Un road trip otoñal es ideal para conocer las bondades de Ojos Negros.
Texto y fotos por Erick Falcón | Todos Santos
Fall couldn’t have been better for Valle de Ojos Negros, or the Valley of the Black Eyes, as you translate it to English. At noon, its mediterranean climate brings a gush of fresh air as you travel down east the mere 25 miles that separate Ensenada from this now-called Cheese and Wine Route. Rocky hills, forests and rural scenery are a highlight of the trip, though care must be taken as the highway is a one-lane road.
The trip was planned the previous evening at Enoteca Ojos Negros, a winebar in downtown Ensenada owned and operated by the Hussong family, who also founded Bodegas San Rafael, Ojos Negros’ first winery.
Owner Ricardo Hussong explains a bit of the town‘s history, as his son Erick fires up the grill with artisanal pizza and Passion Meritage wine is served to help us plan the tour. Motivated by their desire of selling their wines in Ensenada, Ricardo and family opened Enoteca Ojos Negros very close to the famous Cantina Hussong’s, and is a great place to taste San Rafael’s 12 wines (and buy them at winery-price).
Founded in 1870, the town of Ojos Negros was a major mining hub during the Gold Fever era, and nostalgic people still do prospecting in the arroyos. But the real hidden treasure is this valley’s capacity to sustain medium and large scale vineyards, which has led Ojos Negros to be considered a serious alternative for wine production in Baja California, given the planning and development issues that are happening in Valle de Guadalupe.
Malbec: Ojos Negros’ quiet, hidden jewel
Once the route was set, we travelled next day to Ojos Negros to visit their new proyect: Malbec, a campestre comedor with a cuisine based on traditional Argentinian cuisine, a la parrilla, in Spanish.
The restaurant, run by husband-and wife team Ericka Maymes and Daniel Talpini, is decorated with traditional Buenos Aires fileteado porteño decor, and has a spectacular view of San Rafael’s vineyards.
We arrived for the opening on Friday, so it was very quiet and relaxing, as you could see the entire horizon line of the valley just above your wine glass.
Considered a maestro parrillero in Buenos Aires thanks to his 25-year experience manning the grill, Talpini serves up a masterful churrasco and parrillada for two with export-quality beef, chicken and pig meat cut, as well as traditional Argentine empanadas and alfajores.
“I am from a very typical barrio in Buenos Aires, Barrio de La Boca, and you will find my city’s traditional flavors here, as well as the excellent wines of San Rafael at a great price,” says Talpini, while he cooks a wonderful churrasco for us.
La Cava de Marcelo, the temple of Ramonetti Cheese
One of the most well-known places in Ojos Negros is Marcelo’s Cheese Cave at Rancho La Campana, where the famous Ramonetti cheese has been produced since 1911 by four generations of the family.
This Swiss-style cheese was first made by don Pedro Ramonetti, who founded the company, and you cannot miss the cheese tastings that the Cava’s open air restaurant offers, which are an excellent complement to the amazing Grilled Local Lamb with potatoes, Ramonetti cream and butter, and sweet tomatoe sauce we tasted.
Did we mention desserts made with seasonally available ingredients?
Infinito: stellar wines in Ojos Negros
Infinitois a new family-run winery in Ojos Negros started by José Pedroza García, whose mission is to create great wines that express the terroir of Valle de Ojos Negros.
In 2008, Pedroza planted the first hectare of Malbec grapes in his ranch, but waited until 2014 to present his first wine, Supernova. Infinito now offers five different wines: Nébula (Grenache Blanc-Moscatel-Ruby Cabernet); Supernova (Grenache Blanc and Moscatel; Actino (C. Sauvignong-Syrah); Infinito Cabernet Sauvignon and Infinito Syrah. Their wines are available in very exclusive places in Mexico City, and they have participated in several wine festivals also to help promote their winery.
“You can either chose to come here to our vineyards in Ojos Negros, or you can also sample our wines in San Antonio de las Minas, where our wine cave is,” said Pepe Pedroza.
Allá en el Rancho La Joya
The song of hundreds of sheep and cattle as we we drove past the entrance to Rancho La Joya seemed to announce our presence, as owner don Juan Egozcue was already waiting for us to tell us all about his plans for the ranch, where more than 1,000 sheep and cows roam free to move and eat natural grain and pasture, with no need for nasty antibiotics or hormone treatment, just like in the old days, says don Juan.
Although La Joya is dedicated to the cattle trade, Egozcue’s slow-roast sheep barbeque has become somewhat famous among people in Ojos Negros (and our perfect excuse to try it out direct from the ranch), and he is now selling it by the kilo, or even the entire animal if you’re planning a special event, but you have to order a few days in advance. Your taste buds will thank you. It’s just a 3 minute drive down the main highway past Bodegas San Rafael.
The enchanting kitchen of Doña Ofelia
Ever since she started preparing breakfast for her uncle when she was 5, cooking became Ofelia Altamirano’s passion. And boy, do people know, as her Cocina de Doña Ofelia is always full.
Local folks and hungry off-road drivers have known about Ofelia’s cooking for many years, which includes traditional Mexican dishes, aguas frescas and even complex seafood, the tastier, the better, she says. But we fell in love with the burritos.
Her place offers free Wi-fi and cell phone chargers, full service bathrooms and free parking. If you go down the exit to the town of Ojos Negros, you’ll see her place taking left at the first stop sign you encounter.