Pass trash-riddled bus stops, abandoned mechanic shops and super cheap dentists, and you’ll find a surprising oasis in Ensenada—the Santo Tomás winery and tasting room. Mexican wine, you ask? We had never tried it either. Santo Tomás has been in business since 1888, making it the first winery in Baja California and the only one we could walk to from our cruise ship in Ensenada.
We knew from research that there were vineyards in Ensenada some 20 miles up the road from where the cruise ship docked. Not wanting to take a taxi there and risk no taxi back, we asked at the liquor store if there was wine tasting in town. We struggled through a silly Spanish-English interchange, where we mimicked drinking from a wine glass and asked for vino, to which we were referred to the wine they sold in the store. Finally, the employee took us over to the leather shop next door to see a man that spoke English. He gave us directions to Santo Tomás (8 blocks east), and we were off. In case you were wondering, the word for tasting is degustación.
I regretted wearing shorts, as it appears that Mexicans only wear long pants. James looked like he should have been stumbling his way to Papas and Beer, not walking through a part of Ensenada seemingly reserved for locals. Nevertheless, through broken communication with street vendors along the way, we arrived at Santo Tomás just as a tour was about to start.
The well-maintained plaza, out of place in terms of modernity and cleanliness, consisted of a spectacular tasting room, old production facility, warehouse, markets, restaurants and most bizarrely, a “fromagerie.” The guide (who later told us he had been working there only 3 weeks), took us through the factory, full of antique machines for corking and bottling the wine.
We then tasted their newer vintages, some bland whites and reds. Sidling up to the counter to show off his alleged wine prowess (as James often tries to do), we scored off-the-menu tastings of their rich and spicy reds like Tempranillo and Barbera. We bought a bottle of the Barbera, which at $15 was a steal for such a fiery wine.
A little wine took the edge off of our walk back to La Calle Primera, and we stopped at La Tortuga restaurant for some margaritas. The bartender served popcorn with the margaritas, and we took our drinks out to the pool of the attached hotel, Hotel Bahía. When it was clear that we didn’t need any more sun, we walked along the harbor back to the cruise ship, looking forward to a big buffet lunch and an afternoon nap.