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WEEKEND GETAWAY : A Toast to Wine Tasting in Mexico

August 13, 1992|FRANK MESSINA | Frank Messina is a free-lance writer who contributes regularly to The Times Orange County Edition.

Mention Baja California and the average person thinks of beachside resorts, cheap tequila, the desert and cheap Kahlua. But the Mexican peninsula has a wildly diverse nature; consider the wine industry that exists there.

The half-dozen wineries in Baja grow about 95% of the entire country's wine grapes. Beginning this weekend, they will celebrate this year's harvest with a Fiesta de la Vendimia (Festival of the Vintage).

The partying will continue through Aug. 23, in Ensenada and at the wineries themselves, located in the Guadalupe and Santo Tomas Valleys halfway between Ensenada and Tecate.

Actually, the festival isn't just a celebration of the harvest but of the wineries' own survival. As recently as three years ago, there were 10 times as many labels in Mexico, but then the government allowed foreign wines to be sold in the country, and all but these six went out of business.

Which is too bad, because "this is a wonderful area for growing grapes," says Tomas Fernandez, director of the Monte Xanic Winery in the Guadalupe Valley. "There is cool weather here, but no frost--perfect for our grapes. It allows for long growing periods."

Festival events will include a wide range of cultural and celebratory activities.

Wine tasting parties will abound, along with classical music concerts and art shows, paella cooking contests and a street party in Ensenada on Aug. 20.

For a listing of events and hotels in the area, call (619) 298-4105 or (800) 522-1516.

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