Sunday Driving: Santo Tomas Winery

Sunday is the day we reserve for exploring. Sometimes, it's on foot or on bikes. Other times, it's a long drive, seeing what we can see. This past Sunday, we actually pulled out a map and decided on a place we'd been wanting to go check out: Santo Tomas.

Bodegas Santo Tomas #ensenada #mexico #wine

When we first moved to Ensenada, we thought all the wineries were in the valley northeast of the marina. In doing a little research, I found out that the Ensenada wine region is actually made up of three wine regions: Valle de Guadalupe, the most well-known and closest to town, as well as Santo Tomas and San Vicente, both south of Ensenada on the Transpeninsular Highway, or Hwy 1. While I'd love to go to the Valle de Guadalup EVERY Sunday, I wanted to explore. I also wanted to see the winery that started it all in the Californias. 

A Little History

In 1697, Jesuit priests were given consent by the Spanish crown to enter into the barren, unattractive peninsula at their own risk and expense. The Spanish needed a post on the peninsula to protect trade, but had until then been unsuccessful. The Jesuits did what they could not and were left alone. And, being quite enterprising and not afraid of work, they eventually were able to support their existence in the foreign land. Unfortunately, after nearly 70 years of faithfully working the unforgiving land, they were rounded up and expelled from the country. It seems that they had a some opportunists and royalty against them.

The Franciscans and Dominicans took over the enterprises after the Jesuits left, but with the new Constitution and Reformation Laws, all lands once held by the Catholic Church were expropriated by the Mexican government. Santo Tomas was handed over to Don Loreto Amador.

In 1888, a former gold miner and his friend purchased the winery from Loreto Amador and officially established Bodegas de Santo Tomas. In the 1920's, the Bodegas was purchased by former President of the Republic of Mexico, Don Abelardo L. Rodriguez, under whose hand the winery went through major expansion, including moving the bottling to its current location, Miramar 666 in the heart of Ensenada.

Fast Forward to Our Afternoon at Santo Tomas in 2013

We drove past the winery the first time. I told Mr. Jones, "Hey, that sign said Santo Tomas!" He looked around while continuing to drive and said something to the effect of that couldn't be it, too small, let's keep driving. About a half an hour later and a few miles of off-roading where the highway was under construction, we reached San Vicente, which is south of Santo Tomas. We turned back, drive through the dirt road detours and finally ended up back at Santo Tomas. I tell you this for two reasons:

  1. No matter how much it annoys my husband, I will continue my horrible habit of being a backseat driver because things like THIS happen, and
  2. If you blink, you'll drive right through the town. 

The campesino at the gate scribbled our names in his log clipped to his board and then manually lifted the gate to let us in. Along the drive up to the tasting room were signs that invited us to mingle our senses... taste the air... breathe the sun. Essentially, live life fully. After easily finding a spot in the unmarked lot (there were only two other cars there), we walked past a wine cave, a fountain that wasn't fountaining, and some picnic tables where a group of people were enjoying a bottle. As we entered, we saw two couples at a table near the windows enjoying some wine and cheese and, across the room, a young lady at the counter wearing a panda beanie with tassels and pom poms. It was an elegantly decorated room that clearly didn't take itself too seriously.

Perfect for The Joneses.

Sipping and Noshing

Tasting Room at Bodegas Santo Tomas #ensenada #mexico #wine

We picked out a meat assortment and some cheeses from the deli case next to the main counter and asked for a wine recommendation. The young lady with the panda beanie said that for our meats and cheeses, she thought the Tempranillo would be best. While we were making our purchase, another employee appeared out of thin air, and just as quickly, disappeared with our food. We went to our table with our glasses and bottle, and within a few minutes, the disappearing employee reappeared with our cheese, meats, and crackers beautifully placed on boards.

We sipped and noshed and laughed and talked, all the while, watching a stream of small groups and couples come and go. It's definitely not as busy as the location on Miramar, it does seem to enjoy its share of foot traffic.

We finished our afternoon snack just in time to walk about the vineyards and take some pictures before the sun set. Waving goodbye to the campesino as we drove out the gate, we promised each other to come back and try another bottle on another Sunday very soon.