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Friday, August 1, 2008

Fiestas de la Vendimia has Deep Roots in Ensenada

by Steve Dryden

Harvest season is a time of abundance, excitement and celebration in Mexico’s premier grape growing and wine production region. Historically, Ensenada has been the “hub” of the wine culture in Baja California and was the original location for the first Fiestas de la Vendimia. In the early days of the this “wine culture” celebration (1982) the event was organized and promoted by the Club de Leones de Ensenada or the Lions Club and a few small wineries. The 1986 IV Fiesta y Feria de la Vendimia was a two day event held on August 30th and 31st with an admission fee of $65 usd. Three wineries were involved in the first events to include Bodega Santo Tomas, Bodega San Antonio and Cavas Valmar. Fernando Martain of Cavas Valmar and the management of Santo Tomas winery have been involved in the event planning from the beginning and continue to this day.

La Cofradia del Vino, a group of Ensenada residents who wanted to learn about and explore the world of wine and gourmet culinary delights, took over the management, planning and organization of Fiestas de la Vendimia in 1987. Hector Arriola, Octavio Jimenez, Ignacio Crespo Pozvelo, Raul Borquez and Fernando Martain were among the first visionary leaders who truly believed in the future of the Baja California wine culture. According to Fernando Martain, “the real purpose of this event was to promote the regional wine culture.” In fact, in a 1991 interview with San Diego Union staff writer Diane Lindquist, about the Mexican wine industry, Martain stated, “this is only the beginning, in a few years more, there might be a hundred wineries.” In that same interview, Hans Backhoff, one of the owners of Monte Xanic winery added, “everybody thinks the weather is too hot and you cannot produce good grapes here, but that is wrong. This is a fantastic microclimate. With this exceptional year (1991) I think we’re going to be discovered.” Today, Mexico’s “silent revolution” in creating high quality wine shows that both Martain and Backhoff were right on target! In 2008, there are many new wineries in the region and several hundred individuals are making artisan and boutique wines.

The wine association of Baja California or Asociacion de Vinicultores de la CANACINTRA joined forces with la Cofradia del Vino to host the event in the early 1990’s. A few years later, the wine association took over the entire management and promotion of the festival and continues in that role today. Interestingly, the Fiestas de la Vendimia has become “too successful.” For example, even though tickets are not being issued for this year’s events yet, many of the festivities are already sold out. I suspect that somebody forgot to tell the City of Ensenada and the Baja California wine culture that the economy is slowing down! In fact, the regional economy is growing at a study rate and much of that has to do with our “emerging” wine culture that includes special events, culinary arts, artisan gourmet food products, restaurants, wine bars, wine country hotels, B&B’s, new wineries, and several winemaking and culinary educational programs. Fiestas de la Vendimia 2008 takes place from July 31 through August 17 with over fifty spectacular events. This festival is like an “old vine” with deep roots in our region, it keeps growing while producing quality fruit in the form of “world class” entertainment and hospitality. Don’t miss out!