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Culture Is Paired With Wine on Baja Tour

Traveling along a one-lane dirt road in Baja California, Mexico, Sandy Hanshaw thought there couldn’t be anything out there. Instead, she found a business opportunity in the vineyards of Valle de Guadalupe.

Since she discovered the wine region south of the border last year, Hanshaw, the owner and CEO of The Wine Pub restaurant in Point Loma, has partnered with a wine importer who grew up in the valley to offer wine tours.

The endeavor is still in its infancy, but Hanshaw believes it brings a fresh offering to her existing customers — the ability to taste and buy Mexican wine while learning about a new place, something she hopes will also be attractive to new customers.

“I truly think that Guadalupe Valley is much more exciting, much more passionate about what they’re doing (than the wineries in Temecula or Ramona),” Hanshaw, 49, said. “And it’s from old generations to new generations. They’ve been growing grapes down there for 80 years. So there’s the older group that’s been doing it and then there’s this really young, very passionate group of winemakers, as well. So it’s neat to see them both come together.”

Knowing the Region

Hanshaw arranged the tours through Fernando Gaxiola, a partner at Truly Fine Wine, an international wine importer. He runs Baja Wine + Food, a premier promoter of Baja California’s culinary arts. They met at SommCon, a wine industry conference at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in November.

Gaxiola grew up in the region and works to bring awareness to the valley’s offerings.

“I would like people to know the stories behind the wines, the land, the plants and the people,” Gaxiola said. “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.”

The Mexican Winery Council reported that Mexican wineries produced almost 20 million liters of wine in 2014. According to Gaxiola and the Sistema Producto Vid de Baja California A.C., an association of wineries, there are 100 established wineries in the Valle de Guadalupe with facilities and tasting rooms and an additional 63 that are making wine without a facility in Baja California (using other company facilities offsite), where almost 90 percent of the wine in Mexico is produced.

Wine Shipped to Restaurant

Initially, Hanshaw’s plan was to host a different Baja special event each month of 2016. She started with a tasting for the first month; that brought in 37 people. Then she hosted the first wine tour in February, an all-day event where customers could experience Mexican wines, meet owners and get a VIP experience with dinner included. The cost is $195 a person and about 26 people go on each tour.

Currently, The Wine Pub sells five Mexican wines, about 10 percent of its inventory. Hanshaw tries to add more wine to her collection from each tour. An average of three bottles of wine were purchased per person from the first trip. Hanshaw took their orders collectively and then had the wines shipped to her restaurant for pickup. More than six cases of the wine highlighted on the tour have been sold. These wines range from $19 to $46 a bottle.

The group on the first trip went to the following wineries: Monte Xanic, Villa Montefiori and Finca La Carrodilla. All of these wineries are located in the Guadalupe Valley, about 15 miles from Ensenada in Baja California.

The tour has its share of challenges though, especially when it comes to the border. Because the California Business and Professions Code only allows residents to bring a bottle across the border every 30 days, Hanshaw gives her customers sheets to review the wine and submit orders that she then ships to her restaurant.

Wine that comes out of Mexico is taxed at least 40 percent, driving up costs and acting as a sort of stumbling block in the market. Hanshaw absorbs these costs by ordering as much as the customers want from the restaurant. Most of Hanshaw’s current revenue, which she would not disclose, comes from the restaurant.

Good Wine and Good Dogs

Hanshaw is no stranger to organizing events. Prior to founding The Wine Pub in 2009, she worked in the hospitality industry as the director of national accounts at the Omni Hotels & Resorts. At The Wine Pub, her events range from tastings to Woofer Wednesdays (a charity event for dog organizations; though everyday there’s a dog menu available).

Karim Bouris

“I like to offer our customers something that is ever-changing,” Hanshaw said. “I don’t want our customers to ever get bored with what we do here. So I like to be on the cutting-edge and come up with new ideas.”

The latest tour was April 9, and included visits to Adobe Guadalupe, La Lomita and Torres Alegre y Familia with a dinner at a Michelin Star chef’s restaurant, Deckman’s en el Mogor. The next tour is May 21.

Karim Bouris, a regular customer at The Wine Pub, went on this first tour with Hanshaw and plans to go again. He enjoyed meeting with visitors and owners and getting the “behind the scenes”

of each winery. He also loved the variety (high quality wineries to family-owned wineries).

“It’s more than one winery; you get to see the culture of the Baja region, their knowledge and creativity,” Bouris, 41, said. “The next tour, 80 percent of the sign-ups are going to be my friends.”

THE WINE PUB

CEO: Sandy Hanshaw

No. of local employees: 10

Headquarters: Point Loma

Revenue: Undisclosed

Year founded: 2009

Company description: A restaurant and pub that sells wines by the glass and for purchase and hosts social events to bring in more customers

Key factors for success: Continues to do something new and different by hosting a variety of events and creating an atmosphere the owner says is the ‘Cheers of Point Loma.’

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