If Everybody Had an Ocean: Surf’s Up in Los Cabos


On Captain James Cook’s third expedition to the Pacific, his ships HMS Discovery and Resolution, made the first recorded European visit to Hawaii in 1778, when they stopped at the western end of the island chain on their way from Tahiti to the northwest coast of North America, stopping at the Big Island of Hawaii. There, at Kealakekua Bay, Cook was killed by Hawaiians when he made a misguided attempt to kidnap their high chief to force the return of a stolen boat.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that Lieutenant James King, First Lieutenant of the Discovery was given the task of completing the narrative portion of Cook’s journals after Cook’s death in 1779 and devoted two full pages to a description of surfboard riding, as practiced by the locals. His journal entry is the earliest written account of surfing as a cultural practice:

“Where there is a very great Sea, and surf breaking on the Shore, the Men sometimes lay themselves flat upon an oval piece of plan about their Size and breadth, they keep their legs close on top of it, & their Arms are us’d to guide the plank, thye wait the time of the greatest Swell that sets on Shore, & altogether push forward with their Arms to keep on its top, it sends them in with a most astonishing Velocity, & the great art is to guide the plan so as always to keep it in a proper direction on the top of the Swell, & as it alters its direct. If the Swell drives him close to the rocks before he is overtaken by its break, he is much prais’d. By such like exercises, these men may be said to be almost amphibious.  The diversion I conceive to be very pleasant, at least they seem to feel a great pleasure in the motion which this Exercise gives.”

In the late 1700s, riding waves lying down or standing on long, wooden surfboards was an integral part of Pacific Island lifestyle, as much a part of the local culture as professional sports are to contemporary life in the United States. While the Pacific Islanders had a big head start in enjoying the pleasures of wave riding, the tremendous influx of GIs into the area during World War II brought the sport to the attention of American sporting enthusiasts.  Even as Americans were fighting in the Pacific, mainland surf culture began with people like Bob “The Phantom” Simmons, a Caltech dropout who pioneered modern surfboard design in Southern California, taking it from a heavy, rigid plank to something lighter, portable and more maneuverable. Employing balsa wood and then newer materials like fiberglass with a “form follows function” philosophy, Simmons created wave-riding vehicles based on hydrodynamics using graceful elongated shapes, fins and curves.  Almost overnight, surfing boards went from 2-man carries to something easily carried by a single person and placed on top of a car.

“You paddle out turn around and raise

And baby that’s all there is to the coastline craze

You gotta catch a wave and you’re sittin’ on top of the world”

“Catch a Wave” – The Beach Boys

The early SoCal practitioners, before surfing caught the big tsunami of The Beach Boys’ harmony-driven anthems, and became a multi-billion dollar part of the culture, were surf-niks like Simmons and “Ironman” Mike Doyle who camped out in their cars, slept on beaches up and down the coast, frequently riding alone and without wet suits in cold winter months.

The coastal highway and the breaking waves were the muse in Los Angeles, Orange County and then San Diego and into Baja, always beckoning to surfers in search of the perfect wave.  And there were plenty of them on the deserted shores stretching south of the border.

If everybody had an ocean, then they’d probably want it ringed with the dazzling white sand wave depositories that southern Baja is blessed with.  From the legendary spots in Todos Santos to Playa Cerritos and all the way to San Jose and the East Cape, there are surfing spots in Los Cabos suited to any aptitude and style, and the sport continues to evolve.

The Cabo area was surfed as early as the fifties by traveling California boaters and fishermen, and later surfing enthusiast Steve Bigler flew into a dusty airstrip in San Jose Del Cabo in 1967 to film some footage for the ’68 surf film “Golden Breed.”  Surfline’s Sean Collins, who passed away in 2011, began his lifelong exploration of the area in the late 60s and early 70s. But even though the Trans-Peninsular highway linking Baja Norte and Baja Sur was completed in 1973, the area didn’t really start getting popular until the mid-80s.


There are many great surf spots around the coastline of southern Baja where enthusiasts from beginners to experts can enjoy the action.  Monuments, Zippers, Acapulquito, Costa Azul, La Roca, Old Man, Shipwreck, Playa El Tule in the Corridor, and Playa Cerritos up the road near Todos Santos are popular spots that offer consistently approachable breaks and classic wave action. Depending on time of year and water conditions, you can count on surfing conditions that range from fun and dependable to outrageous. With so many different opportunities in the area, southern Baja is a place where former world champions like Mike Doyle and ex-pat Pat Curren have decided to settle in and now teach others how to enjoy to action wherever it’s breaking.

The Fletcher Los Cabos Classic, held in 1991 and won by Kelly Slater, was the first big surf contest held here, and the surfing scene then was more like an extended beach party with a coincidental surf contest than anything else. Things began to get serious when the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association (SIMA) started an annual conference in Los Cabos in 1998 and the local surfing population – both Mexican and gringo – has continued to grow as new aspects of the sport like stand up paddleboarding are introduced.  Recent news includes the announcement of the World SUP Championships to be held in Los Cabos in November 2012, a recognition of the world class status of the location and its many amenities.

Following is a guide by area to some of the top surfing spots in Los Cabos.  By no means definitive, this is designed to help those who are looking to get started in the sport and become part of the growing numbers of the coastline craze.


On a slightly overcast beach near Todos Santos a small group of enthusiastic women have gathered to prove that they have what it takes to be surfers.  This beach, on the Pacific side of Baja California Sur, is where you want to be when west swells bring consistent waves, and when the conditions are just right 12-footers can appear for days.  But today these women are just learning surfing basics with their instructor Mario. Part of the Todos Santos Eco Adventures Surf Camp for Women, they participate in a full week of activities headquartered at Los Colibris that include not only lessons in wave theory, but also horseback riding, pre-surf yoga classes, Mexican cooking lessons, swimming with sea lions, tapas and wine tasting (sometimes followed by spontaneous dancing), massage therapy, visits to local art galleries, Hotel California and restaurants, and, yes, shopping.  Consider this package your one-stop introduction to all the good things that the Todos Santos has to offer, with surf lessons each morning, a fun/indulgent activity each afternoon, and authentic dining experience each evening.

Surfing duo

Near Todos Santos on Mexico Hwy 19 at approximately Km. 64 in Pescadero between Playa Los Cerritos and Playa San Pedrito with access to popular Playa Pescadero is the Pescadero Surf Camp, which is not limited to women and offers lodging and lessons for beginning, intermediate and advanced surfers.  The camp offers packages of excursions all around southern Baja and a year round onsite guide is available for individuals or groups to get you to the best swells from the East Cape region to the Pacific. All surf gear is provided or you can bring your own.  The lodging here is well-maintained and functional, with campsites consisting of palapas with electricity, lights and water, casitas with or without private showers and a camp house with two bedrooms, bathroom, shower, full kitchen, living room and private patio. A pool with swim-up palapa bar is often the social center for many of the more serious boarders in the area, but the camp is a perfect introduction for first-timers also.


Also situated in Todos Santos next to the Hotel Santa Rosa is La Sirena Eco Adventures which offers packages for local surfing, kayak and snorkeling, sea turtle activities, whale watching and guest house rentals, cozy one bedroom/one bath casitas nestled in palm trees within walking distance to markets, downtown Todos Santos and Playa La Poza for turtle hatchling releases. The comfortable and predictable waters of nearby Playa Los Cerritos make it the perfect place for beginner and intermediate surfers.  La Sirena provides bilingual instructors with years of surfing and surf instruction experience and will design a package of custom lessons to suit a given skill level, including a three-day surf clinic which can be spread out over a week. La Sirena is a good base of operations for people who have more than one interest in the local ecology and they provide a lot of opportunities in preserving and sharing the natural resources of the area around Todos Santos.


One of the most popular areas in all of Los Cabos is the surf break just in front of the Cabo Surf Hotel.  The hotel itself serves as host to a name brand surf school that comes with all the credentials of a world champion.  “Ironman” Mike Doyle’s surf school is located onsite at the Cabo Surf Hotel and offers a full 3-day clinic (hotel guests have special discounts on surf clinics) for the beginners and advanced beginners to get into the action on the waves at Playa Acapulquito, one of the most reliable surfing spots in southern Baja, where a reef brake forms waves that break before reaching shore, making it also a popular surf spot and a safe place for swimmers. Watersport enthusiasts can also enjoy stand up paddling during the smaller wave months (mid-November to mid-March). All of their instructors are certified by NSSIA (National Surf Schools & Instructors Association) and head instructor Miguel Rojas is a Mexican National Champion on Short Board representing Baja California Sur, and has been a Mike Doyle School instructor for 9 years.

Another reputable surf shop in the immediate vicinity overlooking Zippers and other prime surf spots in San Jose del Cabo is Costa Azul Surf Shop.  Owner Alejandro Olea started with a ding repair shack on Zippers beach in 1985. Since then, Costa Azul Surf Shop has become a thriving local business and headquarters for surf enthusiasts in southern Baja, where they provide updates on the latest surf conditions, custom surf wear and clothing and all the supplies you’ll need to enjoy your beach-going experience.  “We’ve come a long way,” Olea says, “but I feel like we still have a long way to go before we’re where I want us to be. That’s why we started our Costa Azul Surf Shop Surf Lesson Program. We offer professional surf lessons from teachers who have a combined 120 years of surfing experience and who are CPR and First Aid certified.”

Costa Azul also has its own stock of about 250 signature-design surfboards boards, hand-shaped by a team of skilled shapers using recent technologies coupled with old world craftsmanship.  The Costa Azul shop offers client transportation to the best local breaks, sponsors a junior waverider team and has a regular client list that includes the likes of Adam Sandler and NBA star Jason Kidd. Classes offered can include up to 10 people with four teachers per session, keeping the teacher-to-student ratio low. Private one-on-one lessons also are available by request. Beside its main headquarters near Zippers in San Jose, Costa Azul also has facilities in Playa Cerritos and Todos Santos to assist local enthusiasts there.

SurfinCabo, also in the San Jose area near Zippers, is a surfing Bed and Breakfast dedicated to guided surf tours for beginners up to expert level surfers.  The hillside location offers 6 comfortable private rooms with all services you would want for a local visit, including a swimming pool, video arcade and spa.  They also provide full surfing lessons, board rentals and repairs, and tours and excursions to wherever the best sets are breaking.  They’re located 5 minutes from prime spots in the San Jose area, and are within an hours’ drive from the best Baja surfing spots from the East cape to the Pacific side when the northern swells are active.

Stand Up Paddleboarding

A close relative to the local surfing action is the up-and-coming new sport called SUP, for stand-up paddleboarding.  Less dependent on surf conditions and easily approachable by the less athletic, SUP offers plenty of excitement and good exercise, as balancing and paddling provides cardio and strength training for a low impact, full body workout while enjoying the ocean environment in a zone where the surf meets the shore.  Locally, there are several SUP operations that will get you into the action with a minimum of training.

SUP Mexico, with headquarters in San Jose del Cabo, is a full service location offering all there is to know about the world of stand-up paddling, including lessons with one of their WPA (World Paddle Association) instructors and a full range of SUP boards by Doyle and Hobie C4 Waterman, Paddle Surf Hawaii and Boardworks.  SUP Mexico was started by Alfredo Salafranca and Kym Kuharski Salafranca, and opened for business in December 2010 in San Jose.  They recently added another spot on Medano Beach near ME Cabo.

Alfredo’s love for surfing brought him to the world of paddle boarding, and after getting involved up the sport and noticing other locals and tourists also were enthusiastic realized the need for a SUP business in Los Cabos.  Together over the years Alfredo and Kym have created a business that represents knowledge of the local waters and quality SUP products, and consistently promote their enthusiasm for the sport throughout the area. SUP Mexico is the official sponsor for two of the top ranked stand up paddle professionals in the world, Candice Appleby and Anthony Vela, and is also the founder of the Los Cabos Classic, a SUP Stand Up Paddle Race that is held in the fall each year at Palmilla Beach.

Cabo SUP is a stand up paddleboard club located in the heart of downtown Cabo that provides lessons, rentals, and guided tours. CABO SUP owners and operators Lee and Meredith Vosburgh started paddling 5 years ago in Montauk, Long Island. They continued paddling when they relocated to Cabo 3 years ago to be the onsite partners of the Bahia Hotel and Beach Club. The decision to share their passion for Stand Up Paddle was brought about by the ideal location of the Beach Club. The Beach Club is located on Medano Beach, one block from the Bahia Hotel, and the full service operation includes lessons and a full range of rental gear featuring SOS paddles boards and paddles (Lee promises you’ll be up and SUPing in only about an hour). Medano Beach is Cabo’s most swimmable stretch of sand where the famous Land’s End Arch marks the convergence of the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez, and, since many of the hotels on the Corridor don’t allow swimming due to rip currents and strong surf, many guests from that area take advantage of Medano Beach for all water activities.  It also makes it a convenient place for first timers to earn their SUP wings.

No longer the sole domain of tousle-headed daredevils driving VW vans with handmade boards looking for deserted beaches and awesome swells, surfing in its many forms has evolved into big business in Baja and has made itself accessible to everyone.  The waves that have been caressing the shores from Todos Santos to the East Cape are part of an endless cycle that has been going on for millions of years.  A connection to that natural force, a power that can be exhilarating and even addictive, is something that surfers, when they drop into the face of a wave, feel intuitively.  And now, thanks to the local entrepreneurs and water enthusiasts who love that feeling and want to share it, so can you.

For more information:

Todos Santos Eco Adventures: www.tosea.net

Pescadero Surf Camp: www.pescaderosurf.com

La Sirena Eco Adventures: www.lasirenakayaksurf.com

Cabo Surf Hotel: www.cabosurfhotel.com

Costa Azul Surf Shop: www.costa-azul.com.mx

SurfinCabo: www.surfincabo.com

SUP Mexico: http://mexicosup.com

Cabo SUP: http://cabosup.com

SUP Logo




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Viva Agave! Tequila Aficionados Unite in Los Cabos.


Hundreds of years ago, nobody is sure of the exact date, lighting struck an agave plant in Mexico, causing it to split and reveal a crude nectar that the Aztecs used to make a primitive beverage, an ancestral form of what we now call tequila. That’s according to an ancient legend, and it’s an event that is still celebrated in Mexico in story and traditional dance.  Tequila, as refined and rewarding a beverage as you can find, has now become one of the most celebrated alcoholic drinks in the world.

Tequila is North America’s first distilled drink, with a history dating back to pre-Hispanic times. Tequila isn’t just an alcohol beverage, writes Alberto Ruy-Sánchez Lacy, Ph.D., in his book Guía del Tequila (Guide to Tequila). It’s a distillation of a legendary part of Mexican history, with all its hard work and pride, and sipping a fine tequila is more than a direct connection to a specific region or producer, it’s also a connection to the heart and soul of Mexico.

After that proverbial lightning strike, the Aztecs were able to make a fermented beverage from the agave plant which they called octli – later called pulque – long before the Spanish arrived in 1521.   During the pre-Hispanic era, the Tiquila tribe from Amatitlan, learned the essential process of boiling and fermenting the agave plant to obtain a ritualistic beverage which was then only consumed by religious authorities.

When the Spanish conquistadors ran out of their own brandy, they began to distill agave to produce North America’s first indigenous alcoholic spirit.  Mezcal wine – tequila’s direct ancestor – was first produced only a few decades after the Spaniards arrived in the New World in 1521. In 1538 the governor of Nueva Galcia, an area that includes present-day Jalisco, created a law to control production of what was called vino mescal. Tequila, like Mexico herself, was born of a Mestizo heritage; the drink was first produced from a Mexican product by the Spanish in European stills of Arabic origin.

Tequila as an industry had its beginnings when Jose Antonio de Cuervo obtained land from the King King Carlos IV of Spain in 1758, before Mexico became an independent republic. In 1795, Jose María Guadalupe de Cuervo made the very first Vino Mezcal de Tequila de Jose Cuervo after receiving the first official permit from the King of Spain to produce Tequila commercially.  His distillery, La Cofradia de la Animas, is the predecessor of the well-known firm of Casa Cuervo.  Other early tequila pioneers include Tequila Herradura which was founded in 1870 and Tequila Sauza which was founded in 1873.


Tequila is distilled from the juices of the blue agave plant (agave tequiliana Weber), commonly called blue agave (agave azul). This large plant is commonly confused with the cactus plant as the source of tequila, but it is actually a relative of the lily (amaryllis) family.  Grown in the state of Jalisco and in specified areas of the surrounding states of Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit and Tamaulipas, the large spikey plant was classified by German botanist Franz Weber in 1905.  Weber arrived in Mexico in 1896 and spent years studying the best agaves for the production of tequila.  His studies determined that the blue agave variety was the best source for tequila, and the plant now bears his name.

Tequila was first exported to the United States in 1870, but really didn’t really didn’t create much excitement in Northern America until Bing Crosby and Phil Harris began importing Herradura into the United States in the 1950s.  Little was known about tequila up until the early 1960s except by those who lived in the southwestern US where it had a market with the Hispanic population there, and with rabble-rousing college kids who went to Tijuana in search of wide open good times and cheap thrills.

Tequila’s early reputation with gringos established it as the wild child of alcoholic beverages. Mysterious and with a troubled history, tequila immediately earned itself a bad rap as drink with the sophistication of kerosene and a kick-in-the head hangover. This reputation, along with the mention of tequila in songs (everybody knows the party classic with the one word refrain from The Champs) served as marketing bait to lure the adventure seekers from the Hollywood crowd and college campuses across the border to Tijuana and other border towns.   The tequila consumed there was often an inferior grade, taken in multiple shots with salt and lime, sometimes with a Alka-Seltzer chaser, and consumption of that low grade rocket fuel was a guaranteed recipe for a bad tomorrow.

In the years after its introduction Americans learned to love their tequila, especially after the time-honored lick-some-salt, knock-back-a-shot, suck-the-lime consumption technique and the popularization of the margarita in all of its many machine-churned fruity varieties.

Luckily, tequila has changed a lot since then, and has evolved to a point where it can claim its rightful place among the world’s great distilled spirits. Now tightly regulated by the Mexican government, top notch tequilas are made exclusively with the fermented and distilled juice of the blue agave, and can now range from $40 to several hundreds of dollars a bottle.  That one source, the juice of the Agave Tequiliana Weber plant, has now been conjugated to produce an industry that includes over 2,600 labels in a dazzling array of beautiful handmade bottles, and the number continues to climb.


Choosing from among the vast number of high end tequilas can be daunting. It’s not enough anymore to know your silvers or blancos (not aged) from your reposados (aged from two months to a year) from your añejos (aged for a year or more).  There’s also extra añejo (aged for three years or more), gran reposado, blanco suave, platinum and even flavored tequilas. The classification extra añejo, or extra aged, was the newest classification approved by Mexico’s National Committee on Standardization, and there are more and more world class ultra-premium añejos  arriving on the market every year.

But all of this background information can make a person thirsty, and it’s time to apply this working knowledge to a tour of some of the most prominent tequila sampling spots around town.  In a place that’s used to enjoying the finest of everything, there’s no shortage of great places in Los Cabos and its environs to educate your taste buds and enjoy a personal relationship with some of Mexico’s finest spirits.


Let’s start with Pancho’s. The original ground zero for tequila lovers in Cabo, tequilero John Bragg’s restaurant now sports one of the largest collections in the world.  That’s no accident, since Bragg has been studying and sampling tequila for years, and has been working on the definitive book on the subject.  At Pancho’s you’ll meet Jose de Jesus Anguiano, who conducts the tequila tastings in a separate room at the back of the restaurant, with its credentials on the wall – a collection of certificates awarded them by the Consejo Regulador del Tequila, A.C., Mexico’s federal tequila regulatory council. Jose spent a full year earning his stripes in Mexico’s tequila-producing region, and has been Pancho’s Tequila Master for the last 10 years. Simple flights of good tequilas are served up on handcrafted wooden platters, and then Jose guides you through the basic types of tequila with the enthusiasm and knowledge of a true master.  After the tasting, participants are awarded a certificate anointing them as Tequila Connoisseurs, authorized by the local Experto en Tequila John Bragg.

Tastings at Grand Solmar have the visual advantage of being held in one of the great new properties with a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean. Sommelier and Tequila Master Juan Carlos is your guide here, offering tastings that lasts about an hour to hotel guests and non-guests alike, in groups from two people to a group of 6 to 8. Juan offers a thorough introduction to the history and description of tequila in its many styles, and uses slices of citrus and green apples to demonstrate the complexities and levels of flavor in high end tequilas, and also suggests pairing with a variety of foods, including sushi, guacamoles and salsas.  A variety of mezcals can also be added to the agenda, where Juan Carlos describes the differences between fine tequila and its other agave-derived relative. This is a great introduction to the world of tequila, and the view and atmosphere at Grand Solmar only intensifies the experience.


“We pride ourselves on offering our guests new experiences in food and beverages,” says Isaac Novoa, banquet and bar manager at Capella Pedregal. “We find there is a lot of misinformation about tequila – that it comes from cactus, that there’s a worm in the bottle, all of those myths. A lot of people only think of tequila as something they do as a shot, not something to enjoy in small sips. Good tequila, especially añejo should always be sipped like a fine cognac.” Capella Pedregal offers three different classes on tequila: a Beginner’s Course where Novoa explains the history and tradition of tequila and describes the basic styles: blanco, reposado and añejo tequila, along with mezcal. The Advanced Course teaches the unique properties of the various tequilas produced from agave. The Once in a Lifetime course presents some of the best extra aged tequilas Mexico has to offer. “Almost every one of our guests chooses level three — the Once in a Lifetime course,” says Novoa. “After our class, they have a much greater understanding and appreciation of tequila.  This is something that will stay with them the rest of their lives.”


At the Museo del Tequila in the Marina’s Golden Zone you have the added dimension of being in an environment that is completely tequila-themed.  The room sports a tequila bar, and some of the actual implements used in harvesting and processing the agave piñas into tequila, including a coa de jima (harvesting hoe), machetes, an old stone mill to crush the piñas and an antique still originally used in processing the agave nectar.  There’s a lot of graphic narrative about the history and process of tequila making on the walls, and we also picked up a card detailing all the benefits tequila had to offer, including “eliminates shyness, improves digestion, increases joy, makes forget, gets friends closer and extinguishes guilt,”  among other things.  So take a seat at their beautiful handcrafted wood bar and see how many good side effects you can manifest during a tasting here.

Esperanza’s Tequila Master Christian Moya comes from the tequila-growing of Guadalajara, and grew up appreciating its history and traditions.  A tasting here can take palce on the terrace overlooking the Sea of Cortez at their Restaurant on the beach or any other of many vantage points.  Fresh green and red sangritas are made just before service and Moya offers a passionate discourse on the history and process of making fine tequila.  They have a dedicated clientele who revisit Esperanza’s tequila tasting every year.  “We offer different tastings every year, as we discover new, very special tequilas,” Moya says.  “We try to evolve the process so that people are always discovering something new about tequila. We also tell them about recommended cocktail recipes and matching tequila with foods.”   They also do things like pair an extra añejo with dark chocolate and spicy truffles.


Guests at Las Ventanas al Paraiso receive a personal invitation to the world of tequila when they arrive, a sample of Tequila Clase Azul and an introductory note from Maestro Tequilero Oscar Mondragon, which includes instruction on tasting and an invitation to “awaken your taste buds by enjoying several dried pumpkin seeds with chili powder…sipping the tequila, taking a pinch of salt from several samples, a little lime juice, a few spicy almonds, and finally a piece of dark chocolate to taste with the tequila.”  That’s a personal introduction for their guests, but their full blown tasting takes places at their Tequila and Ceviche Bar.  There Mondragon offers a passionate introduction to the world of tequila, complete with their handmade sangritas which are made an hour before service.  After sipping their exotic elixirs, they hand you a diploma certifying you as a Tequila Aficionado. Sitting there overlooking the Sea of Cortez, your graduation certificate in hand, it seems life couldn’t get much better.


The One & Only Palmilla is not known for compromise, and that also goes for their tequila tastings.  Available to both hotel guests and non-guests alike, our tasting took place in the Herb Garden on the hotel grounds, an open air space with a very calming feel to it.  Under the tutelage of Tequila Master Manuel Arteaga, tequila tasting are orchestrated using flights of eight premium tequilas set up a sheet that clearly identifies them: a Don Julio 1942, Casa Noble Añejo, 7 Leguas D’Antano Extra Añejo, Chicaco Negro Extra Añejo, Agave Dos Mil Blanco, Toro de Lidia Blanco, Oro Azul Reposado and Partida Reposado.  “We like to offer the tequilas to taste side by side, of the same type, so that they can taste the very distinct differences between two blancos or two añejos,” Arteaga says. As he goes through the various labels and styles, Arteaga describes tequila tasting in its entirety: the aromatics of the “nose,” the mouth feel and the aftertaste. He’s very familiar with these sometimes artisanal products and visits the tequila producing region at least once a year to buy from very select producers.

At Don Sanchez and Habanero’s in San Jose, owner, chef and tequila meister Tadd Chapman has created a comprehensive program that covers many of the subtle details and nuances found in the world of tequila. A video presentation covers the history, process and tasting of tequila, and then he offers a sampling of three 100% agaves in blanco, reposado and añejo styles.  The system here involves the use of a tasting wheel, a graphic reference with descriptions of the aromas and flavors found in tequila, from floral and spicy, to woody, caramel, nutty and fruity.  Graduation from the class is complete with the presentation of an official-looking Certification of Completion.  And, since you’ve probably worked up a good appetite by now, the food is great at both of these restaurants, and Tadd will be glad to provide some advice on food/tequila parings.


At Costa Baja near La Paz they take their tequila very seriously. Home to an extensive collection of premium tequilas from select blancos to high end extra añejos and tequila based liqueurs, they currently offer two tasting menus and are planning to add more events in 2013.  Tastings will usually take place at Steinbeck’s Restaurant outdoors overlooking the picturesque marina.

Costa Baja’s collection includes many limited production tequilas, some which have attained a legendary reputation, like the Don Julio Reposado launched in 1987 and the Don Porfidio Reposado, to share with guests and visitors.  The collection is one of the most extensive in southern Baja, consisting of a private collection of 400 brands of blancos and reposados, and a special selection of unique bottles in the ultra-premium tequila category in handmade bottles.  Tequila tasting categories at Costa Baja include a standard level with samples of the Agavero Liqueur, Maestro Tequilero blanco, 7 Leguas reposado, Patron Añejo and 1921 tequila Cream.  A luxury tasting includes samples of the Agavero liqueur, Patron Silver, Don Julio Añejo Real, Reserva reposado and 1921 Tequila Cream.  This is an opportunity to become knowledgeable about top tier tequilas if you’re in the La Paz area, and you’ll want to keep in touch as they expand their repertoire here.

If you have the opportunity to visit one of Los Cabos’ tequila masters at any one of these tequila tasting temples, which we highly recommend, then consider the following basic tasting techniques when they bring out those decorative bottles  of Mexico’s finest:

  1. After the pour, hold the glass up to the light, notice the color by tilting the glass away from you against a light background. Blancos should be clear without occlusions or sediment; reposados and añejos will have more amber-like color picked up from the wood during their barrel aging. Check the consistency of the tequila as it drips down the inside of the glass (an effect called “legs”) Does it run down slowly or quickly? Is the viscosity thick or thin?
  2. Swirl the tequila and then give it a deep sniff. Much of what you will taste is a result of the aromas released as you swirl. Repeat as necessary, enjoying the medley of scents, which can include notes of caramel, vanilla and herbaceous overtones.
  3. Take a sip, swirl it around in your mouth, swallow and exhale. What flavors do you detect?  Common tastes include citrus, spice, wood, floral, vanilla, caramel and chocolate.  Hold the sample in your mouth; swish it around allowing it to coat your palate. Notice the feel in the mouth. Is it thin and mineral-tasting or rich and velvety? By “mouthing” the sample you will release its aromatics. That’s a good thing in tasting tequila.
  4. For many tequila tastings a special tomato fruit juice blend called sangrita is offered to guests. Sipping a sangrita with alternating sips of tequila can accentuate the complex layers in both of those beverages.

What it really comes down to is that good tequila makes the world a better place to live. So the next time you sip some premium blue agave nectar, it should go down not as just another flavorful, fine distilled alcoholic beverage, but as the potent essence of a very special place and culture, a direct connection to unique Mexican art form with all of its spirit and complexity.


While we learned that the best tequilas should really be sipped in a proper Reidel tequila tasting glass, some aficionados will naturally want to mix good tequila into a variety of mixed drinks.  These can vary from the well-known tequila sunrise, the paloma, and, of course, the margarita.  This recipe shared by Las Ventanas is a flavorful and spicy classic.

Jalapeño Margarita


2 oz.                      Centenario Reposado tequila

1 oz.                      fresh lemon juice

1 oz.                      agave syrup

1 oz.                      Cointreau liqueur

1                            jalapeño chile


Cut the jalapeño in small pieces and blend it with the lemon juice. Fill a shaker with ice, the lemon-jalapeño mix and add the tequila, Cointreau and the syrup. Shake it until you feel your hand start to chill.

Rub the rim of your margarita glass with the lemon and place the rim of the glass on a plate holding salt. Pour the margarita into the glass with some ice and enjoy.








Tequila Tastings in Los Cabos

While most of the places mentioned are open for regular tastings, it’s recommended that you contact them to make a reservation in advance and get information on costs.

Pancho’s: www.panchos.com

Grand Solmar: http://grandsolmarresort.com

Capella Pedregal: www.capellahotels.com/cabosanlucas

Museo del Tequila: www.goldenzonecabo.com

Esperanza: www.esperanzaresort.com

Las Ventanas al Paraiso: http://www.rosewoodhotels.com/en/lasventanas

The One and Only Palmilla:  http://palmilla.oneandonlyresorts.com

Don Sanchez/Habanero’s: www.donsanchezrestaurant.com                                                                                                    http://www.habanerosgastrogrill.com

Costa Baja: http://costabajaresort.com

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Cabo Pulmo – Baja’s National Marine Park is Indeed a Precious Aquatic Paradise.


After a fueling up with savory breakfast at the Cabo Surf Hotel, Paul and I jump into his Vanagon and we’re on our way to a southern Baja destination with a distinctive literary connection.  Like Jack Kerouac we’re on the road, but we’ve set our sights on a location that was documented by another literary lion, John Steinbeck, who stopped at Cabo Pulmo during his epic voyage around Baja California and documented his findings in the landmark book The Log from the Sea of Cortez.

Cabo Pulmo has a certain mystique to those who still appreciate remote areas and access to pristine water and a diverse selection of marine wildlife.  Part of that mystique is the fact that the last 16 miles are unpaved, which keeps out those who tend to avoid the possibility of occasional washboarding or a surprise washout along the way.  Another part is access to unspoiled natural resources and one of only three living coral reefs in North America.

Taking Mexico 1 toward the East Cape, we come into Miraflores surprisingly quickly, followed by Santiago and its charming home grown zoo.  But we’re looking for a different kind of wildlife, and press on into La Ribera and the junction with the road to Cabo Pulmo.  Not sure of the turn, Paul and I stop alongside a group of men who are sitting out the heat in their front yard.  “Cabo Pulmo?” Paul asks, and we get waved on, connecting to the road and its 16-mile long dirt terminus. We’re in the final stretch.

We’re lucky enough to have an invitation from our friend out at the Cabo Pulmo Beach Resort, Cole Barrymore, whose father, ski movie pioneer Dick Barrymore, discovered the area in 1970 and decided to settle in.  Building up the small resort literally by hand, the Barrymores created a small community of palapa-styled casitas that they furnished with their own hand made furniture and cabinetry.  Cole settled in permanently in 1993, married a local girl, Maribel, and decided to make Cabo Pulmo his base of operations.


Cabo Pulmo’s offshore resources was designated a National Marine Park in 1995, meaning that things are pretty much the same as they have always been there, and the reef-building corals have produced the only living reef on the western shores of North America, a structure that fans out in eight distinct fingers just off the beach. It’s a refuge for an awe-inspiring collection of wildlife ranging from brightly-colored fish, turtles, moray eels, pelagic gamefish like tuna and marlin, and, if you’re lucky, schooling manta rays or the occasional whale shark.  Another dive stop is the nearby wreck of the El Vencedor, a tuna boat that sank in 1981, now a well-populated artificial reef. The area has become a Mecca for divers and water enthusiasts who want to spend time in a place that Jacques Cousteau has described as “the aquarium of the world.”


Once the area became a National Marine Park it attracted a lot of attention from enthusiasts who wanted to experience the reef and its natural aquarium environment. With the increasing interest, Cole decided to put up a website and offer tours of the area, and a friend, a buddy by the name of John Friday, suggested that they start a diving program.  The rest is local history.

We pull up in front of the Cabo Pulmo Beach Resort, where a group of divers are cleaning up their gear, regaling each other with dive stories.  One group is speaking French, Henri, a dive guide, is from Holland, several other divers are from England. It’s a diverse, multinational group, sitting around in the mid-morning heat, drinking cold cervezas, clearly enthused about what they’d seen offshore.


“It all started with ten tanks,” Cole says over a plate of fresh fish tacos on the terrace outside the resort’s Coral Reef restaurant. “Today we’re one of the most popular and professionally equipped dive facilities in Baja.  We get them coming here from all over the world. That’s because of the numbers of fish and marine mammals that can be seen in the area.  We have 60 to 70 feet of visibility here all the time, and it’s not unusual to see the bottom from the boat.  Water temperatures are consistently 85 degrees until the end of October.  It’s just a comfortable way to see an awful lot of wildlife in the water we have here.”

Time to gear up. Paul loads his Nikon into the protective waterproof housing, and we get fitted for fins, masks and snorkels.  We head out to the beach, get in the panga, and then get launched by a pickup with a padded push bar.

As we approach the entry spot, Henri, our dive instructor, gives us some basic guidelines, and the scuba team is ready to hit the water.  Paul and I are snorkeling, so we’ll hit the water after they’re in and follow the bubbles.


The first impression of the water at Cabo Pulmo is its transparency.  Not only in the visual sense, but also because of its temperature.  It’s almost as warm as the human body, close enough that you don’t really feel it.  You just feel suspended in a neutral, liquid environment, and then you start to look around.  Suddenly a group of brightly colored fish with bright yellow fins and tails, a school of gafftopsail pompano, appear next to us, then move away slowly, oblivious to our presence.  They’ve seen this many times before.

Down below the divers are trailing bubbles, which come up like pulsating blobs of mercury, as they head for the fingers of the reef. I can hear the amplified click of the Nikon in the water. There are fish everywhere it seems, some stratified at a certain depth, suspended in their part of the park, while groups of schooling fish come and go at other levels of the aquatic playground.


Down below the divers are exploring the crevices and the coral reef close up.  Here are the breeding grounds of the nurse shark, a group of moray eels, large triggerfish, schooling jacks, and an uncountable number of other fish, some curious, some quickly on their way to another part of the reef.  A group of small, iridescent fish envelops one of the divers, leaving a perfect cavity in their midst as they move around him, and then they’re gone.  It’s a small but miraculous moment of the kind that seems to happen here all the time.

After about forty-five minutes we’re back in the boat.  A gasping diver pulls off his gear. “I’ve never seen as many moray eels as I just saw down there!” he says.  He repeats it to himself, and you suspect it’s an experience he won’t soon forget.

In his book The Log from the Sea of Cortez, John Steinbeck recounted a visit to Pulmo during a 1940 boat trip to collect biological specimens: “The complexity of the life pattern on Pulmo reef was even greater than at Cape San Lucas.  Clinging to the coral, growing on it, burrowing into it was a teeming fauna.  One small piece of coral might conceal 30 or 40 species, and the colors of the reef were electric.”

It may be hard to believe, as we live on a planet that sometimes verges on environmental catastrophe, but Cabo Pulmo may be one of the places where things are pretty much like they were described in 1940.  The waters are still clear and clean – a necessity for a living coral reef that can’t tolerate any clogging sediment in the water.  The condition of the park is due, in large part, to the respect that Cole Barrymore and other water enthusiasts have for this area.  With care and proper management, Cabo Pulmo and its spectacular sights will always be available those willing to take the trip along the proverbial dirt road less traveled.


After the dive, we wander the streets of the town, a remarkably open place with a frontier-like atmosphere, where horses roam the streets and beaches unattended and nobody really locks their doors.  “The honor system is still alive and well here,” Henri says.  Local restaurants are also wide open, sometimes more occupied by sleeping cats than customers.  We stop at Nancy’s, across from the resort, which has a reputation for good food, when you can find the proprietor, an American who moved here to be with her daughter, and ended up cooking for the entire town.  Could be our timing today, but no one is there.  When Nancy is on hand and at the stove, this is the place for fresh seafood, pizza and home cooked meals in a cozy palapa setting with a full bar.

It doesn’t take along to cover the town, and we make the rounds over to El Caballero, which is where Cole met his wife. Run by a local family, El Caballero offers traditional Mexican plates on a large outdoor patio and is the place to go for breakfast huevos rancheros.  Another favorite stop is Tito’s, an unassuming place with a reputation for good fish and shrimp tacos, world class chile rellenos, and cold cervezas.  Don’t ask for a menu, as they don’t have one, but the prices are a bargain and the service is friendly.


The sun is setting as we pull out of Cabo Pulmo.  It’s been a good day full of new experiences, and a trip that both Paul and I had always wanted to make.  Cabo Pulmo seems to be a world unto itself, a small sleepy Baja village, almost unchanged since Steinbeck made his stop, with friendly people, good food, cold beer, and one of the world’s most beautiful natural aquariums just offshore.  You couldn’t ask for anything more.


From more information:  http://www.cabopulmo.com  Photos by Paul Papanek

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Dining Exceptionalism – A Review of One&Only Palmilla’s Market Restaurant.

Market -lead

The name Jean-Georges Vongerichten carries a lot of weight in the restaurant world, so expectations were high when we had an opportunity this summer to visit Market by Jean-Georges at One&Only Palmilla

Market is Jean-Georges’ first Latin American restaurant, and their culinary style is a fusion of European and Asian influences with the addition of traditional Mexican accents. Under the steady hand of Executive Chef Sébastien Agnès, who was brought in by Jean-George in 2008 to oversee the makeover and re-opening of the former space, the menu here features many of the signature dishes that Jean-Georges is known for, and also includes much of the fresh local products available in southern Baja, as reflected in their name. Seventy percent of the ingredients on the menu come from the abundant local produce and seafood, while the other thirty percent consists of specialty items that are brought in from Europe to add the Euro part to the Euro-Asian fusion style that they do so well here. Market has even established its own garden at the local Los Tamarindos organic farm to ensure that they have control of the seasonality of products that they incorporate into their menu.

A perfect introduction the experience at Market would be to first stop at the Suviche Bar next door, which offers diners an impressive selection of fresh sushi and an array of ceviches using both Mexican and Asian accents. The sushi is prepared by a skilled Japanese master, and is as fresh and flavorful as any you might have had.

Entering Market we’re immediately taken by how comforting everything feels. It’s an elegant space, accented with deep red and rich burgundy details and original artwork, but also feels very relaxed, as the welcoming gestures of the staff make you feel right at home.

Looking over the menu, their signature Jean-George dishes are clearly indicated and include an  appetizer of Osetra caviar, which is one of the specialty products brought in from Europe to enhance the menu (if you’re a caviar fan it should be noted that it’s offered at all of the restaurants at One&Only Palmilla, even at breakfast). If you’re not a caviar fan and prefer a warm appetizer, then opt for the caramelized foie gras, with accents of black olive and lychee served with toasted brioche (baked on the premises),  or their seared shrimp served with crispy artichokes, a lemon-fennel emulsion and smoked paprika. These plates are arranged like works of art and pack a lot of flavor.

The most popular menu item at Market is their duck crusted with Jordan almonds and served with a red wine Amaretto sauce.  It’s an absolutely succulent dish, the duck cooked two ways, with the breast roasted while the leg is prepared as a confit. The slight crunch of the almond crust adds a nice bit of texture and flavor accent, and you will want to savor every drop of the sauce. This is one of Jean-George’s signature dishes, and I’m told that you can order it at any of his restaurants worldwide and it will taste exactly the same.

Another classic plate at Market is their sautéed grouper served with a sweet chili sauce, celery and basil, an ideal plate when you are looking for something lighter, but also full of flavor. This is an impeccably fresh seafood plate and perfectly cooked, with a little heat of Mexican chile and the celery and basil coming straight out of their organic garden.

There’s a section of the menu that we’re curious about, called “Simply Cooked,” and we’re told that you can select anything from a list that includes prime selections of seafood, chicken and beef and pair it with a sauce of your choice (including a ginger-sesame Hollandaise), add a side dish like grilled asparagus, aromatic black beans, parmesan gnocchi or herbed spinach, and they’re combine everything in a simply cooked, beautifully prepared plate. This mix and match offering is indicative of the flexibility in the kitchen at Market. They’re very willing to work with customer suggestions here, and when new seasonal ingredients are available, dishes are often improvised by a culinary team that includes Hotel Manager Sebastien Arnaud and Director of Market Manuel Arteaga, as well as Executive Chef Sébastien Agnès, their creativity working out new combinations of tastes and techniques as jazz musicians would play off an exchange of musical notes.

Market - trio

Not to be missed on a visit to Market is the roasted corn soufflé dessert with a little crunch of caramelized popcorn with a center of chipotle ice cream.  This is one of those dishes that people keep coming back for, the smoky heat of the ice cream melting into the warm savory soufflé in a way that brings audible moans from other diners in the room.

Market - wine

While they obviously take great pride in representing the Jean-George name and are passionate about what comes out of the kitchen, Market does not want to be known as a fine dining restaurant, implying anything fussy or formal.  While you can’t eat here in your beach outfit, and they require long pants for men, it’s a very friendly place, open to family dining and able to respond to individual requests, while at the same time offering up creative dishes as flavorful and unique as their black truffle Fontina cheese pizza, which gets my vote as the best pizza ever.

Market - pizza

With the culinary talents of Executive Chef Agnès and the range of fresh local resources, there is almost no limit to what can be accomplished at Market. Add to that the second largest wine cellar in all of Mexico, under the supervision of a great team of sommeliers, and you have all the makings of gastronomical greatness. Market is a special experience set in one of the area’s most iconic resorts, and on your return trips you may notice that there’s often something new and improved about the place.  It might be a new crepe station, the addition of specialized imported ingredients or an innovative new dish using seasonal produce, as the staff here is never content to rest on their laurels. Their ongoing efforts result in a restaurant that is always fresh and refined, without ever becoming being stuffy.

It’s been a memorable evening, and after a dining experience at Market you can head to the neighboring bar for some live entertainment or simply take a seat in the lounge area overlooking the moon-glazed Sea of Cortez, maybe enjoying a little Château d’Yquem or an artisanal mescal, while you say to yourself, with some authority, that it really doesn’t get any better than this.

Market -dessert

Market - group


One&Only Palmilla; Hwy. 1, Km 27.5, the Corridor

Phone: 624-146–7000

Web: palmilla.oneandonlyresorts.com

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A Trip Along Baja’s Back Roads, from Miraflores to El Triunfo

miraflores bcs


Los Cabos is justifiably famous for its line-up of luxury resorts, gorgeous beaches and top rated golf courses. These amenities are some of the finest in the world, and a good reason that the area is featured in the high profile glossy ads that are featured in luxury travel and lifestyle magazines.

But there’s another part of this area that has its own appeal – the authentic charm of authentic Baja Sur.  Just around the corner from these impressive coastal features and luxury hotels lies the Baja of times past, the Baja of small villages, dusty side streets and smiling, friendly faces of the people who work hard to make a living for their families.

If you’d like to discover some of the charms of the backcountry in southern Baja you can follow Highway 1 towards and past the airport in San Jose del Cabo and you’ll quickly find yourself passing through two small, sleepy villages with an “old Baja” ambiance. Miraflores is located about 20 minutes north of the airport and is known for its fruits, vegetables and cheeses and a fine leather factory located on an access road between the highway and the town center. It’s a great place to shop for bargains on leather hats, belts and bags.

A little further up the road is Santiago, a community located in the middle of a fertile, palm-filled valley. Santiago is known for its colonial mission, founded in 1723, and the El Palomar Hotel and restaurant located on a shady lane in the middle of date palms, mangoes, sugarcane and papayas.


The Palomar’s restaurant gained a reputation for solid cooking, and Barbra Streisand once and declared the Palomar a favorite new restaurant after dining on fresh pescado prepared mojo de ajo (garlic butter) style. Don’t miss the photo of Bing Crosby with the original owners on the wall. If you have the time you can also visit the quaint little zoo in the village, the only one in Baja Sur.  While nowhere near the scope of a metropolitan zoo, it features many indigenous local animals, bears, tigers, monkeys, wolves, ostriches and rattlesnakes in a viewing pit.  Admission is free.


Continuing on the drive north on Highway 1 past the East Cape you’ll see the backdrop of the Sierra de La Laguna mountains.  The area was declared a Biosphere Reserve in 1994, and is home to an incredible diversity of animal and plant life. Today much of the wilderness is uninhabited and attracts naturalists, mountain bikers, climbers, and hikers. A number of small farming towns are located deep in the arroyos of the Sierra de La Laguna.

Continuing along Highway 1 you’ll come to San Bartolo, a lush oasis known for its fresh fruits, homemade marmalades and baked goods. For a fresh, healthy treat, stop at one of the stands along the road for mangoes, avocados, and a local treat – fruit filled empanadas. A number of places in town also serve authentic burritos with fresh local cheese, salsa and beans.

Further on you pass through San Antonio, a town that dates back to 1748. During this period a rich silver vein was discovered in the area and San Antonio became home to more than 10,000 residents.  When an earthquake heavily damaged Loreto in 1829, San Antonio served briefly as the capital of the Californias, before the capital was transferred to La Paz. Today San Antonio’s population has dwindled to less than 1,000.


Winding through the mountains you’ll finally reach El Triunfo, a former mining town with crumbling colonial-style buildings, a stately church, and ruins of old silver mine foundry with a towering brick smoke stack.  In 1862 rich silver deposits were discovered in nearby San Antonio, and through the late 1860s El Triunfo profited from rich silver lodes. The town’s population swelled and it became the fourth largest city in Baja Sur. In 1918 a hurricane flooded the mines, the ore gradually declined in quality, and mining was finally stopped in 1926.  This picturesque little village today is a reminder of Baja’s former mining importance and a place to enjoy a walk and the oven-fired pizzas and breads at Cafe El Triunfo.



From El Triunfo you can continue up toward the state capital of La Paz, or swing south on the new road connecting La Paz and Todos Santos for a visit to that well known and charming Pueblo Magico.




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Why I Fish

First of all, there’s the water. Los Cabos is perfectly situated in an area where the Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortez, a confluence that provides ideal habitat for the world’s great gamefish.  The union of these warm and cold currents is unique in the world, occurring over a terrain of deep marine canyons and an upwelling of currents that keeps a constant supply of food in circulation.

Water symbolically contains the mystery of the unknown, and, in Los Cabos, despite having some of the finest oceans views in the world and often spending evenings looking over a vast expanse of water at dinner, we really don’t have a lot of information about what’s going on out there. But we know the fish are there, a large population of striped marlin and the larger blues and blacks too, wahoo and tuna, roosterfish, dorado in abundance and sierra. Name a gamefish and there’s a good chance that Cabo has it.

This is a place that attracts serious anglers, including early enthusiasts like Bing Crosby and John Wayne. If you are lucky you can be part of that heritage. John Pentz is a local developer and a serious angler.  He’s created some of the iconic places on the landscape here, like the Shoppes at Palmilla, and is now working on a new luxury boutique hotel to open next year overlooking Monuments Beach.  John had the kind of upbringing that leads to becoming a serious angler, as a young boy hiking and riding with his father deep into California’s high Sierras in search of wild trout.  Those kinds of boyhood memories create a fascination with water, and when John came down to Cabo in 1980 it was a life changing event, staying at the Hotel Cabo San Lucas where he hooked his first marlin, a proverbial game changer.  That fish led to repeat visits and now John lives in the area, overlooking what he considers the finest fishing grounds in the world.  “There is a lot to love about this place,” John says. “I love the climate and the people, and I have to say that, after fishing other places in the world, there is no better place to fish for marlin than Los Cabos.”


Local angler/chef Drew Deckman, of Deckman’s Restaurant in San Jose del Cabo, was looking for a place to combine his highly-evolved culinary skills with his passion for fishing. “Eight years ago I began looking for a place where I could cook at the level I was accustomed as well as have a shot at a billfish 365 days a year.  The fishing in Cabo, when it’s on, is as good as it gets.  We get all the species I want to catch most times of the year.”

And when he catches them, the most desirable eating species, he knows exactly what to do with them, creating plates so inventive, so precisely composed, that you look at the ingredients in a whole new light. “My life has been hook-to-fork for a long time and my kitchens only serve seafood from the Baja peninsula.  I’m not sure there is another place like this on the planet that is so varied and complete in terms of the resource.”

In Los Cabos, a single fish can change your life.  Ask the people over at Picante Sportfishing about that. In 1994 the Picante team entered the Bisbee Black and Blue Marlin Tournament, their first competitive fishing contest, and a 950-pound marlin spotted their lure and took it, something that came as a complete surprise. That fish resulted in a tournament purse in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and a Cabo sportfishing boat valued at about $250,000. Those awards led to the founding of Picante Sportfishing at the Marina in Cabo, now one of Cabo’s most recognizable fishing charters and a Cabo Yachts dealer.  All of that because a fish got hungry one morning during tournament season.

What would an article about fishing be without a fish story?  Michael Aviani, owner/broker of Los Cabos Vacation Rentals first fished the waters off San Jose del Cabo in August of 1985. Captivated by the area, he drove back down later in October of that year and went out with two friends and caught 7 wahoo, 10 dorado and 3 tuna in a panga rented through Victor’s Sportfishing for about $90, splitting it 3 ways.  That was when you could get a hotel room on the beach in San Jose for $18 a night. Michael became such an enthusiast that he was out fishing with a honeymooning couple and made a comment that the fishing was so good in Baja that the fish almost jump into the boat. Not long after that, as if on cue, a 25-pound dorado actually jumped into their boat.


Sometimes people ask me why I fish and I simply tell them that it’s something that can’t be explained, offering only that I have been drawn to it since I was a young boy. It’s a complicated question and it’s too early in the morning here at the Baja Cantina at the Marina to try and explain. I might just as well try to explain why people enjoy watching baseball or don’t like horse racing.

But if I were to try I would tell them about the amazing wild animals that you sometimes see when you are out on the water. The birds and the sea lions, and sometimes whales, but most of all the gamefish in their full iridescent glory, the dorado that flash a brilliant bluish-green and gold in the sun when alive then turn a dull yellow-gray when dead, and the large rays that shoot into the air and do somersaults, coming out of the water to surprise and delight you as you troll offshore near Pedregal. And if you let your eyes go out of focus you can think back in time and realize that you are out on the same waters that Spanish galleons may have sailed on, before there was anything here, save for a few hardy souls who survived by harvesting the waters surrounding the cape.

So you go out to try your luck, and some days the fish will not be there and you will just have an expensive boat ride. But in Cabo there is always a high probability that it will be a good day, fishing with friends and a cooler full of Pacificos, and your senses come up on full alert after you pass El Arco, as you know there may be an opportunity anywhere once you leave the Marina.

We put the trolling rigs out early, and start glassing the water looking for signs of fish. When you are fishing these waters, even though you have sophisticated electronic instruments, you don’t know what is down there until it comes up to investigate your trolled baits. A large fish may suddenly show up behind one of the lures that is darting and jumping at the end of the boat’s prop wash, so you keep your eye fixed there, occasionally looking around for signs of birds.

Just as you settle into the steady lull of the troll a fish comes up behind the boat, hungry and ready to eat.  The captain yells and points to the large dark shape following the boat and you see that it’s a marlin and the head is a deep purple as he rises, the pectoral fins spread wide as he comes to eat, almost like a bird’s wings, as if setting for a landing, the bill toying with a lure that is the size of a small tuna.

Then the action begins as you lurch towards the rod with the lure that the marlin is chasing, and you lower the rod and see his mouth open and your heart is pounding as you see the lure go into his mouth. And then he turns to run and you strike him and he feels the hook and goes airborne in a fantastic display of power or may go greyhounding across the surface, taking line at a furious clip.  And even though the sun is barely up, it is then that you think about your first beer.

You see the line disappear off your reel at an alarming rate and feel something of incredible power pulling it.  You are excited and a little intimidated as the same time, wondering what you have got yourself into now. They say a body in motion tends to stay in motion, and when a 300 pound marlin, a modest-sized blue, is on its first powerful run it can burn most of the line off your reel, and for the next 20 or 40 or 90 minutes you struggle to turn his head and reclaim your line and, in spite of all the expensive heavy gear, the outcome is never certain.

For those who love the pursuit of tackle busting game fish in southern Baja the excitement is a result of going into an unpredictable environment and being hooked to a wild animal, an apex predator with great heart and fighting spirit, being linked to something much stronger than you are, feeling the speed and power and seeing the way the fish light up when they are excited, a color that you could never capture in the finest photograph, and something you would never see if you weren’t able to bring them to the boat where, most likely, they will be admired and then released.

I have spent some time and money in pursuit of the great game fish of Los Cabos.  It’s been said a good fisherman can never starve, but if you really feel the excitement in pursuing the magnificent marlin and their companions off the coast in southern Baja, then you are likely to contribute a good part of your hard-earned wages to the fishing industry here.

But the experience is never really about that, as the profits of sportfishing can’t be measured in currency. You are on your way back to the Marina and a friend, who has also had a good day and who is one of the finest anglers you have ever known, lights a Cuban cigar and reaches into the cooler, pulls out a chilled Pacifico and hands it to you. There is spray coming off the sides of the boat, refracting the sunlight into a rainbow, and as you hold the can, feeling the coldness and weight, it somehow feels like real money.


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Known for Its Scenic Beauty, Great Golf and Fishing, Los Cabos is Also a Mecca for Great Eating.


By Michael Koehn

Los Cabos attracts people from all over the world because of all the wonderful things is has going for it – great weather, scenic beauty, the best fishing and golf and the warm hospitality of the people who live here.

What it also has is plenty of great food.  It turns out the climate and conditions throughout southern Baja are perfect for organic farming a large part of the year, and there’s also a rich marine environment from the Sea of Cortez up to Magdalena Bay that provides a wide variety of fresh seafood – lobster, shrimp, scallops, clams and fish – to the many creative restaurants in the area.


When it comes to fresh organic products, it’s hard to beat the many farms around the Miraflores/Santiago area and places like Flora Farm and Huerta Los Tamarindos. Run by Patrick and Gloria Greene, Flora Farm near San Jose del Cabo is part of a culinary complex that includes manicured fields of organic produce, a restaurant and bar, a grocery and even culinary cottages for onsite stays.  In its variety of efforts, Flora Farm has been one of the key players in promoting the field-to-fork concept locally.  Huerta Los Tamarindos, just outside San Jose del Cabo, is a certified organic farm and restaurant started by Chef Enrique Silva of Tequila restaurant. While providing the freshest tomatoes, eggplant, chiles, zucchini, baby lettuces and herbs to local markets, Silva also runs a cooking school on the grounds so that guests can learn about the farming experience and then take those ingredients from the ground to the outdoor kitchen and create pre-Hispanic, traditional Mexican or Mediterranean dishes, like pumpkin soup, stuffed squid or vegetarian lasagna.


For many of us, dining in Los Cabos means a table with a view of the Sea of Cortez. As you sit there taking in the scenery it just seems natural to want to enjoy a seafood dish with ingredients that were probably taken from the waters directly in front of you. It may be something simple, like the classic Baja fish or shrimp tacos, a more sophisticated dish like a smoked marlin tostada, or an exotic specialty like chocolate clams or pulpo (octopus). The delicious cuisine derived from the Sea of Cortez and Pacific Ocean is one of the great luxuries of the area, and the best chefs continue to create dishes using seafood in ways that surprise and delight.


Drew Deckman of Deckman’s restaurant near San Jose has earned a reputation as a wildly creative chef, using exotic and locally-available ingredients like geoduck, gooseneck barnacles and sea urchin. “It’s all about honoring the wonderful array of ingredients available here in Baja,” he says. Deckman also offers cooking classes at his restaurant, which use fresh seafood and sometimes wild boar and venison, and makes wine pairing an essential part of the experience.



Many of the most famous resorts have also been quick to take advantage of the thriving local markets, including Jean-George Vongerichten at One & Only Palmilla and Fabrice Guisset at Los Ventanas al Paraiso, who also have their own organic gardens on the hotel grounds, and Angel Carbajal of Nik San who adds savory Mexican accents to his wonderfully fresh sushi. Up in Todos Santos, Chef Dany Lamote of Hotel California, has produced several tantalizing cookbooks (including The Hotel California Tequila Cookbook) and, in partnership with Todo Santos Eco Adventures, also offers cooking classes designed to expose visitors to the delicious regional cuisine. Attendees get information on local products, flora and seafood (including things like wild honey gathered from nearby caves) and then spend an evening preparing authentic regional dishes. And, yes, an essential part of that education includes a sampling of the best Mexican wine, beer and tequila.

With its variety of culinary experiences from quick and casual to more sophisticated dining, southern Baja’s award-winning chefs continue to offer uniquely creative dishes based on the fresh products that local organic farmers and fisherman provide.  Whether it’s fish tacos at a street stand, dining under umbrellas on the beach or a visit to one of the 5-star restaurants in the area, it’s good to know that eating well is always going to be one of the key attractions in southern Baja.


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Exploring Ranchos in Southern Baja’s Sierra La Laguna Mountains

By Michael Koehn

Southern Baja has a riches of adventure opportunities and the most popular ones are very well known.  But there are other adventures to be discovered, up the less traveled roads where the old Baja lifestyle remains intact and people live unchanged from the way they have for hundreds of years.

Recently, the Mexican government has been promoting what they call “alternative tourism” in southern Baja, encouraging adventure enthusiasts to explore places like the rugged Sierra La Laguna Mountains, an ecological preserve and home to collection of small ranchos with rustic accommodations where tourists can explore the auténtico lifestyle of old Baja. This mountainous area is home to a unique and vibrant ecosystem and is protected by the Sierra la Laguna Biosphere Reserve which was created in 1994.

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With friends Axel and Felipe Valdez of Hotel Buena Vista Beach Resort, we recently drove high into the mountains above Santiago. It wasn’t long before the signs for the first ranchos appeared. At Rancho La Acacia we were greeted by Don Victor Castro.  His property offers small guest casitas traditionally constructed with thatched roofs and walls woven from the indigenous palo de arco. Inside, there was a spacious kitchen and dining area, sleeping rooms and enough space to settle in while exploring the area.  The rustic accommodations are typical of what is offered to hikers and explorers in the area.



To promote the community of ranchos, Mexico’s federal government has constructed a trail that connects the properties so that hikers can visit them in a circuit, and, as we worked along the rancho route, we stopped to visit with people like Catalina Manriguez, one of several local women who work together to create their own local products to sell, like homemade candy, cactus plants, goat cheese (Rancho El Chinal), and who also run the small community restaurant. At Rancho Aserradero they make beautiful handcrafted wood furniture, while at Rancho El Refugio we meet Rojelio Rosa, a local legend who is an expert in the flora and fauna of the area.  His guestbook includes entries from all over the U.S. and Europe. Other ranchers specialize in leatherwork (Rancho El Guayparian) and farming, creating products they can sell or exchange with other ranchers or visitors. 


The most popular rancho in the Reserva de la Biosfera Sierra La Laguna is Rancho Ecológico Sol de Mayo, a center for learning about local flora and fauna, and the gateway to the area’s most famous attraction, Cascadas Sol de Mayo, the 40-foot waterfall that pours through a collection of massive boulders into a deep, clear swimming hole.


photomexico-santiago waterfallphotomexico179

Exploring the local ranchos is a rewarding experience, a visit to an older, simpler world and a vibrant cultural lifestyle in southern Baja that is not represented in the glossy tour brochures of Baja’s more famous attractions.

For more information:

Rancho Ecológico Sol de Mayo

PH: 624-130-2055


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The Muir Project: Capturing the Magic of the John Muir Trail


The Muir Project:  

There’s Some Inspiring Scenery Up in the Sierras, and a Trail Runs Through It.

For Mammoth Sierra magazine

by Michael Koehn

Photos by Jen Serena


“Wander a whole summer if you can. If you are business-tangled and so burdened by duty that only weeks can be got out of the heavy laden year, give a month at least. The time will not be taken from the sum of life. Instead of shortening, it will indefinitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal.”

– John Muir

It’s no secret that the John Muir Trail, a hiking destination that runs that for over 200 miles from Yosemite’s valley floor through the Ansel Adams Wilderness, Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon National Park and ends at the top of Mt. Whitney, wends through some of the most spectacular wilderness in the world. The trail covers much of the scenic splendor of the high Sierras, and is well-documented by outdoor enthusiasts who travel from around the world to hike the JMT.

In the summer of 2011, a group of southern California-based multimedia artists decided to take the documentation to a whole new level, venturing through Muir’s Sierras, which he called “The Range of Light,” and capturing the experience in a variety of creative formats, including still photography, HD video, digital audio, music and painting, all part of a concept they call The Muir Project.

“It was an idea I had been kicking around for about ten years,” says Jason Fitzpatrick, who was one of the team’s co-directors and serves as a director of photography for the project.  “I had worked with everyone in the group on some creative level, and they were also avid outdoor enthusiasts, so we kept talking about the JMT as a creative project, trying to come up with an idea that would combine our artistic talents and love of the outdoors.”


Eventually Jason teamed up for some backpacking with Ric and Jen Serena, creative artists who also shared Jason’s love of wilderness, and they discussed the idea of doing something on the JMT.  “Every winter for the past five years, Jason had reminded us ‘we should really try and do Muir this year,’ and we finally decided it would be great to use some of the latest HD technology and just get out there and get some really amazing shots of the area,” Ric Serena says.

Over time, the idea began to take on a life of its own and more people got involved, expanding the scope of the project into something that would be far more encompassing and ambitious than just taking high definition nature shots. Soon Jason, Ric and Jen had been joined by location sound recordist Durand Trench, musician Paul Bessenbacher, and cameraman Zee Hatley. Over the course of their hike, covering 230 miles from July 10 to August 3, 2011, they met up with and were joined by musicians, painters and other adventure-seekers, who all became part of the story, including musician Bernard Chadwick and David and Kelly Finlay, teachers out of Colorado.

“We wanted to create an experience that would encompass a lot more than just pretty images,” photographer Jen Serena says. “One of the goals was to get out there and try to capture not only the beauty of hiking the trail, but also to capture something of the human experience, the enjoyment of being surrounded by like-minded people who valued the experience as much as you did.”

What was to become The Muir Project was originally conceived as an exhibition that would use a variety of multi-media displays, re-creating moments along the trail and allowing people to actually experience a little of what hiking the JMT is like, without the blisters.


Although the multi-media exhibition was the first idea that came to mind, the idea of a documentary film quickly became the project that everyone gravitated to.  “We had no idea how to curate an art exhibit, but knew we had the resources and the abilities to make a video documentary happen,” Jen Serena says. “So we decided to tackle that project first, create a fan base and then follow it up with an exhibition.”

So the core group, laden with backpacks bulging with audio/video gear, including a Nikon D3S, Nikon D7000, Canon Vixia HF10, GoPro HD, Jason’s Canon 5D Mark II, Durand’s portable digital audio recorder and Sennheiser mics and a Goal Zero Elite solar panel, began the journey up into the topography above 10,000 feet where Muir found his bliss.

It’s a place essentially unchanged from the way it has been for hundreds of thousands of years, with a few exceptions. “Even in the most remote areas of the Sierras you cannot escape noise pollution from air traffic,” Durand explains. “Keeping that in mind I try to catch moments along the trail, such as frogs having a conversation with each other or resting in a grove of aspens with a light breeze rolling through. These are the sort of moments I truly enjoy reliving when I’m sitting at home and trying to escape the incessant drone of leaf blowers.”

In 2011, snowpack for the year was the heaviest in recent memory, and for while it looked like the venture might be ill-fated.  “It was touch and go there for a while as to whether we would be able to do the trip at all due to the heavy snowpack,” Jen says. “We were just 2-3 days into the trip and were meeting hikers on the trail coming back who had turned around and were quitting. We were hearing things from other hikers and rangers about dangerous creek crossing at many points on the trail.”

It says something about the camaraderie of the group that, despite the physical challenges and the burden of twenty extra pounds of tech gear, everybody got through without a mishap, except the temporary loss of a pair of sandals. Finding it admittedly difficult at times, the Muir team plunged into the experience of the trail and the sweeping landscape that surrounds it, stopped to film and paint, carrying gear and artwork over passes, across rivers, through clouds, down sun-cupped snow fields and finally up to the highest peak in the continental U.S. at 14,456 feet, Mt. Whitney.


“Before the JMT, I tried to hit the trails as much as possible to get prepped,” Jen explains.  Another big goal of mine was to memorize the different yoga positions I practiced with my instructor every week so I could duplicate them on the trail. Before and after every hike, I did a few poses. Balancing on smooth angled rocks, gravel floor and wobbly legs was just an added part of the adventure. Without a single doubt that kept me feeling good the entire time on the trail. Even carrying almost 50 pounds on my back up those passes, it never hurt.”

The team’s creative philosophy was based on thoroughly immersing themselves in the overall experience, and then documenting their feelings in as many ways as possible.  “We weren’t a fast group,” says co-director and director of photography Ric Serena.  “Let’s just get that out of the way.  We’d made it our mission to capture the essence of the trail and its surroundings, and that required a substantial amount of time and energy each day.  On top of that, we’d all arranged to be gone for 25 days and there was very little need to shorten that by even an hour. If I could do it all over again, I’d allow myself more time to shoot and not be so worried about making it to camp before dark every night.”

Indulgences along the trail had to be taken where they could be found.  Bathing usually consisted of brief plunges into 45-degree lakes, and that happened consistently with each new body of water encountered. Snow covered passes were an opportunity for some impromptu tobogganing, and bears, potato-eating marmots, blisters and borderline insane creek crossings were constant occurrences along the way.

“I’m not going to lie, there were a few crossings that were a little higher and swifter than I would have liked,” Jason says.  “Often you would see the rocky edge of a trail one or two feet underwater. “That said, the snow and the water made this an extraordinary year to hike the JMT. You might get one year like that out of every twenty to thirty.”

The group’s running joke on the trail was that the next destination was only a mile, mile and a half away, which became the working title for the documentary. Most days they covered at least 10 miles and elevation changes of around 2,000 feet.  One of the true pleasures for the group was the evening meal and campfire, an atmosphere brightened by the ukulele skills of musician Paul Bessenbacher of Opus Orange.  His upbeat music serves as the signature sound for the video trailer.

“It’s hard to choose a single special moment in what was really a special trip all around,” explains Jason, “but when I think of what we called ‘Starbucks Pass’ I remember a humorous moment among the many we had on the hike. There isn’t a pass named for the ubiquitous coffee chain, that’s just what we named a pass near Garnet Lake. Once we finally reached the top of the ridge and could see the trail ahead, it was snow free and we unexpectedly had great cell phone reception. Everyone took the opportunity to call friends and family, and Ric and Jen got to talk to their daughter. As I looked at the group all chatting away on our phones, it reminded me of a Starbucks back home in LA, so it will live forever in my mind as ‘Starbucks Pass’.”

After the group finally crested Mt. Whitney the real work began.  They had accumulated over 30 hours of video footage (about 2TB once everything has been converted to ProRes) and thousands of still photos, and it would take months to sift through the wealth of imagery they had captured. The goal now is to take that extraordinary footage and edit it into a documentary of about 90 minutes that creatively expresses a month-long wilderness adventure, both visually and aurally.

“Now that we’ve put away the heavy gear we’re continually working on a blog updating the progress of the full length documentary and eventually an interactive exhibit.  We have a lot of things to share from this trip,” Jason says.

The plan is to take the completed film out to key independent film festivals and find wider distribution.  “Mile…Mile & a Half” recently had its premiere at the Dances with Film festival in Hollywood on June 1st  2013 (appropriately coinciding with National Trails Day), and the team is currently in the process of scheduling screenings across the country, building the DVD & Blu-rays for online sale and exploring their distribution options for digital, domestic and international markets.

The Muir Project is an example of what can happen when creative, like-minded people decide to collectively share something that is rooted in a common human experience, in this case something that is directly connected to the reverence John Muir had for the Sierras. The team made it through with just a few cuts, scrapes and blisters, and our reward is that they are now in the process of sharing something very special about a place revered by so many.

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For more information on The Muir Project:

Videos: http://themuirproject.com/mmah/videos/

Trail head: http://www.themuirproject.com

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A Visit to Trinchero Napa Valley – St. Helena, CA

The Proud Facade of Trinchero Napa Valley

By Michael Koehn

Growing up in the Napa Valley, I went to school with a lot of kids whose families worked in the wine business. In those days, St. Helena was a quiet, unassuming town with an economy dominated by agriculture – prunes, some hay, walnuts and yes, grapes.

Most of the wineries in the area then were small family run operations selling good drinking wines at reasonable prices, before international recognition of the Napa Valley as a premier wine producing region and widespread corporate involvement in the industry.

One of those family operated wineries, Sutter Home, was owned by the Trinchero family. Mario and his wife Mary had moved to northern California from New York in 1948, and purchased Sutter Home Winery with Mario’s brother John. Through long hours and hard work, the Trincheros made a go of it by producing hearty, everyday drinking wines and selling them to regional customers who sometimes refilled barrels and jugs at the winery’s back door. Mary Trinchero kept the books, younger children Vera and Roger helped on the bottling line, while older brother Bob assisted his father Mario and Uncle John, cleaning out tanks and barrels. It was a classic mom and pop operation.

As the industry began to mature, it was son Bob who came up with a product that was to vastly increase the fortunes of the winery. In 1972 he provided the American wine consumer with a new style of premium wine known as White Zinfandel, and during the 1975 harvest when some 1,000 gallons of bleed-off juice from a batch of red Zinfandel grapes didn’t completely ferment it resulted in a sweetish wine with a pink color and plenty of widespread appeal. Today Sutter Home White Zinfandel is available almost everywhere, and is one of the most popular consumer wines ever created, amounting to about 10% of all wine sales nationally and over 10 million cases sold a year. With its breakthrough success, Sutter Home has become the second largest independent family-run winery in the U.S.

On a visit to the Napa Valley I got an invitation to visit the Trinchero Napa Valley winery, a sprawling production complex and culinary center located a few miles north of St. Helena. It’s a remarkable new facility, a testimony to the family’s long term skills in the wine industry, and also a tribute to its roots in Napa Valley. With the opening of this operation, the Trinchero family is now poised to become one of the key players in the premium single vineyard varietal category.

“Trinchero Family Estates currently consists of thirty different labels,” says Bob Torres, Vera’s son and the winery’s Senior Vice President of Operations, “but this production complex is really the jewel in the crown for us. We started a winery under the Trinchero name in 1998 to commemorate our 50th anniversary, and this will be the new headquarters for that operation.”

We’re standing in the middle of the expansive winery on a perfect mid-seventies Napa Valley day. The entire facility sits on a knoll, elevated above the valley floor. In the background, Mt. St. Helena overlooks hundreds of acres of vineyards colored with fruit.

Our first stop is the Hospitality Center, which features a Tuscan-style culinary center with indoor and outdoor kitchens and dining, woodburning pizza ovens, and a reserve tasting room and cellar. It’s an appropriate introduction to the operation, as it contains family tributes from the early winemaking days. Just inside, a large inscription on the wall reads “In loving memory of Mario & Mary. May we continue in the same generous spirit.”

Entering the large tastefully appointed reception area there are framed black and white family photos and vintage artifacts displayed in glass coffee tables, including wine labels, boxes of cigars, logbooks, correspondence, and an old pocket-sized Sutter Home cookbook entitled “Mama’s Recipes for Keeping Papa Home.”

The food connection has always been strong with the Trincheros (The Sutter Home Napa Valley Cookbook was published by Chronicle Books in 2000), and we head into the center’s kitchen, a gleaming space full of industrial stainless steel appliances and striking graphic art. “This is where most of the activity takes place on the property,” Torres says. “We’ll be busy here almost every day of the week with industry events, lunches, dinners and tours.”

Next door is a small dining room that is decorated with the recipe for bagna cauda writ large all around the walls. This Piedmontese specialty calls for dipping bread and vegetables into large pots of warm olive oil flavored with garlic and anchovies. “It’s a traditional Italian dish served in the harvest season,” explains Torres. I can almost smell the aromas in this festive space, a perfect spot for dipping, eating and drinking wine with a view of the vineyards outside.

As impressive as the new facility design is, it’s the wine that is made and sold here that gives Trinchero Napa Valley its credentials. Specializing in red varietals, the winery produces vintages crafted under the care of winemaker Mario Monticelli, who provides a simple but painstaking approach to creating first class wine in very limited quantities, using a combination of state of the art technology and Old World sensibilities. “My goal is to put forth the finest expression of the fruit and the land from which it is grown,” says Monticelli. It’s an approach that takes the finest grapes harvested from over 200 acres of estate vineyards in some of the valley’s most prized appellations and extracts as much character from them as possible.

Mario Monticelli

Inside the production center we see the hi-tech part of the operation. Gleaming stainless steel tanks sit in a room devoted to the early part of the fermentation process. “These tanks are computer monitored for all the characteristics we care about,” Torres explains. “They’re even online so Mario can check on them from a home-based computer, if need be. But he’s very hands-on with every part of the process.”

Next door sit 1,400 oak barrels, the final resting place before the wine heads to the bottle. Smells of wood and wine mingle here, a hint of what’s to come in the finished product, and we decide to head over to the tasting room.
We’re greeted there by Lee Ann Vallerga, a winery representative who explains the wines to us by type and vintage year. We zero in on the Central Park West Cabernet, a dense, delicious, fully-fruited red with a lingering finish. “We get some strange looks about the appellation,” Torres says. “The New York reference is another tribute to the original family home back east.”

There is a generous selection of vintages here to taste, and Lee Ann explains the details of each of them while we savor the moment. Although these wines are meticulously made and highly rated, the prices have been kept within range of the average wine consumer, a big advantage in an economic climate where Napa Valley boutique wineries sometimes charging over $100 a bottle have seen drastically declining sales.

Opened in mid-summer 2009, the Trinchero facility is also a model of respect for the environment, with energy efficiency, recycled water, packaging and office supplies, and employee transportation programs that use the highest standards for green business operation. A culinary garden, while not fully planted on our visit, also promises to provide year round organic herbs and vegetables for the nearby kitchen.

There is also an outdoor seating area with a fireplace where visitors can sit and relax, maybe enjoy a good cigar with a glass of Cabernet or vintage port while overlooking the lush vineyards that surround the winery. It looks to be an ideal spot for a photo op too, or a wedding. Up on the hillside, two large driftwood sculptures of longhorn cattle keep watch, part of the extensive art collection decorating the grounds.

The view from Trinchero Napa Valley, with Mt. St. Helena in the background.

On the way out of town on our drive back to Los Angeles we pass the original Sutter Home Winery on Highway 29 just south of St. Helena. It’s still a busy spot, beautifully restored, with the original winery now serving as a visitor center. Thinking back to the early days of the winery and its modest beginnings, it’s easy to think that Mario and Mary, who passed away in 1981 and 1999 respectively, would be simply amazed at the business empire they had helped create and the impressive new facility on the north side of town that now proudly carries their name.

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