Perfectly straight rows of grapevines stretch out as far as the eye can see. Here and there, the terra cotta tiles of rooftops fleck an otherwise green- and hay-colored bowl of a valley that is wreathed in mountains and capped by piercing blue sky.
It would be easy to believe that you had been plunked down into the hills of Napa or Tuscany. But this is Mexico's Valle de Guadalupe -- specifically, El Cielo Winery & Resort -- a can't-miss destination for oenophiles as well as foodies and general lovers of Mexico.
Valle de Guadalupe is located in the state of Baja California; its mountainous landscape is transportive. One of the top selling points of the region in general is its proximity to other major destinations. The beaches of Ensenada are only 30 minutes down the mountain, while the border with the U.S. is less than two hours away. In fact, it's not uncommon to have travelers from Southern California popping down for a long weekend or even a daytrip.
Baja is Mexico's premiere wine-growing region; 75% of all Mexican wine comes from there, and practically all wine exported to the U.S. is from Baja. Within the region, El Cielo is one of the most important and well-respected wineries and hotels; its Eclipse Tinto 2018 took home top prize at the prestigious Concours Mondial de Bruxelles in 2021.
El Cielo's vineyard is home to 15 grape varieties across its 86 acres. As a result, the wines at El Cielo are extensive, taking into consideration every type of palate, whether guests are into enormously bold reds; light, minerally whites; or anything in between. Labels are all astronomically themed (El Cielo translates to "heaven," after all).
A winery tour is a must
The vineyard at El Cielo is home to 15 varieties of grapes across its 86 acres. Photo Credit: Meagan Drillinger
For those who are interested in learning more about the wine-making process, a tour of the winery is an absolute must. Throughout the tour, a guide will take visitors around the vineyard, pouring a glass of wine at different stops along the way to help bring the experience fully to life. The tour continues in the cellar, where visitors can have a firsthand look at (and taste of) the wines as they move from vine to barrel.
If you're fortunate enough to be visiting when Jesus Rivera is on site, you are in for a treat. Rivera is the lead winemaker at El Cielo and has been crafting wines for practically his entire life, as he was born into a winemaking family. He studied with some of the industry's greats in France's Bordeaux region and today uses a blend of 21st century technology and old world winemaking to produce the wines at El Cielo.
He works alongside his son, who is helping to carry on the family legacy.
Of course, no wine experience is complete without food to pair it with. On site at the winery is the Latitud 32 restaurant, which is a celebration of two of Mexico's unique coastal regions -- Baja and the Yucatan.
The rustic-chic dining room looks out over the vineyards, while plates are presented with locally sourced ingredients. The ceviche Maya, in particular, was a wonderful concoction of fish, octopus and shrimp marinated in a black sauce. The Dzic de Borrego is also of note, a traditional shredded lamb dish served on top of a toston. Not to be outdone, the Polaris restaurant, walking distance to the villas, is stellar for breakfast, particularly for its eggs Benedict with the same country-style shredded lamb.
The cellar at El Cielo is an ideal place to enjoy a tasting of their prize-winning wines. Photo Credit: Meagan Drillinger
The villa-style rooms are scattered across a sweeping swath of land, peppered by ponds, palm trees and pathways. Each villa has a Junior Suite, a Junior Suite Double and a Master Suite.
We checked into a Master Suite, which overlooked one of the ponds on the property. The Master Suites are on the ground floor of each villa and offer spacious one-bedroom spaces with a private bathroom, whirlpool tub, living room, gas fireplace, terrace and fully equipped kitchen.
Tip: Uncork a bottle of your favorite El Cielo wine while out on the patio and get the outdoor fire pit going. Room service can create a cheese and charcuterie board to be sent to the room as well as a s'mores and dessert board, which you can warm over your fire pit.
El Cielo also features an extravagant Presidential Villa, with two bedrooms, living area, dining room for eight, kitchen, whirlpool tub and terrace. These villas are 2,670 square feet and can accommodate six people.
Beyond the winery and the restaurants, the resort is a bit thin on other amenities.
The small pool area is perfectly lovely, but it's evident that visitors are coming to the resort and spending their time tasting the wines. That said, El Cielo has big plans for the future with an expansion that will include a luxurious spa and additional restaurants.