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Vendimia and Other Festivals

In Vino Vendimia

The Fiestas de la Vendimia is the best wine, food and music festival you've never heard of—maybe that's because it takes place in Baja

by BARBARA THORNBURG

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Fiestas de la Vendimia. You know, the two-and-a-half-week harvest festival held between the first Friday and the third Sunday in August that combines visits to state-of-the-art wineries, Italian tenors, alternative-style circuses, Kafkaesque plays, mime, modern dance and performance art?

Not ringing a bell? Valle de Guadalupe—the 14-mile region about 90 minutes south of San Diego and four hours from Los Angeles—is arguably Mexico's premier artisanal wine–growing region. The valley and the nearby city of Ensenada are where the majority of the fiestas take place, bookended by the Muestra del Vino—showcase of wines—and the Concurso de Paellas, an über-paella contest featuring more than 80 equipos, or teams, making every conceivable incarnation of the dish. Gargantuan pans filled with seafood, rabbit, sausage and cordonices—valley game hens—fill the air with heavenly aromas. But don't get too excited. Paella tickets are long gone at this point. We'll get to that later.

Good wine in Mexico, you're thinking? Tequila-laced margaritas, for sure. Tall glasses of icy cerveza—of course. But good Mexican wine seems like an oxymoron. Not so, says Steve Wallace, owner of Wally's Wines & Spirits in Los Angeles. "Mexico is making some impressive wines. We have plans to carry a number of them."

We'll give you a moment to reconcile Baja California with the idea of what's being called a nascent Napa. Because the quiet valley, with its rusty-hued boulders—large as bulldozers—that sit among vineyards and groves of olive trees, is a revelation light-years from the margarita ambience of the touristy coast.

So how come there's such an absence of good Mexican wines in California—a mere five labels at the Wine Bank in San Diego and zero bottles at Silver Lake Wine, both shops specializing in wine from around the globe? "The big distributors don't want to invest in marketing until they have a proven product," says Wallace. Throw in the small wineries' limited production and the Mexican government's hefty 25-plus percent IEPS tax on special products and services, and you get two more reasons for the dearth of Mexican vino stateside.

Oscar Escobedo, secretary of tourism for Baja California, says Baja wines, which make up 90 percent of Mexico's production, have garnered more than 230 awards worldwide in the last four years. L.A. Cetto, one of the largest valley wineries, won the coveted gold medal for its petite syrah last March at Paris' Vinalies Internationales. "We're starting to make some great wines and get the word out," says Escobedo.

"If you come down, you'll get to see the birth of a region," says leading valley wine enologist Hugo D'Acosta, whose wine school Estacíon de Oficios del Porvenir—aka La Escuelita, or little school—has both educated and assisted in the production of wine for a crush of would-be vintners.

The destination is worth the drive. After exiting the new four-lane Carretera 3 that goes through the valley, you take washboard dirt roads peppered with sleeping Mexican dogs, and at the end of that bone-jarring trip, you're rewarded with such wineries as Paralelo, designed by Ensenada architect Alejandro D'Acosta. It's a modern-day Mayan temple, rammed-earth walls imprinted with nopal cactus, olive branches and rubber tires found on the site, with function following form in the guise of a ramp to the roof, enabling trucks to ascend to offload grapes into waiting stainless-steel vats below.

Although big commercial wineries such as Domecq and L.A. Cetto have been around since the 1970s, and Santo Tomás since 1888—not to mention the Spanish friars who planted vines in the 16th century—the Guadalupe Valley's boutique wineries have largely evolved since the late 1980s. "At last count there were 38," says D'Acosta, "and if you look under that rock over there, you'll probably find another one."

One of the first boutique wineries making quality wine in the valley was Monte Xanic. Tomás Fernandez, director general of Baja Naval marina and boatyard in Ensenada, started the winery in 1987 with four others, including renowned enologist Dr. Hans Backhoff. "My friends at the time said to me, `You're doing what?' Mexican wines had a very bad reputation."

Fernandez was one of the members of the Ensenada wine society Cofradía del Vino de Baja California that sprang up in 1986. The common denominator: a passion for food and wine among well-educated, well-traveled Mexicans. "The idea of the fiestas started in the wine society," says Dr. Fidel Cantú, who led the popular paella contest for the first five years of the festival and has watched the event grow from a single day into a weeks-long maridaje—harmonious union—of wine, food and cultural events.

"We are working to protect the valley long term," says D'Acosta, who headed up the first harvest-festival events two decades ago. "We think a wine festival will help. People who attend become ambassadors for the region."

Most of last year's roughly 20,000 attendees hail from Ensenada and other areas of Mexico, says Gloria Acosta of RCV Travel Shop, which provides some tickets for the events. "In the last two years, the demographics have changed vis-à-vis the Americans…the biggest problem is the economy—they have to pay for a hotel, food, tickets," she says. Throw in last year's swine-flu scare and the continuing concern about the war on drugs, and many Americans who actually knew about the festival just stayed home.

"I would argue it is more likely for a tourist to have some kind of incident in California—drive-by shooting, carjacking, robbery—than here in Baja," says Escobedo. "We have 25 million people a year visiting us from all over. According to U.S. Homeland Security, there has been a 25 percent increase in Americans coming between January and May of this year. We are getting our message across that Baja is safe."

"Sometimes when foreigners come, events become more touristy. The most important thing is that the fiestas stay authentic, a unique expression of each winery."
The reality is that the Mexicans don't need gringos to make their festival a success. And in fact, some see it as a celebration for Mexicans first, and if others come, well, fine. One longtime Guadalupe Valley resident, Natalia Badan, general coordinator at CEARTE (Ensenada's new modern center for the arts) says, "Sometimes when many foreigners come, all of a sudden events become more touristy. The most important thing is that the fiestas stay authentic, a unique expression of each winery."

Her own event—500 visitors sitting under fragrant Mediterranean pines listening to jazz at sunset at Mogor-Badan winery—is a case in point. Appetizers from the winery's organic garden—cherry tomatoes, olives, figs and grapes—accompany its light, dry Swiss Chasselas, followed by homemade empanadas, all served by family and friends. "The purpose of the Vendimia is to take time out and be joyous about all the hard work and the harvest to come."

The good news is that Vendimia events are far reaching and have something for nearly every gusto and pocketbook. The Verbena Santo Tomás, a street fair held in downtown Ensenada, and the Fiesta en el Valle, at a park in El Porvenir, feature local food, wines, games and music—free to all.

Pricier events—in the $100 range—taking place at upscale wineries include sunset concerts at Monte Xanic and Château Camou, the alt-circus Zirk Ubu at La Villa del Valle and a formal dinner and wine auction at Adobe Guadalupe. Nearby Bibayoff winery, with its Russian legacy of 20th-century Molokan pacifists turned winemakers, features a fun-filled fusion evening of Russian-Mexican music, food and wine.

Tickets for smaller, more exclusive engagements are rarely—if ever—available. Events at Casa de Piedra, one of the leading vineyards, are as progressive as the sustainable winery fashioned of corrugated metal and local amber stone. One year, Mexico City actor Humberto Dupeyrón provided food for thought, performing "The Gorilla," based on a Kafka story. Last year, the L.A.-based avant-garde music group String Theory played a harp-like instrument whose strings stretched more than 100 feet into the air. After the performance, guests donned gloves and took their turns on the stage playing the harp, then descended to the courtyard for steaming bowls of seafood pozole and music by a local rock band.

So just how do you get tickets? "It can be frustrating," says seven-year Baja resident Carla White, an American who writes for the Baja Times. "Years ago, I would call the travel agent Viajes Damiana every week starting around March 1, to see if the schedule was out. When tickets came in, we'd literally run down to get them. In those days, you had to physically stand in line—it was like buying tickets to a rock concert."

Things have improved, although it can still be a task for out-of-towners. This year, the schedule of 41 events with 22 wineries was released mid May, with tickets available to buy mid June, just a month and a half before the opening event. All this puts wannabe fiestagoers in a catch-22, since hotel rooms in Ensenada and the valley have been booked for months.

Part of the conundrum lies with how the tickets are distributed. "Each winery determines its event and the number of tickets," says Gerardo Alcalá, Provino events and public relations coordinator of the arm of the Asociacíon National de Vitivinicultores that officially runs the fiestas. "Some give us tickets to distribute, and others don't. Some tickets are given to Ensenada travel agencies but not all." More intimate events—such as Pau Pijoan's dinner and wine pairing at La Contra (formerly Restaurante Del Parque), one of the most popular eateries in Ensenada—are sold privately and never distributed at all, period.

This year for the first time, Vendimia tickets are available on the Internet. That's the good news. The bad news is a few of the wineries are not participating in online sales. Tickets are sometimes available by contacting the wineries directly and getting on a list—speaking Spanish is always helpful. Or you can plan a visit to the valley beforehand. That's not too bad a choice—spend a lovely weekend touring the wineries that are open all year and sample delicious vintages.

And if you've a little moxie like Carla White, you can just show up at a winery event at the last minute and hope for a ticket. "It's always challenging," she says, "but in the end it's so worth it."

BARBARA THORNBURG is a freelance writer who cooks up stories—and orange marmalade—on her Baja ranch. She is the author of L.A. Lofts.

Insider's GuideReally want tickets to XX Fiestas de la Vendimia (August 6–22)? Some can be had—alas, as we said, most hotels are booked. Here are a few tips—but if the fates don't shine on you, there's always next year.

Provino: The arm of the Asociacíon National de Vitivinicultores, which runs Vendimia events, has 2,000 tickets each for the opening Muestra del Vino ($30) and closing Concurso de Paellas ($35)—but they go faster than a Mexican roadrunner. Not a prayer for this year. Call in April 2011 to get on their waiting list, 646-178-3038,
info@provinoac.org. Provino carries other Vendimia tickets. Stop by the downtown Ensenada office to buy them—cash only; 496 Teniente Azueta and Virgilio Uribe.

Fiestasdelavendimia.com: Press Google Translate if you don't read Spanish. Click Calendario de Eventos to order by credit card or PayPal. Note: If there is no shopping cart at the end of the description, tickets aren't available. (But check back—they're sometimes added). Tickets can be mailed or picked up at Provino.

Winery: At the Website above, click on Vini­colas Participantes for a list, then call to see if any are selling tickets—some do, some don't. You may have to send a wire transfer to a Mexican bank and/or go to the Guadalupe Valley beforehand, pay cash and pick up your tickets the evening of the event. Be sure to bring your receipt with you!

Travel Agents: RCV Travel Shop and Viajes Kinessia are given a certain number of Vendimia tickets. They can also help find a hotel and, occasionally, even find rooms in local homes. Contact Gloria Acosta at RCV Travel, 646-174-0072,
gloria.acosta@rcvtravel.com; Viajes Kinessia, 646-152-1800, viajeskinessia.com. Also, discoverbajacalifornia.com lists area hotels.

Wing It: Like an out-of-towner who wants to get into that sold-out Broadway play—locals occasionally stop by at the last minute to see if anyone has an extra ticket. If you don't have a place to stay, this is probably not such a great idea. Still, tickets are sometimes available. Buena suerte!

Pedestrian toll bridge proposed at Otay Mesa

An investor group involving billionaire Sam Zell
received a key federal approval needed to proceed
with its plans for a cross-border pedestrian bridge
that would link San Diego to Tijuana's Rodriguez
International Airport.

 

If built, it would be the first of its kind in North
America and give San Diego-area travelers easier
access to flights at the Mexican airport.

 

Last month, the U.S. State Department said it finds
"no significant impact" for the for-profit proposal
submitted by Otay-Tijuana Venture, which is led by
Chicago-based Equity Group Investments and
several board members of the company that
operates the Tijuana airport. Zell, a real estate
investor who owns the Los Angeles Times, is the
chairman and founder of Equity Group.


San Diego International, which has only one
runway, is expected to reach its capacity as early as
2025. Squeezed in by the Pacific Ocean and the
city's downtown, it has little room to grow. But
Tijuana's airport, which is immediately across the
border from San Diego, has a longer runway and
can provide more international flights, leading to
proposals for a cross-border facility.


San Diego aviation officials pursued a similar
project several years ago, but abandoned it. They
would be supportive of Otay-Tijuana's facility if it's
built, says Keith Wilschetz of the San Diego County
Regional Airport Authority.


The State Department says Otay-Tijuana's facility
would provide "a more convenient, cost-effective,
reliable and secure crossing" of the border and
eliminate "long and unpredictable border waits and
congestion" without compromising security.


The facility would include the bridge, a 75,000
square-foot building and a parking garage. It would
serve up to 17,000 travelers daily. The building
would house U.S. Customs and Border Protection
facilities, retail shops and offices.


The enclosed and secure bridge between the facility
and the Tijuana Airport would be about 525 feet
long and charge a toll for users. It would be divided
into two corridors that would prevent contact
between northbound and southbound pedestrians.
The project still requires local approval.

Is Mexico the "New" China?

According to corporate consultant AlixPartners, Mexico has leapfrogged China to be ranked as the cheapest country in the world for companies looking to manufacture products for the U.S. market. India is now No. 2, followed by China and then Brazil. In fact, Mexico's cost advantages and has become so cheap that even Chinese companies are moving there to capitalize on the trade advantages that come from geographic proximity.
When it comes to global manufacturing, Mexico is quickly emerging as the "new" China.

According to corporate consultant AlixPartners, Mexico has leapfrogged China to be ranked as the cheapest country in the world for companies looking to manufacture products for the U.S. market. India is now No. 2, followed by China and then Brazil.

In fact, Mexico's cost advantages and has become so cheap that even Chinese companies are moving there to capitalize on the trade advantages that come from geographic proximity.

The influx of Chinese manufacturers began early in the decade, as China-based firms in the cellular telephone, television, textile and automobile sectors began to establish maquiladora operations in Mexico. By 2005, there were 20-25 Chinese manufacturers operating in such Mexican states Chihuahua, Tamaulipas and Baja.
The investments were generally small, but the operations had managed to create nearly 4,000 jobs, Enrique Castro Septien, president of the Consejo Nacional de la Industria Maquiladora de Exportacion (CNIME), told the SourceMex news portal in a 2005 interview.

China's push into Mexico became more concentrated, with China-based automakers Zhongxing Automobile Co., First Automotive Works (in partnership with Mexican retail/media heavyweight Grupo Salinas), Geely Automobile Holdings (PINK: GELYF) and ChangAn Automobile Group Co. Ltd. (the Chinese partner of Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) andSuzuki Motor Corp.), all announced plans to place automaking factoriesin Mexico.

Not all the plans would come to fruition. But Geely's plan called for a three-phase project that would ultimately involve a $270 million investment and have a total annual capacity of 300,000 vehicles. ChangAn wants to churn out 50,000 vehicles a year. Both companies are taking these steps with the ultimate goal of selling cars to U.S. consumers.

Mexico's allure as a production site that can serve the U.S. market isn't limited to China-based suitors. U.S. companies are increasingly realizing that Mexico is a better option than China. Analysts are calling it "nearshoring" or "reverse globalization." But the reality is this: With wages on the rise in China, ongoing worries about whipsaw energy and commodity prices, and a dollar-yuan relationship that's destined to get much uglier before it has a chance of improving, manufacturers with an eye on the American market are increasingly realizing that Mexico trumps China in virtually every equation the producers run.

"China was like a recent graduate, hitting the job market for the first time and willing to work for next to nothing," Mexico-manufacturing consultant German Dominguez told the Christian Science Monitor in an interview last year. But now China is experiencing "the perfect storm … it's making Mexico – a country that had been the ugly duckling when it came to costs – look a lot better.
"
The real eye opener was a 2008 speculative frenzy that sent crude oil prices up to a record level in excess of $147 a barrel – an escalation that caused shipping prices to soar. Suddenly, the labor cost advantage China enjoyed wasn't enough to overcome the costs of shipping finished goods thousands of miles from Asia to North America. And that reality kick-started the concept of "nearshoring," concluded an investment research report by Canadian investment bank CIBC World Markets Inc. (NYSE: CM)

"In a world of triple-digit oil prices, distance costs money," the CIBC research analysts wrote. "And while trade liberalization and technology may have flattened the world, rising transport prices will once again make it rounder."

Indeed, four factors are at work here.

Mexico's "Fab Four"
• The U.S.-Mexico Connection: There's no question that China's role in the post-financial-crisis world economy will continue to grow in importance. But contrary to the conventional wisdom, U.S. firms still export three times as much to Mexico as they do to China. Mexico gets 75% of its foreign direct investment from the United States, and sends 85% of its exports back across U.S. borders. As China's cost and currency advantages dissipate, the fact that the United States and Mexico are right next to one another makes it logical to keep the factories in this hemisphere – if for no other reason that to shorten the supply chain and to hold down shipping costs. This is particularly important for companies like Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ), Whirlpool Corp. (NYSE:WHR) and even the beleaguered auto parts maker Delphi Corp. (PINK: DPHIQ) which are involved in just-in-time manufacturing that requires parts be delivered only as fast as they are needed.

• The Lost Cost Advantage: A decade or more ago, in any discussion of manufactured product costs, Asia was hands-down the low-cost producer. That's a given no more. Recent reports – including the analysis by AlixPartners – show that Asia's production costs are 15% or 20% higher than they were just four years ago. A U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report from March reaches the same conclusion. Compensation costs in East Asia – a region that includes China but excludes Japan – rose from 32% of U.S. wages in 2002 to 43% in 2007, the most recent statistics available. And since wages are advancing at a rate of 8% to 9% a year, and many types of taxes are escalating, too, East Asia's overall costs have no doubt escalated even more in the two years since the BLS figures were reported.

• The Creeping Currency Crisis: For the past few years, U.S. elected officials and corporate executives alike have groused that China keeps its currency artificially low to boost its exports, while also reducing U.S. imports. The U.S. trade deficit with China has soared, growing by $20.2 billion in August alone to reach $143 billion so far this year. The currency debate will be part of the discussion when U.S. President Barack Obama visits Chinastarting Monday. Because China's yuan has strengthened so much, goods made in China may not be the bargain they once were. Those currency crosscurrents aren't a problem with the U.S. and Mexico, however. As of Monday, the dollar was down about 15% from its March 2009 high. At the same time, however, the Mexican peso had dropped 20% versus the dollar. So while the yuan was getting stronger as the dollar got cheaper, the peso was getting even cheaper versus the dollar.

• Trade Alliance Central: Everyone's familiar with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  But not everyone understands the impact that NAFTA has had. It isn't just window-dressing: Mexico's trade with the United States and Canada has tripled since NAFTA was enacted in 1994. What's more, Mexico has 12 free-trade agreements that involve more than 40 countries – more than any other country and enough to cover more than 90% of the country's foreign trade. Its goods can be exported – duty-free – to the United States, Canada, the European Union, most of Central and Latin America, and to Japan.

In the global scheme of things, what I am telling you here probably won't be a game-changer when it comes to China. That country is an economic juggernaut and is a market that U.S. investors cannot afford to ignore.  Given China's emerging strength and its increasingly dominant financial position, it's going to have its own consumer markets to service for decades to come.

Concerts and Gourmet Cuisine in Mexico's Wine Country

Baron Balch'e will host another major concert event on August 21st, part of Mexico's Fiestas de la Vendimia, at the Baron Balch'e winery in Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, featuring the acoustical guitar music of Paco Renteria.

 

Paco Renteria is a talented musician who has played with Carlos Santana and Luciano Pavarotti, and he wrote the original composition, "El Mariachi," that was used as the theme song for the film Desperado. In addition, he wrote and performed the promotional sound track for Steven Spielberg's "The Legend of Zorro."  Paco has received many international awards, including a 2002 Grammy nomination. As well, he has performed over 2,500 concerts around the world, and written more than 300 original musical compositions for guitar.  His style of music is a masterful blend of gypsy, flamingo, African, oriental and progressive jazz.

Paco has performed in the Napa Valley wine country, receiving rave reviews from concert goers and the media alike. According to Napa valley publications: "Profound and electrifying … pure exhilaration, taking tradition as a blueprint for ecstasy," said the St. Helena News Times. And, the Evening Sun of Napa Valley commented, "Paco's guitar music is fit for kings…those listening to Renteria were held transfixed as he dazzled and hypnotized with delicious ease…he built a transcendental holding pattern of reminiscent spiritual nourishment."

Paco started playing the guitar at age 7, graduated from the Music School by age 14, holds two university degrees, one in Law and the other in Business Administration. He is the first and only artist of any nature that has been invited to perform at the National Palace of Justice, and the National Supreme Court of Justice, both in Mexico City.

Limited tickets are still available for this Fiestas de la Vendimia event at the Baron Balch'e winery vineyard grounds in Valle de Guadalupe. Tickets are US$125 per person, includes the concert, a catered dinner and four bottles of wine per table of eight people (1/2 bottle per person). Seating begins at 6 p.m., with the concert/dinner beginning at 8 p.m. and lasting until 11 p.m. You can purchase advance tickets:  www.ticketmovil.com.mx, or get more details from: Alejandro Robles 760-557-3588 or (011-52) 664-630-0604; Cell: (011-52) 664-312-1909 or Nextel: 125*321403*14.

The concert at Baron Balch'e will be filmed for The Grapevine TV Series (El Ocho, or 8) Cable TV in Ensenada, and it will be broadcasted globally.

L.A. Cetto winery will be offering concerts in Valle de Guadalupe on August 14th, during Cetto's Annual Fiesta de la Vendimia in Guadalupe Valley; and on October 2nd, with the Concert Cierre de Fiestas, with Raul Di Blasio (011-52) 646-155-2264 or www.cettowines.com .

La Villa de Valle, a popular B&B in the heart of Mexico's premier wine country of Valle de Guadalupe, is now offering breakfast, lunch and dinner to non-overnight guests who want to sample gourmet cuisine. This is the perfect escape for those wine and food lovers seeking personal attention, privacy, romantic ambience and artisan cuisine in a natural, remote setting with vineyards and an artisan winery.

Talented chef Jose Maria Garcia Ramos, or "Chema," creates elegant meals with a focus on promoting the full flavors of the original or main ingredients. His cooking light style in orchestrating gourmet cuisine is not overwhelmed with spices, herbs or sauces, thus allowing culinary explorers the ability to discover the full flavors of fresh Baja California products. He enhances his art with a blend of local, national and international cooking methods he fondly calls "Mexi-terranean." The secret to his culinary success is the use of fresh produce from onsite gardens, local products, and the composition of innovative recipes.

The final magical touch is provided with their own wines that pair well with all their culinary delights. Owner/winemaker Phil Gregory makes premium wine from Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo, and various blends of Syrah, Petite Sarah, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon.

According to Eileen Gregory, "we can cater to one person or groups of up to forty people, but we definitely need reservations and advance notice. We'll be hosting our own event for Fiestas de la Vendimia on the 21st of August, featuring one of the top 100 chefs in the world — Enrique Olivera from Pujol Restaurant in Mexico City." You can contact La Villa from the US at (818) 207-7130; in Mexico at 646-156-8007; or www.lavilladelavalle.com.

For those who are still seeking events, or want tickets for La Vendimia Festival programs in August 2010, you still have a short time to make that happen. Some tickets are still available for other Vendimia events at www.fiestasdelasvendimia.com.

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For a Baja California Wine Route map, click on MexiData.info "Links," and go to "Mexico Maps and Time Zones"

Steve Dryden is a wine, food and travel writer living in Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico's premier wine country in northwestern Baja California, where he guides individual and small group wine tours. He can be reached at sbdryden@hotmail.com.  For current and updated Mexican wine country information please visit: www.bajawineandcuisine.com and www.winefoodguide.com.

Mexico's Fine Wines are gaining Worldwide Appreciation

Every vintage of Mexican wine brings pleasant surprises as the wines from this northwestern growing region of Baja California, that is contiguous with Southern California, evolve into a global phenomenon. The real news about Mexico is that the wine and culinary culture is advancing at a rapid pace, thus fueling our "silent revolution" in creating premium wine.

However, we've been discovered by serious connoisseurs who are finally listening to what we local promoters, wine makers and vineyard managers have been saying for years: "Mexico has the potential to [make], and is making, world-class wine."

In fact, this country has received over 300 international awards for quality in global wine competitions held in the best wine regions of the world. Serious international wine and food lovers have awoken to the stark reality that Mexico is more than tacos, beer and tequila! And 2010 is "the year of discovery" for the distinct wines being produced by talented winemakers in Baja California.

The word is out, the secret has been revealed, prepare yourselves. 

This year the popular Guateque artisan wine exposition was held at Bibayoff Winery in the Valle de Guadalupe. The stars were the handcrafted, artisan wines created by a diverse collection of passionate people who have recently embraced the art of making wine. Some of these rising stars are self-taught, and many are graduates of our local wine school La Escuelita, with a few certified by the new wine making program at UABC in Ensenada.

Winemakers at all levels of accomplishment in Mexico are blessed with ripe fruit of superior quality, giving them an important element needed to create high quality wine. The task is to take this treasured juice and implement artisan techniques to make drinkable wine. Lately, it seems most folks are getting good with the art form of making good wine from great fruit.

Sometimes it's hard to get serious to work at these events, especially after a plate of seafood paella and a few glasses of wine. Despite that, I didn't come across any wine that wasn't drinkable, in reality most were emerging in quality from better than average to very good.

One outstanding wine comes from Encino, or Jorge Cortés of Rancho Cortés. His 2009 Tempranillo is excellent with a nose of plums, black and red cherries flavors, soft and balanced, with hints of vanilla. A little time in the bottle will make this a superb example of what artisan winemakers in Mexico can achieve. Samples of his 2007 Tempranillo simply explain to your palate why Tempranillo is becoming a "star" varietal in Baja California.

In past events, Jorge has been a standout with his high quality handcrafted wines, and most likely he'll go on to become another of the stars among Mexico's best winemakers. In addition, his family produces superior cheese and olive oil in Valle de Guadalupe.

Another popular handcrafted wine and beer maker is Almixia, where the passion for producing a diversity of quality products is amazing. Almixia 2008 Grenache shows great promise, with a nose of sweet, lush cherry with black raspberry, followed by the same flavors and ending with an elegant finish. The 2009 Almixia is a remarkable blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Tempranillo and Zinfandel.

Several other good wines were found, especially a delicious 2007 Petite Sirah from Terra Nostra; a "sweet" Zinfandel from Temptation; a full-flavored 2009 Tempranillo from Aledu, with smoky notes and racy tannins; and a nice 2009 Cabernet/Petite Sirah blend from Vino Sant Jordi (aka Vinicola Parres).

Winemaker Laura Chanes has another winner with her newest 2009 Algo Petite Sirah, spicy fruit flavors, black cherry with hints of caramel and vanilla, aged in toasted French oak barrels for eight months. Plus there is Paulette 2009, a wonderful 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, fruit forward with hints of cocoa followed by soft tannins.

I also enjoyed the wine from Plata .925, a blend of Zinfandel 33% and Tempranillo 67%, and I was impressed with Tardio 2008 Merlot, as well as wine from Vayu 69. Finally, on my way out the door I tasted two delightful wines from Abel Bibayoff, and an awesome Tempranillo from Eva Cotero Altamirano of Tres Mujeres winery.

As well, I want to mention a newcomer to the Baja California wine scene — Madera 5. Their 2008 Tempranillo/Cabernet blend is a palate pleasing wine of good balance with lots of depth and character. The Tempranillo comes from old vines in Valle de San Vicente adding some structure and complex flavors. This blend was aged for ten months in new American and French oak barrels. Madera 5 is one of those wineries that you might want to follow as they continue to improve and evolve with each vintage.

Guateque 2010 presented a collection of handcrafted wines that further illustrates the vastly improving quality of wines coming from Baja California, Mexico. Zinfandel, Tempranillo, Nebbiolo, Carignan and Petite Sirah appear to be gaining popularity with winemakers and growers as well. Furthermore, the quality of local Cabernet and Merlot continues to improve with intensive vineyard management, the use of new technology, and the creative skills of innovative winemakers.

Serious wine lovers from around the world are now discovering Mexico's premium wines, so it might be time to fill your cellar with your favorite local wines while you can still find them. Hopefully, the rest of the world won't discover that Ensenada has become the Wine and Food capital of Mexico. Due to the proximity of the wine country from Ensenada, our chefs have established personal relationships with winemakers and wineries, tasting the available wine inventory daily, while perfecting their skills at matching regional culinary delights with our best wines.

Now that our well-kept secrets are out, let's hope that the U.S. finishes its border wall before we're invaded with wine fanatics and food junkies craving our best wine and gourmet cuisine. Thankfully for us locals, foreigners are only allowed to take one liter of Mexican wine across the border into the U.S.

——————————

For a Baja California Wine Route map, click on MexiData.info "Links," and go to "Mexico Maps and Time Zones"

Steve Dryden is a wine, food and travel writer living in Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico's premier wine country in northwestern Baja California, where he guides individual and small group wine tours. He can be reached at sbdryden@hotmail.com. Visit his blog at www.winefoodguide.com. For additional information about Baja California wine and gourmet food visit bajawineandcuisine.com.  

 

Single Story For Rent/Lease in Baja Del Mar

DSC01104
Incredible Oceanfront Home

• 2 bath, 3 bdrm single story - $1,250Monthly - Rent Negotiable Longterm

 -  This lovely oceanfront home is perfect for that family wanting a change in lifestyle and an opportunity to live in a beach front home. The beach is only a few steps away, you could almost fish from your patio area. This 3 bedroom home is perfect for retired couples, as second home or as a vacation rental.

This home is located in Baja del Mar, in the north end of the city of Playas de Rosarito. It is just minutes away from the largest shopping center in Rosarito, El Pabellon. This shopping center has a Home Depot, WalMarts, Jackpot Bingo, Cinepolis (movie theather) and the newest sports bar in town, "Que Paso!!"

Baja del Mar is one of the smaller development communities in the area, which is seen is it's friendly neighborhood appeal. Your neighbors will soon be your friends in this tranquil and peaceful community.

The rent is negotiable on long term leases only!!

Property information

Tijuana violence slows, drops from spotlight

Decline in slayings follows arrests of 3 drug-gang leaders

Monday, April 26, 2010 at 12:04 a.m.

ON THE DECLINE

Law enforcement authorities say the detentions of top members of a drug gang this year have contributed to a drop in the number of killings. Homicides in Tijuana in recent months:

December: 132

January: 120

February: 63

March: 62

April (as of Friday): 48

SOURCE: Baja California Attorney General's Office

The spectacle of decapitated victims, bodies hanged from bridges and threatening narco messages has been on the wane in Tijuana in recent weeks. The drug-related brutality that for months dominated headlines has given way to lower-profile killings.

Law enforcement authorities say the detentions of top members of a notoriously violent drug gang this year have changed the dynamics of violence: If members of organized crime once sought the spotlight, they now appear to be avoiding it.

"They want to handle themselves with greater discretion," Fermin Gomez, Baja California's deputy attorney general for organized crime, said in an interview. "We're not seeing the previous modus operandi, with very dramatic conditions, with mutilated bodies, cut up and beheaded."

The drop in the number of deaths follows the detentions of Teodoro García Simental in January and his brother José Manuel García Simental and top deputy, Raydel Lopez Uriarte, in February. Under their leadership, the gang had been blamed for more than 300 homicides, including dozens of police officers.

Since then, the killings have continued, though at a slower pace and out of the public eye, and police have not been targeted.

Homicide figures from the Baja California Attorney General's Office show that after spiking in December and January, with 132 and 120 killings, respectively, the numbers have fallen in Tijuana.

In February, there were 63 slayings, in March there were 62 and by Friday night, the total for April is 48, the agency said. Gomez said the great majority of January's slayings were drug-related, but the proportion in recent weeks has dropped to about half.

David Shirk, a University of San Diego professor who has studied drug-related violence in Mexico, warns against any early celebrations. "The patterns of violence and peace tend to reflect the dynamics among the cartels more so than the effectiveness of law enforcement," he said.

Authorities say the killers are using different methods, often opting for smaller weapons such as 9 mm handguns rather than powerful automatic weapons that draw more attention. Rather than the brash assaults on busy thoroughfares or restaurants, the killings often take place in the city's periphery, drawing little notice.

The fight has been for control of domestic drug markets, leading to the killings of many neighborhood drug dealers from both sides, investigators say. Although the top leadership of García Simental's group is behind bars, the remnants are still operating, Gomez said.

"It seems that they've been keeping a very low profile, so that they can keep doing business without drawing attention," said Victor Clark, a Tijuana human rights activist and longtime observer of the region's criminal trends.

Violence in the region has risen and fallen in recent years as rival groups vie for control of Tijuana region, a key smuggling corridor for illegal drugs headed for the United States.

Tijuana was long dominated by the Arellano Félix drug organization, but in 2008, a former lieutenant, García Simental, broke away and found backing from a powerful Sinaloa-based group. The feud between the two groups led to record killings that year, 844. In 2009, the total dropped to 664.

Across Mexico, drug-related violence has soared since President Felipe Calderón declared war on drug-trafficking organizations after taking office in December 2006, dispatching troops and federal police to hot spots across the country.

The Mexico City newspaper Reforma reported this month 2,904 drug-related deaths across the country during the first quarter of this year, citing a confidential government report. Leading that list was Ciudad Juarez with 620 drug-related homicides, followed by Culiacan with 193 and Tijuana with 153.

Critics of the Calderón strategy say it has failed to reduce violence in border cities. But unlike in Ciudad Juarez, where the military is being phased out, the military has maintained public support in Baja California. The head of military forces in the region, Gen. Alfonso Duarte Mugica, has forged close alliances with civilian authorities.

Eusebio Villatoro, a military lieutenant colonel who heads the Baja California State Preventive Police, said authorities are aware that other criminal groups may try to move in, and that could once again change the dynamics. But, he added, "we're going to work so that this does not happen."

Sandra Dibble: (619) 293-1716; sandra.dibble@uniontrib.com

Baja California's Wine and Food Festival Season is Here

'Vino-Tourism' by Steve Dryden

The time is here, once again, to start making plans to attend this year's many wine and food events in Baja California, Mexico, especially in and around Ensenada. Over 60 wine and food extravaganzas will take place from April through October. Tickets sell out fast, so reserve your tickets for events and book your lodging well in advance.

More than 50,000 wine and food lovers attended the annual wine and cuisine festivals held in this region last year. Those who planned in advance with the purchase of event tickets and accommodations were able to enjoy many exciting events.

The majority of the 2010 festivities are being presented by Fiestas de la Vendimia (Pro Vino) and the CANIRAC restaurant association.  Fiestas de la Vendimia features over 45 events in and around the wine country of Valle de Guadalupe or in the neighboring seaport of Ensenada. This diverse collection of festivities holds something for everyone, including wine seminars, award presentations, golf tournaments, vineyard concerts, bullfights, tango dancing, food and wine pairings, country picnics, fiestas, a winery inauguration, wine and lobster festival, paella competition, and more. The 19th annual Concurso de Paellas festival in the last week of August will celebrate the end of Fiestas de la Vendimia for 2010.

Plus there are added attractions, as three new wineries made their debuts last year: Hacienda La Lomita, La Escuelita (Escuela de Oficios de El Porvenir), and Villa Montefiori.

The final schedule for 2010 is not yet complete, but it will soon be posted at www.fiestasdelavendimia.com.

Members of the Asociación de Vinicultores de Baja California are the main organizers of Fiestas de la Vendimia, spending much time and labor to create a successful series of wine and food events each August. Last year ticket sales went smoothly with the early production of the event schedule, giving eager guests plenty of advance opportunity to purchase tickets and plan for the events.

Even lodging sites in Valle de Guadalupe and Ensenada were able to meet the demand for overnight and multi-day quarters. Many hotels were entirely booked for the month of August, thus boasting the local economy and bringing back smiles of local proprietors who had endured a slow 2009 season in tourism.

One of my favorite events is the La Cofradia food and wine event (Noche de Cofradia en Ensenada), featuring about 30 of the top wineries and restaurants in the region. During a random drawing held before the event, wineries and restaurants are matched to compete in the contest. The winemakers and chefs meet, select the best wine to match with a gourmet delight, and thus the challenge begins. This is a great opportunity for local, regional, national and international wine and food lovers to investigate the "bottled gems" from local wineries and sample culinary delights from the top food establishments in the region. These masters of food and wine have become so good in pairing fine food with excellent wine that it has become extremely difficult to pick a winner.

CANIRAC and Proturismo de Ensenada will sponsor and present several food events during the next several months, to include the Mushroom Festival, Mussel Festival, Asian Cuisine Festival, Food and Wine Festival at Capricho's, and a Best Chef Competition. For details, dates and ticket information visit:  www.caniracensenada.com and www.proturismoensenada.org.mx.

L.A. Cetto Winery is featuring several events during the coming months: May 30th: Festival of Paella and Wine at the Tijuana winery. Details: (664) 685 3030. June 26th: Mariachi Vargas y Guadalupe Pineda Concert at L.A. Cetto in Guadalupe Valley (646) 155-2264. July 17th: Valley Sunset Concert at L.A. Cetto in Guadalupe Valley. July 28th: Contemporary Wine Art Show at Cetto's Winery in Tijuana (664) 685-3030. August 14th: Cetto's Annual Fiesta de la Vendimia in Guadalupe Valley. (646) 155-2264. October 2nd: Concert Cierre de Fiestas with Raul Di Blasio in Guadalupe Valley                                    

Events like these make a point that Ensenada has become the food and wine capital of Mexico. Our close proximity to the wine country, an abundance of fresh seafood, gourmet cheese production, premium olive oils, superior baked goods, and organic fruits and vegetables — all blended and prepared by passionate culinary wizards (from many ethnic backgrounds) — are fueling the emerging food and wine culture.

Ensenada and the wine country of Baja California are shining brightly this year, with a newly expanded La Ruta del Vino highway, and with the addition of new wineries and culinary establishments.

The XIX Fiestas de La Vendimia was very successful last year, capturing the attention and enthusiasm of national residents and welcome guests as they discovered and explored wines from Mexico.  It's an exciting time to enjoy the lifestyle of the Mexican wine and food culture, so please celebrate with us in 2010 — but remember to plan ahead and make your reservations early. 

Steve Dryden is a wine, food and travel writer living in Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico's premier wine country in northwestern Baja California, where he guides individual and small group wine tours. He can be reached at sbdryden@hotmail.com. Visit his new blog at www.winefoodguide.com.

Health Care in Mexico for Americans

By Lynne Friedmann


Health care reform, when fully enacted, will provide an estimated 30 million uninsured Americans with access to medical coverage. But where will cost-effective services come from to meet the needs of this influx of patients into the medical system? Part of the solution could be south of the border.

That's the goal of government officials, medical providers and the private section in Baja California who have joined forces in a coalition to enhance and promote cross-border health care to U.S. retirees living in Mexico (many of whom return to the United States for health care), baby boomers (looking to manage health care costs) and Southern California's large Latino work force (who are comfortable crossing the border and familiar with the culture).

"Cross-border health care may turn out to be a blessing to California," said Frank Carrillo, chief executive of SIMNSA Health Plan at a daylong conference on April 21 sponsored by the Institute of the Americas, on the UCSD campus. SIMNSA is the first Mexican HMO to be licensed as a health-care service plan by the State of California and sells group insurance to U.S. employers whose workers receive medical care in Mexico.

In addition, there are 500,000 people who cross the border annually for medical check-ups, surgery, dental work, or to fill prescriptions.

"The aim is to increase that number," said Oscar Escobedo, Baja California's tourism secretary.

In order to do so, a number of issues need to be addressed. Among them: Long waits at border crossings (in both directions) and concerns for personal safety.

Steps taken to mitigate these challenges include access to a fast lane at the border, with a wait time of 20 minutes or less, for individuals receiving medical services in Mexico.

Acknowledging that violence south of the border is a major concern, plans are being discussed for the creation of a medical tourist zone near the border that would offer increased security, better signage, and additional comfort.

"The United States is a country of choices and freedom," said Carrillo. "Cross-border health care is a viable option."

To assure Americans of the health care quality in Mexico, a certification process for Mexican doctors is already in place and accreditation of private hospitals is underway. This will also play a role in any discussion of extending Medicare benefits for services received south of the border. Mexico President Felipe Calder-n is expected to present a proposal on the topic to President Obama, when the two meet in Washington in May.

"Congress is not going to approve Medicare for Mexico until (it is) very comfortable that the quality of medical care is there," said Paul Crist, president of Americans for Medicare in Mexico.

Lynne Friedmann is a science writer based in Solana Beach.
Mexico Simplifies Visa Procedures

Mexico's National Immigration Institute (INM) has announced a range of amendments to its immigration and internment procedures to be implemented starting May 1, 2010. Although the amendments do not significantly alter the core rules and regulations which underpin current immigration law, the changes will make the paperwork and procedures less complicated for foreigners wishing to enter Mexico; particularly for those coming to Mexico to do business and those who wish to live, work and retire here.

The current entry form completed by all foreigners entering Mexico and traveling beyond the 20km `frontier' zone, known as FMT-Forma Migratoria Turista-will be replaced by a FMM, or Forma Migratoria Multiple.

The new FMM will cover visits of up to 180 days for tourists, business visitors and technical visitors, with sections on the form for each category type. Business and technical visitor categories are clearly defined and the entry extension to 180 days is a significant change to current regulations which allow business visitors only a 30-day window to remain in the country.

The new FMM forms are scheduled to be introduced on May 1 and the new FMM-based procedures will be available to visitors who are passport holders of countries eligible for entry to Mexico under the current FMT. People entering Mexico as well as those who have applications for FM3 and FM2 visas in process to April 30, will be treated and processed under the current procedures.

For people who are staying in Mexico longer than 180 days using FM3 or FM2 visas, the current paper booklets will be replaced with plastic cards, and holders will no longer need to have their change of address, change of business activity, marital status, et al, annotated on the document proper. Resident foreigners will still be required to file notification of changes in personal and professional circumstances, but the procedures which required the surrender of the document to the institute for a period of up to several weeks while changes were annotated will no longer be required.

Mexican consulates based overseas will no longer issue FM visa booklets. They will, instead, issue a sticker that is placed into the applicant's passport once the INM has approved an overseas application. The applicant will then need to enter Mexico within 365 days and obtain the new FM visa card within 30 days of internment, by visiting a local office of the INM.

In summary:

Tourists: If you enter Mexico as a tourist, your entry will remain virtually unaffected by the new procedures. You will simply need to complete the `Tourist' section of the new FMM visitor's card (which replaces the FMT) at the port of entry, and when you enter the country you will be granted leave to remain in Mexico for no longer than 180 calendar days.

Business Visitors: If you visit (or plan to visit) Mexico to undertake business activities or to undertake work in Mexico for periods of 180 days or less, you will enjoy greater flexibility by way of these new arrangements.

Long Term Visitors and Residents: If you remain in Mexico for longer than six months, there are some welcome simplifications being introduced to the FM3 and FM2 visa procedures, especially in relation to doing-away with the process of surrender and re-issue of paper booklets.

Mexico's big hope: get 5 million U.S. retirees

BY ANDRES OPPENHEIMER (The Miami Herald)

MEXICO CITY -- Mexico is silently working on proposals aimed at drawing millions of U.S. retirees to this country, which could eventually lead to the most ambitious U.S.-Mexican project since the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement.

President Felipe Calderón is likely to propose the first steps toward expanding U.S. retirement benefits and medical tourism to Mexico when he goes to Washington on an official visit May 19, according to well-placed officials here. If not then, he will raise the issue later this year, they say.

``It's one of the pillars of our plans to trigger economic and social well-being in both countries,'' Mexico's ambassador to the United States Arturo Sarukhan told me. ``We will be seeking to increasingly discuss this issue in coming months and years.''
Calderón brought it up during a U.S.-Canada-Mexico summit in Guadalajara in August last year, but President Barack Obama asked him to shelve the idea until he was able to pass healthcare reform, another official told me.

Now that Congress has passed healthcare reform, Calderón is preparing to charge ahead.

A GROWING MARKET
There are already an estimated 1 million Americans living in Mexico. And according to Mexican government estimates based on U.S. Census figures, that number is likely to soar to 5 million by 2025 as the U.S. population grows older and more Americans look for sunny, cheaper places to retire.
The U.S. Census projects that the number of U.S. retirees will soar from 40 million now to nearly 90 million by 2050. Already, 5 million American retirees live abroad, of whom 2.2 million are in the Western Hemisphere -- mostly in Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Brazil. Another 1.5 million live in Europe and 850,000 in Asia.

The key to luring more U.S. medical tourists and retirees to Mexico and other Latin American countries will be getting hospitals in the region to be certified by the U.S. Joint International Commission, which establishes that they meet U.S. hospitals' standards. There are already eight Mexican hospitals certified by the JIC and several others awaiting certification.
According to Mexican government estimates, healthcare costs in Mexico are about 70 percent lower than in the United States. And from my own experience, those estimates are right: As I reported at the time, when I was hospitalized in Mexico two years ago for an emergency operation, my hospital bill was indeed about 70 percent lower than what it would have been in Miami.
So what will Calderón specifically propose to Obama? Most likely, the Mexican president will suggest starting with a low-profile agreement that would allow the U.S. Health Care Financing Administration to pay for Medicare benefits to U.S. retirees in Mexico. Under current rules, Medicare only covers healthcare services in the United States.

IT JUST MAKES SENSE
My opinion: Mexico and much of Latin America are bound to become growing U.S. retirement and medical tourism destinations, much like Spain has become a permanent living place for Germans, Britons and Northern Europeans.
You won't read much about it now because neither Calderón nor Obama will emphasize it publicly while the drug-related violence in northern Mexico is making big headlines, and while the political wounds from the recent U.S. healthcare debate are still open in Washington, D.C.
But I'm increasingly convinced that, as the violence in Mexico subsides and the healthcare debate becomes a distant memory in Washington, medical benefits' deals will become a top U.S.-Latin American priority. Just as free-trade agreements were the big thing of the 1990s, healthcare agreements will be the big deal of the coming decade.
I wouldn't be surprised if Calderón and Obama take the first baby steps toward a U.S.-Mexico healthcare agreement by finding a way to pay for Medicare benefits for U.S. expatriates in Mexico, or getting U.S. states to allow similar payments. Then, most likely after the 2012 presidential election in both countries, the two would start negotiating a more ambitious deal.
Demography, geography and economics are pointing in that direction. With the U.S. population getting older, a record U.S. budget deficit, rising U.S. healthcare costs, and Mexico and other Latin American countries badly needing more tourism and investments, this should be a win-win for everybody.

For more information on moving to Mexico, see www.yourbajaconnection.com.

 

Merger Creates Baja’s Real Estate Powerhouse
One of Rosarito Beach’s Star Brokers Joins RE/MAX!!!!

One of the largest and most successful independent real estate offices in northern Baja, Your Baja Connection, has joined the RE/MAX network.

Victor Loza, on behalf of his partners in Your Baja Connection, negotiated the merger of their multi-agent office with RE/MAX. Loza along with Don and Sharon Heafey and Miles Smith have owned and operated one of the top producing Real Estate agencies in Baja for the last three years. Victor had the following comment: “We chose RE/MAX over others because it allowed us to place our efforts on our first priority -- helping buyers and sellers accomplish their ultimate goals.”

Gustavo Torres, Broker/Owner of RE/MAX Baja Realty had this comment on the merger between Your Baja Connection and RE/MAX; “We are going to see a lot more mergers like this around the country. RE/MAX excels at giving their brokers and agents the most extensive training, the best technology, and the best systems in the real estate industry. In Northern Baja we have experienced an increase in market share as more and more agents have realized the advantages that RE/MAX provides for them, especially in today’s real estate market.”

Loza went on to say, “We won’t need to be involved in the day-to-day operations of an office; instead we’ll be free to do what we do best, and that is interacting with people and helping buyers and sellers achieve their dreams in Baja.” We had different choices, but after weighing them all, RE/MAX gave us the freedom and the tools we needed to be successful. With RE/MAX we receive an international exposure, marketing tools, a well-established website, and the world-wide recognition that comes from a well-respected company like RE/MAX. We’re very thankful for the warm welcome we’ve received from our new broker and colleagues.”

This merger is part of an ongoing strategy from RE/MAX Baja Realty’s growth initiative that began last year. RE/MAX Baja brokerage was established in 2004 when Rosarito Beach Real Estate, the most successful Rosarito real estate office, became a REMAX office.

“Victor, his partners, and their agents will be a tremendous addition to our expanding team. They have relentless energy and Victor is a nonstop marketing machine,” says Gustavo Torres, Broker/Owner of RE/MAX Baja Realty. “They do whatever it takes to help clients sell or find the homes of their dreams. They don’t simply list a property; they follow through until the home is sold. This level of energy and extra effort is why Your Baja Connection has been a top real estate company and why RE/MAX is the right place for them.”

Sharon Heafey, one of the principals of Your Baja Connection, had the following statement about the merger: “We chose to be affiliated with RE/MAX because of Gustavo Torres’ wonderful background and strong community ties,” adding that “Gustavo has done everything possible to make us feel at home and able to get up and running immediately. The merger gives us the opportunity to provide the highest level of service to our buyers and sellers. We are looking forward to working with the respected professional agents that are part of the RE/MAX network.”

Don Heafey added, “After being involved in real estate in the United States, we moved to Baja and found real estate an exciting opportunity for our clients and ourselves. I look forward to joining the Ensenada office and working with Arturo Novelo and the other professionals there.”

RE/MAX Baja Realty is the second-largest real estate office in Baja and #1 in sales in Rosarito Beach, with over 44 percent of the market. With the addition of Your Baja Connection’s team, RE/MAX Baja Realty is poised to become the leader in Baja California. The firm is an attractive option for real estate agents looking to relocate with a proven successful broker.

“By Your Baja Connection joining RE/MAX, it proves once again that the RE/MAX system is the best for all real estate professionals who want to succeed and operate their own business. Most of all it allows us to work with other successful top professionals,” affirms Ana Minondo, Top Chairman’s award of RE/MAX.

“This is a true merger.” Blanca Guerrero, RE/MAX Baja Popotla office’s president, told the Baja Times Journal. “We chose to be a stronger force, and that says a lot. Instead of cutting costs, we chose to grow.”

Ensenada is Emerging as Mexico's Wine & Gourmet Capital

'Vino-Tourism' by Steve Dryden
 
Varivision de Baja California, a cable TV station in Ensenada, Mexico, began filming a unique new series in November featuring the wineries and gourmet culinary establishments in this region. The Grapevine is a promotional adventure show featuring an in-depth investigation into Mexico's wine and food cultures. Cable TV 8 producers decided to add some local flavor for their viewers by creating a bilingual program on wine and food awareness by offering Spanish and English hosts with bilingual subtitles to reach each specific audience, and to build a bridge of understanding between the two cultures.
 
Every show features a different winery matched with a local restaurant, offering the audience an educational insight into wine and food pairing.  The real "stars" of The Grapevine are the winemakers, chefs, and other members of our regional wine and food cultures. Currently showing on Cable TV 8 is part one of the series containing footage of Roganto Winery and El Rey Sol restaurant.
 
Ensenada has been the "Sleeping Beauty of the Pacific" for many years, which makes it a real treasure in the eyes of lucky beholders. Our secret is that we're blessed with near-perfect weather, affordable cost of living, an abundance of fresh produce and seafood with numerous international chefs blending it together into culinary delights of great quality.
 
Due to the proximity of the wine country many local chefs are extremely good at matching premium Mexican wine with gourmet creations. This is the second key element for the new feature show series. During each show the hosts and crew visit a winery, interview winemakers, select a wine that they appreciate, and venture off to a local culinary establishment that carries the wine. The hosts and film crew go behind the scenes into the kitchen (with help from the chef) to bring alive the art form of creating gourmet cuisine while pairing it with premium wine.
 
Varivision Cable TV 8 generously offered local communicators and promoters a stage to perform on with an opportunity to tell the many unique stories about our wine and food cultures. General manager Lorenzo Cardenas Zertuche, business partner D. L. Streets Johnson, and operations manager Keith Cossairt Maillie of Cable Channel 8 are committed to producing shows using local talent harvested from people residing in the neighborhood. They didn't have to look far in their talent search due to the fact that our region is blessed with an abundance of chefs, gourmet culinary establishments and winemakers that are supported by a large number of wine and food lovers. The timing for this feature show is perfect as Ensenada quietly emerges into the wine and food capital of Mexico.
 
The Spanish speaking host of the show is winemaker Veronica Santiago, with English language hosting by wine writer Steve Dryden.
 
Host Veronica Santiago fills the gap with her Spanish dialog and English subtitles, enhanced by her Masters' degree in Enology.  She's currently an assistant winemaker for Vinisterra Winery. In addition, her studies in the artisan wine and food cultures of Australia, Europe, Napa Valley and her native Mexico give her an in-depth view into the dynamics of the international wine and food industries.
 
In June of this year Veronica will host a special production within this series entitled "Wine Country Women of Mexico." In the meantime, she's managing her own vineyard in San Antonio de las Minas, with plans to create artisan wines that reflect the terroir of the family ranch, express the essence of the grapes, and are influenced by the hand of the artist. 
 
One important revelation observed while filming this show is that we've discovered real people (with dedication and passion) are actually shinning stars amongst us. This is the premise and message of the series on Mexican wine and food. You won't find any Hollywood makeup here, just the plain truth of simple living.
 
The emerging Mexican wine industry is unique in that most of the operations here are individually and family owned businesses. In a wine world that is quickly becoming globalized with corporate ownership, we're still small and personal here in Baja California. That fact makes this region special because many winery owners, grape growers and vineyard managers actually depend on the income from their operations to support their families, and they take great pride in what they create.
 
What we get in Mexico are handmade wines from dedicated artisans versus wines that are over-manipulated, mass-produced and mass-marketed. We've proven that wine is not limited to the wealthy, that real people have a right to enjoy drinking and making wine, and we can produce high quality wines on a grassroots level. Winemakers in Mexico have blended old world methods with modern technology, financing this on limited budgets.
 
The Grapevine will feature any winery and culinary establishment in Baja California that wants to be acknowledged on the show. This is an inclusive community service for the regional wine and culinary industries without any fees. Channel 8 allows public access (at no cost) for those who produce interesting content.
 
Despite the fact that we have a limited local audience, we're taking this program around the world via friends, family and networking. Join us in our grassroots effort in telling our story to wine and food lovers everywhere. For interested readers who are not hooked into Varivision Channel 8 in Ensenada, who need information on how to receive copies of the show, or if you want permission to broadcast this show, please contact me directly.  In addition, we are looking for sponsors or advertisers willing to make a minimal investment to help pay for the cost of our productions and to promote this region in a positive manner.

For more infomation, contact Your Baja Connection at www.yourbajaconnection.com

 

Private hospitals prepare for medical tourism boom, Medicare

The rising cost of health care in the United States is forcing an increasing number of U.S. citizens to turn their sights on Mexico for expert and cost-effective medical attention.

Research done by the Association for Private Hospitals in Jalisco reveals that of the 21.5 million tourists who visited Mexico in 2006, about 160,000 – mostly Americans – came for medical attention.

“We hope to increase medical tourism by seven percent each year, a goal we believe is easily attainable,” says Dr. Dagoberto Garcia Mejia, the association’s president and the director of the Lomas Providencia Hospital in Guadalajara.

The Jalisco state government also sees the benefits from promoting medical tourism and recently announced it would be investing 4.35 million pesos to bring private hospitals up to the standards required for certification by the Joint Commission International (JCI), an institution that accredits hospitals in Canada and the United States.

Although the health sector here is regulated and certified by the Mexican General Health Commission, the task of getting JCI certification for Jalisco’s private hospitals is of prime importance, says Garcia.

“One of the main reasons for pushing for certification is that the North American Free Trade Agreement obligates the Mexican medical system to be on a par with the United States and Canada, allowing for the free flow of patients from border to border and for fair trade, much like in other economic sectors.”

But there is another huge reason for this interest in JCI certification and that is Medicare.

According to Paul Crist, the founder and president of Americans for Medicare for Mexico (AMMAC), a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing Medicare coverage to seniors living in Mexico, of the 800,000 American citizens living in Mexico approximately 200,000 are over 60 years old and thus are at or near eligibility for Medicare benefits.

Crist, a former senator’s aide in Washington and now a hotel owner in Puerto Vallarta, says if Medicare is extended to Mexico, the program would only work with health care providers approved by JCI.

He revealed that ten hospitals in Mexico have JCI accreditation but another 23 are seeking approval. Among those already approved are the American British Padre Hospital and the Santa Fe Hospital in Mexico City and the Christus Muguerza Hospital and the Hospital Tec de Monterrey in Monterrey.

All Jalisco’s private hospitals are still seeking JCI accreditation.

The approval of Medicare would greatly benefit hospitals such as Christus Muguerza, a Texas chain that now has seven hospitals under construction across Mexico.

“Christus Muguerza stands to be a big player in the future,” says Crist. “They have the advantage because their headquarters is in Texas, which gives Medicare a bit more confidence in the quality service they are going to provide.”

Interestingly, Crist says Mexican hospital accreditation standards match JCI’s requirements in almost every respect.

“We are now asking that Medicare do their studies to accept Mexican accreditation instead of the JCI accreditation,” he says. “Then there will be plenty of hospitals that can be Medicare providers.”

Since he founded AMMAC last March, Christ has lobbied 85 members of the U.S. Congress and prepared a 34-page proposal in which he outlines the pros of making of extending Medicare to Mexico.

“Medicare is now spending 6,700 dollars per year per beneficiary in the United States. For the same care in Mexico, my estimate is that it will spend only 3,400 dollars, which translates to a very substantial saving.”

In a recent interview with Forbes magazine, David Warner, a professor of health care policy at the University of Texas at Austin and a specialist on Medicare in Mexico, stated that an in-depth pilot project is needed to better understand the economics, determine whether Mexican heath care meets Medicare’s quality  standards and determine if the payment system is sufficiently free of fraud.

According to Forbes, the U.S government is concerned that creating a Mexican medical exemption might be too complicated and costly to implement and would open the door for Americans in other countries.

Crist figures that if Medicare were accepted in Mexico, the 64 percent of American retirees currently flying back to the United States for expensive care would opt for treatment nearer their homes, cutting Medicare overall costs by a minimum of 22 percent.

Though Crist remains positive of Congress’ response to his lobbying efforts, sympathetic legislators have also said that this year they have too much on their plate and that it would be politically wiser to introduce a stand-alone Mexico-Medicare bill next year.

Rosarito-Ensenada Bike Ride To Top 20 Million Mile Mark This Sept. 26

ROSARITO BEACH, BAJA CALIFORNIA, MEXICO---Now in its 30th year the Rosarito-Ensenada 50-Mile Fun Bicycle Ride will surpass 20 million total miles covered with its Sept. 26 event.

About 5,000 riders are expected for the festive scenic ride, much of it along a coastal route from Rosarito to Ensenada, said ride organizer Gary Foster.

During the past 30 years since 1979, the iconic twice-yearly event has been held 52 times and almost 400,000 riders have participated, Foster said.

“This great anniversary edition of the ride will be as festive as years past, both for our many riders and the thousands of people who come to view the event and cheer on the participants,” Foster said.

Added  Rosarito Beach Mayor Hugo Torres, whose city hosts the event: “The ride is one of the signature events for Rosarito and this region of Baja. It attracts excellent people and creates a great atmosphere. We’re greatly looking forward to it.”

Participants can register online for $45 through www.BetterSignUp.com, or they can register on the day of the event for $50 at the Rosarito Beach Hotel. More information is available at www.RosaritoEnsenada.com as well as www.rosarito.org

The Rosarito-Ensenada ride has been called the Original Party on Wheels. Revelers in costume roll along, tossing candy to children along the course. Beach cruisers strap boom boxes to their handlebars.  Parents tow children.

Racing teams form pace lines, trying to beat the official record of 1:52:54 set in April of 2007. Other participants just ride for the enjoyment and atmosphere.

Transportation packages from the United States are available, Foster said. Tour companies transport riders’ bicycles at no extra charge, and because the buses return to the United State through the rapid SENTRI lane, cyclists avoid a wait at the border.

Many hotels offer special rates and are participating in the Border Fast Pass program which can cut border waits by half, especially on the weekends, Foster said.

The Finish Line Fiesta is free for participants and spectators, overlooking the Ensenada harbor with panoramic views of the cruise ships at sunset. Live rock-n-roll, jazz and salsa plays into the night while local chefs serve their best.

Massage therapists are available to work out every knot, and there will be a lot
of celebrating with ice cold beer and award-winning wines from Baja’s wine country, Foster said.

Shuttles are available on the event course from the finish line to the start line before and after the event. So if participants stay in Rosarito Beach, they can take the shuttle back to Rosarito after the event.

“The corridor from Rosarito Beach to Ensenada is safe for tourists, and Baja remains a beautiful and affordable destination for travel with friends and family," Foster added.

Foster said that this recent e-mail from a frequent ride participant summed up the spirit of the event: “Thanks for another great experience! I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve done this ride since the early 1990’s. All I know is they keep getting better!”

MEDIA CONTACT:              Ron Raposa

                                                ronraposa@hotmail.com

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