaxation and personal treatment down south will surely leave you wanting to visit every chance you get.