Terroir – Rhoda Stewart's Journal on Wine

Posts tagged ‘Vinos L.A. Cetto’

Camillo Magoni: The Power of One (to shape a region)

The successes of Camillo Magoni and Vinos L.A. Cetto (together with Bodegas de Santo Tomás) have attracted many new grape growers and producers to the Valle de Guadalupe region in the past decade and a half.
Bodegas de Santo Tomás, situated in the lush and beautiful Santo Tomás valley, which lies a few kilometers south of Ensenada, was established in 1888, making it is the oldest winery in Baja.

Bodegas de Santa Tomas Winery

Bodegas de Santa Tomas Winery

Lara Vamoria, self-taught winemaker for Bodegas de Santo Tomás since 2005, is not only the first female winemaker in Mexican wineries, but as well is the first Mexican female winemaker. Her innovative study of the effect of vine age on wine character of Tempranillo is one more example of the innovative studies towards improving wine quality being conducted throughout the region.

Bodegas de Santo Tomas wines

Bodegas de Santo Tomas wines


The newcomers, inspired by the achievements of Magoni and Bodegas de Santo Tomás, are bringing in their own philosophies of grape growing and winemaking, and have also begun earning worldwide recognition for their wines.
“The small producers coming into Valle de Guadalupe are very important for the promotion of the potential of the region, and to offer different style of wines for the consumers,” Magoni emphasizes.

Jesus Rivera, Enologo, Bodegas de Baron Balch'e

Jesus Rivera, Enologo, Bodegas de Baron Balch’e


Many challenges awaited them, however, just as they did Magoni, not the least of which is the fact that the region “is a land of many coasts and little water . . .mysterious in its arid fecundity.” (Magoni, Camillo. Historia de la Vid y el Vino en la Peninsula de Baja Calfornia. Universidad Iberoamericana, Tijuana, 25.) This passage translated by Rhoda Stewart

“Our region is semi-arid, so we have very little rain, and only in the winter months,” Camillo explained. “We also have vines planted in different soil types—sandy soils, sandy loam, and decomposed granite—so we need to manage the water carefully to suit each variety and each situation, depending on the soil,” and, I might add, to be in harmony with the region’s “arid fecundity.”

"Arid Fecundity" - Cetto Vineyards guarded by the magnificent Sierra Blanca

“Arid Fecundity” – Cetto Vineyards guarded by the magnificent Sierra Blanca

Not deterred by this and other challenges, among the small producers now flourishing in Valle de Guadalupe are several who have returned in the past 15 years to join in the excitement of producing distinctive Mexican wines from this region, and to experience the enthusiasm with which the local and regional consumers and tourists are embracing their wines as accompaniment to the excellent Mediterranean/Mexican Fusion cuisine that has grown up out of the same land that has produced the wines. Exquisite local cheeses and artisan breads also abound, and make perfect accompaniments to the superb local wines increasingly available.

Local fruit of the land--bread, cheese, Vinos L.A. Cetto Wines--make a tasty vineyard lunch!

Local fruit of the land–bread, cheese, Vinos L.A. Cetto Wines–make a tasty vineyard lunch!


In Wine Valleys – A Journey through Wineries and Other Points of Interest in Baja California (Puente, Esperanza Bustillo. Mexico: Ambardiseño, S.C., 2009), Hugo D’Acosta (not exactly a “new comer!”), Oenologist for Casa de Piedra, Valle de Guadalupe, writes, “Mexican wine is representative of our cultural mosaic. . . . the presence of a national wine in the culinary culture, which finds itself enriched by its native products . . .is a component that refreshes and solidifies our culinary patrimony.” (22)

Café Naranjas, Valle de  Guadalupe April 2011

Café Naranjas, Valle de
Guadalupe April 2011


Jesús Diez, Oenologist, Viticultura – Espacio del Vino, writes that he returned “to Mexico this century with the firm idea that national wine should be recognized by Mexicans. . . .I know that the very nature of wine and its soils, sooner or later, makes our relationship with the terroir and our taste for the homegrown to be reborn. . . .Wine is a dynamic part of the new and changing Mexico. (Wine Valleys, 24,25)

Zinfandel Vineyard, Valle de Guadalupe April 2011

Zinfandel Vineyard, Valle de Guadalupe April 2011


Chilean-born José Durand, Oenologist, Sinergi (Valle de Guadalupe), finds in Mexican wines an “intensity, as well as the fact they are joyful, aromatic, full of shadings and subtleties, and with a solid structure and at the same time smooth. As happens with food, people slowly have opened up towards their wines . . . Mexicans have made them a part of their lives and this is incredible.” (Wine Valleys, 27)

Magoni’s influence in the region extends beyond wine production.

Guillermo Gonzáles Beristáin, Chef, Pangea Group, writes, “ . . .the development of gastronomy goes hand-
in-hand with that of winegrowers; both become accomplices, because success depends on these two arts. . . . To be able to count with one’s own wines provides Mexican gastronomy with the possibility of being fuller and that a dynamics is created, as in a majority of other countries, where regional cooking is accompanied by the wines produced in their own regions. We cannot forget that eating Mexican food requires Mexican wines.” (Wine Valleys, 29)

Two Cowboys minding their Cattle - San Vincente Valle - July 2011

Two Cowboys minding their Cattle – San Vincente Valle – July 2011

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A Walk through the Vineyards with Camillo Magoni, Baja California, Mexico

Farm Artifacts - Vinos L.A. Cetto Winery

Farm Artifacts – Vinos L.A. Cetto Winery


A couple of wine writers from Europe have suggested that because of his achievements in transforming Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, Mexico, into the world class wine grape valley that it is today, and in winning international acclaim for Vinos L.A. Cetto wines from these vineyards in the last decade and a half, Camillo Magoni should be recognized globally as perhaps the most significant winemaker living today.

I could not demur.

It was June 1996 when I found myself in Cucamonga Valley, which lies about 60 miles east of Los Angeles, as part of my search for historic Zinfandel vines. I thought I was about as far afield as I could get from the more famous North Coast Zinfandel regions of Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties, and the Sierra foothills. Then I met Don Galleano (story to come), owner of the historic Galleano Winery, Mira Loma (now listed on the California and National Register of Historic Places). Galleano recommended that since I was this far south, I should cross the border into Baja, since he knew of a big planting of old Zin vines hidden away in a little valley somewhere between Tecate and Tijuana, owned by the Cetto family in Valle de Guadalupe.

I did just that.

With the help of a guide from Vinos L.A. Cetto, I found the lovely old Zinfandel vineyard, and so much more: I found Camillo Magoni, winemaker since 1965 for the Cetto family. From my first and subsequent meetings with Magoni that summer of 1996, he impressed me both as a winemaker and a person. It was, however, during my return visits to Valle de Guadalupe in spring and summer of 2011 that I experienced first-hand the full range of Magoni’s accomplishments—unparalleled at least in my experience.

Camillo Magoni showing Zinfandel clusters, Rancho Escondido July 2011

Camillo Magoni showing Zinfandel clusters, Rancho Escondido July 2011

I had gone down in early April at Magoni’s invitation to see what they “had been up to” since my last visit about 10 years earlier. It was a beautiful day, with the sun breaking through some early morning fog that had drifted into the Valle overnight from Ensenada. The vines were just leafing out. After meeting Camillo at the winery for a vertical tasting of six vintages of Zinfandel, it was time for lunch with Mr. Cetto and his guests (of which I was privileged to be one).
Vinos L.A. Cetto Zinfandel, 6-vintage vertical tasting - April 2011

Vinos L.A. Cetto Zinfandel, 6-vintage vertical tasting – April 2011


Following lunch, it was on to a tour with Mr. Cetto of the upper end of Valle de Guadalupe, near the headwaters of the River Guadalupe. The late afternoon light coming through the misty hills was so beautiful that I suggested to Camillo that we walk back to the winery. I wanted to try for some photos. So we exited the vehicle, and in the exquisite quiet of that secluded little vine-filled valley, we walked, I made photos, and Camillo talked—about the vines, the valley, and his philosophy of winemaking. The region enjoys a Mediterranean climate of sunny days cooled by breezes flowing inland from the nearby Pacific Ocean, fog-shrouded nights, and mineral-rich soils of varying compositions—all the components necessary for producing superb wines year after year.
Cetto Vineyards, Valle de Guadalupe, April 2011

Cetto Vineyards, Valle de Guadalupe, April 2011


In such an environment, Magoni’s philosophy of winemaking comes down to one phrase: understanding grapes.
“To make wine from the region, you have to understand the composition of the grape for each variety: the sugar, acid, and flavors. You have to understand how the composition of the grape changes with each vintage, how the vintage changes the composition in each lot of the same variety. Only then can you consider process of winemaking—the technology.”

When Magoni arrived in Valle de Guadalupe in the mid-1960s, the roads into the Valle were dirt, and only three varieties of grapes were planted, he said. Today, there is a paved motorway (Hwy 3) leading up from Ensenada, and the Cetto vineyards consist of 30 varieties of top European varieties covering over 1,200 hectares.

Among the most prestigious for Vinos L.A. Cetto are Zinfandel, Sangiovese, and Nebbiolo (Cetto Vineyards boasts the largest planting of Nebbiolo—134 hectares–outside the Barolo region of Italy). Each of these varieties presents special challenges and requires particular understanding in order to produce the world class wines deserving of the Vinos L.A. Cetto label.

The great charm and appeal of Zinfandel, said Camillo, is its fruit, and so he vinifies Zinfandel with just neutral casks, for the micro-oxygenation. “For me, because of its intense flavors and fruity character, Zinfandel is a unique variety. If you add wood character, you lose some of the fruit character. And if you lose the fruit character of Zinfandel,” he once famously said, “it is like a man without a last name.”

Zinfandel, Rancho Escondido - July 2011

Zinfandel, Rancho Escondido – July 2011

Nebbiolo (known in Italy as “Barolo) is one of the great wines in the world, believes Magoni, but “it’s late maturing in the bottle, so we have to leave the money for 5 years, occasionally longer. For this reason and because as a grower you have to understand its composition, Nebbiolo is not known world-wide like Cabernet or Pinot Noir or Syrah. Even though it makes, I think, one of the greatest wines in the world, not too many producers like to wait 5 years for the money.”

Nebbiolo vine dating to 1946 - Valle de Guadalupe - July 2011

Nebbiolo vine dating to 1946 – Valle de Guadalupe – July 2011


For Camillo Magoni and Vinos L.A. Cetto, it’s well worth the wait.
Nebbiolo, 15 vintage vertical tasting, Vinos L.A. Cetto - July 2011

Nebbiolo, 15 vintage vertical tasting, Vinos L.A. Cetto – July 2011


Sangiovese was the most difficult grape for Magoni to get a handle on.
“It takes several years to understand,” he said. “It’s a variety very easy to over crop and is difficult to regulate. Unless irrigation is strictly controlled, it is a variety that tends to make a big bunch with big berries so we have to control that. It’s taken us 10 years to understand it.”
Sangiovese clusters, Valle de Guadalupe - July 2011

Sangiovese clusters, Valle de Guadalupe – July 2011


For Camillo, there is no other way.

“It’s easy to make good wine—if you understand your grapes,” he says time and again. “That’s the key. You need to know the grapes, the varieties, like you know a person. It is imperative to know each one to assure the best quality wine as possible—and also knowing what kind of wine you want to make.”

When I asked him if he were saying that he knew the composition of all 30 varieties of grapes in Cetto’s vineyards, he replied with a little laugh that was in no way self-deprecating, “I’m saying that. It is imperative to know each one to assure the best quality wine as possible.” And if he makes a mistake in his understanding of a variety or a vintage? “Well, we just don’t bottle it,” he replied.