Catching the buzz on Baja wines: Q & A with Fernando Gaxiola

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I recently had the pleasure of meeting Fernando Gaxiola of Baja Wine + Food as he hosted a tasting of Baja wines at The Wine Pub in Point Loma. After asking him a few interview questions I had enough to fill my wine column in San Diego CityBeat and then some.

You can check out the article in CB here and see below for a Q & A with the Baja wine aficionado. I couldn’t keep all this great insight to myself!

Fernando Gaxiola opening a bottle of Chenic Colombard at a Baja wine tasting at The Wine Pub (P.S. that wine is delicious)

Fernando Gaxiola opening a bottle of Chenin Colombard at a Baja wine tasting at The Wine Pub
[Photo by Kate Kelly of Mixte Communications] (P.S. that wine is delicious)

Follow Fernando online at his website and on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram). He is hosting and involved with many upcoming food and wine events (as you’ll see below) and I highly recommend checking them out.

Q & A with Fernando Gaxiola

1. What are the biggest challenges in getting Mexican wine to the states?

The biggest challenges are brand recognition, price and the region/country of origin. Although I have done hundreds of events…, there is still a lot to do to reach our target market. Little by little we have been spreading the word about the producers, and some like Monte Xanic, Adobe Guadalupe, Lomita, Paoloni, Finca La Carrodilla and Torre Alegre are starting to get a good traction and following.

Although Mexican wines are getting more and more exposure, the reality is that, for the masses, Mexican wines are something they have never heard of. We try to promote Baja as a wine-producing region, and we often “partner” or introduce the wines with the regional cuisine, working with chefs such as Javier Plascencia, Miguel Angel Guerrero, Benito Molina, Diego Hernandez, Drew Deckman, Ryan Steyn, Flor Franco, along with big names like Rick Bayless. Chefs are great wine ambassadors.

2. How are you involved in getting the wines here? Do you do mostly PR and promotion or do you import wines yourself?

I have curated a portfolio of wines from the most prestigious, high-quality and consistent Baja wineries. This wines have been carefully selected based on hundreds of tastings in the U.S. and [knowing] what the American palate likes; it has also been validated by Master and Advanced Sommeliers. This portfolio is complementary where not a single wine is competing against another. This portfolio is imported by Truly Fine Wine (a local importer/distributor with the highest credentials in the wine industry), where I am a partner. So, I am involved in the import/distribution side of the business. TFW holds the most important alcohol licenses like import, distribution, online, direct-to-consumer and even retail [in the Bay Ho area].

Valle de Guadalupe wines featured at a recent tasting led by Gaxiola [Photo by Kate Kelly of Mixte Communications]

Valle de Guadalupe wines featured at a recent tasting led by Gaxiola [Photo by Kate Kelly of Mixte Communications]

As [proprietor of] Baja Wine + Food, I focus more on the marketing, PR and everything promotion related things. My strategy is, again, to partner with the local cuisine (Baja-Cali region) and create cross-border culinary experiences. We also produce our own events. We participate in dozens of festivals, expos, competitions locally and nationally. We bespoke culinary traveling experiences to Valle de Guadalupe, which is now one of the most important components of the company because it’s also a great opportunity to sell wine at the winery with home delivery in the US, and that way the restriction of crossing one bottle per person every 30 days is irrelevant. Traveling is very special for us because there is nothing like connecting with the terroir of Valle through its wines and food. Some of my clients have B&Bs, restaurants, stables, spas, etc. which allow us to deliver a holistic experience of Valle (most experiences are culinary, but we do corporate, spiritual, artistic, etc. – all tailored to our clients.

3. What do you see as the future for Mexican wines in the states and specifically San Diego? 

Growth! I see Mexican wineries allocating more volume to export. It is already happening! Mexican wineries pay almost 50% in taxes in Mexico, taxes that are not paid when you export. The 3-tier system in the US does not help but at the end, wines are less expensive in the US than in Mexico.

Off-dry Chenin Colombard by Monte Xenic paired beautifully with a spicy vegetable ceviche.

Off-dry Chenin Colombard by Monte Xenic paired beautifully with a spicy vegetable ceviche.

We are going to new markets like NY, NJ, FL, TX, AZ, NM, NV, etc. California is our priority though. We are shipping wine to those states because there is a demand for the wines but we care very selective about the establishments, we want to place our wines where they are appreciated and understood, which is usually in high-end restaurants and specialized wine retailers. Although, we do have wines in Whole Foods Markets and Costco.

In San Diego, I see every single high-end restaurants, hotels, specialized wine store and some high-end markets carry our wines; new restaurants are added by the day. Our most important “partners in wine” are: Bracero Cocina, Hotel Del Coronado, The US Grant, La Valencia Hotel, The Wesgate Hotel, Hyatt Park Aviara, Marriott (Coronado, Downtown), Loews, Liberty Public Market, Stake & Chophouse, The Wine Pub, The 3rd Cornes, Whole Foods Market (Hillcrest, La Jolla, Del Mar, Encinitas), The Patio Restaurant Group, Cohn Restaurant Group, Karina’s Restaurant Group, Puesto La Jolla, Puesto at the Headquarters, Galaxy Taco, George’s at the Cove, Wrench & Rodent, The Whet Noddle, Bankers Hill Restaurant, The Red Door Restaurant, The Wellington, Brooklyn Girl, Kettner Exchange, Firehouse, SD Cellars, and many more.

4. What has fostered your passion for Mexican wines?  

I grew up in the region. I have a connection with the land, with the people and with the food. When I was a kid, my father owned an electric construction company and he developed the electric grid in the Tijuana, Rosarito, Ensenada, Tecate and Mexicali region.

My family eventually migrated to San Diego but I was in Valle every week. I learned how to drive in Valle. I had my first girlfriend there. Valle is my second home and it holds a very special place in my heart. That’s where the passion comes from.

I left when I was 17 or so, went to college at Tec de Monterrey in Monterrey, Mexico. I graduated with an engineering career, worked in Monterrey, Mexico City, and other places in Mexico, South America, USA and Europe. I eventually landed in Phoenix, AZ in 2015 where I got a degree as Global Master in Business Administration. I kept working in the corporate world, especially in the Oil & Gas industry as Strategic Planning Consultant.

My family never left San Diego, so I was always visiting and escaping to Valle to check out what was going on. It turned out that a lot of things were going on. So, I decided to make a strategic decision with my life and moved back to San Diego in 2010. At that time I had no idea about what to do next, but while I was figuring out, was in Valle [all the time]. Then I thought: “Wouldn’t be cool to invent a job so I can enjoy this lifestyle?” And the rest is history.

5. What would you want people to know about the wines if they haven’t tried them yet?

I would like people to give them a chance. I would like people to try them with open palate, mind and heart. I would like people to know the stories behind the wines, the land, the plants and the people. I would like people not to judge them because they are different, but appreciate them because of that same reason. Valle de Guadalupe wines are not like Napa, Bordeaux, Tuscany, Mendoza or any other region in the world. Wines from Valle de Guadalupe have their own identity, personality and character, and I am very proud of what we are doing there.

The Wine Pub owner Sandy Hanshaw pouring Baja wines at a recent event [Photo by Kate Kelly of Mixte Communications]

The Wine Pub owner Sandy Hanshaw pouring Baja wines at a recent event [Photo by Kate Kelly of Mixte Communications]

6. What upcoming events are you a part of? 

I host a Weekly Wine Wednesday (WWW) event called Planet Wine Series. They take place at our own tasting room called Planet Wine located at the historical Bankers Hill neighborhood (3334 5th Ave. San Diego, CA 92103).

It is a speakeasy-like old cottage in the back of our headquarters. We feature Valle de Guadalupe wines with winemakers/owners [visiting]. Each Wednesday is different, we can feature the entire portfolio of one winery, the best wines from Valle de Guadalupe, vertical and horizontal tastings, blind tastings, taste-offs (For example: Baja Vs. Napa in a blind tasting format), etc. These are super cool! Since we have a license, we can sell bottles of wine to go or to open and consume in the property. WWW happens every Wednesday between 5 – 7 p.m. and RSVP is [required] to my email: fgaxiola@bajawinefood.com (limited to 25 people only to keep them intimate).

We also provide food, sometimes with a guest chef cooking in the barrel smoker…say what? (I will explain more about the barrel smoker shortly). Wine tastings at Planet Wine are also available by-appointment-only (not open to the public with hours of operation). No phone, just via email. I personally conduct the wine tastings and I can taste guests in as many wines as they want since I use a Coravin to pour tastings without opening the bottle. The whole library and portfolio are available to taste for potential buyers (if you buy, you do not pay for the tastings). Lastly, groups can rent Planet Wine for private events and we can facilitate the sommelier, chef and service staff.

[Another event,] “Barrel Smoker Dinners” are cross-border culinary experiences I created to bring the best talent from both sides of the border: winemakers, chefs, artisans, producers, etc. The dinners feature the iQ Oak Barrel Smoker, a revolutionary smoking device designed by Gustaf Anders Rooth, my partner and co-host. This device burns chips of oak barrel staves and smokes whatever you put inside with flavors and aromas of oak wood that has been used to age wine, bourbon or beer. It is INSANE! All featured chefs use the barrel smoker as the main cooking device to create their dishes and I pair the food based on the dish and what the barrel was used for. The Barrel Smoker Dinner [usually happens on the third Thursday of the month] from 6 – 9 p. m. at Planet Rooth Design Haus/Baja Wine + Food offices [at the same location in Bankers Hill].

We have featured chefs such as Javier Plascencia, Miguel Angel Guerrero, Drew Deckman, Andrew Spurgin, Chad White, Flor Franco, Ricardo Heredia, Ryan Steyn, John Medall, and many others.

Big thank you to Fernando Gaxiola for providing this amazing overview of Baja wines and related events in San Diego. If you haven’t experienced these wine please take advantage of the aforementioned opportunities. Salud!